Sunday, 23 June 2013

Bwlch-y-Sarnau... a celebration

Yesterday I returned to my old childhood home up in the hills of Radnorshire. Bwlch-y-Sarnau (translates to 'gap in the hill') is in very wild, open countryside. Sheep farms and forestry dominate the landscape.
The reason for my return was to attend a celebration of past pupils and staff of the primary school. The school closed in 1990, making this one off reunion even more poignant.

We used to live on a small-holding at the bottom of the hill and my sister and I used to walk up the steep lane to school.  I had never realised what a fabulous view there was from the school windows.  
There were around 15-20 pupils in the whole school and at one time it was divided into the big class (juniors) and the little class (infants). It was very rare for any one year group to have more than 3 pupils! It was truly a wonderful experience.
The celebrations consisted of a display of photographs, some dating back to 1922. It was fascinating to see some of the local faces who I remember as elderly gentlemen as young school boys. Families rarely moved away and there are strong ties within all the neighbouring farms. I'm quite envious of the deep roots that those families have.
The baptist chapel, next door to the school played a vital role in keeping the community together, as it provided a regular social meeting place for what otherwise would be a very isolated existance. It was very fitting that part of the day's celebrations should be in the chapel, with hymns and readings, as well as memories of the school shared. The generations came together with one common theme. The celebrations concluded with the full chapel singing together... I had tears in my eyes. I was incredibly honored to have been a part of it.


These old photographs were inside the chapel. The original chapel, followed by the building of its 19th Century 'Arts and Crafts' inspired replacement.

I met old friends and chatted to others whom I struggled to recollect until my mind peeled back the years and the memories all came flooding back! I even met new people, one of whom used to live in our old house and that was a fascinating conversation!

I came away with a strong realisation of just how this hill and its people shaped who I am today. My love of nature, the appreciation of the simple things in life and overall the sense of community all started here. However I also realise how hard it is to live here. Jobs are few and far between if you're not farming and farming itself is incredibly difficult. The neareast shop, school, doctor is 8 miles away. Its stunning beauty can quickly become very bleak. I now have a deeper respect for the families who stayed put and continue to live a very blessed life in the 'gap in the hill'.

The old school is now run as a community centre which includes a toddler group so the sound of children can still be heard within those walls. Thank goodness...


  1. Like you natalie I was truly honoured to have been invited to the reunion even though I only spent a year at the school.
    It was amazing to walk back inside the school and also the playground enjoying tge fantastic views.
    I was amazed that some people actually remembered me and truly touched by the fondness displayed towards my nan who was the school cook during the 60s.
    Bwlch y sarnau is firmly locked in my heart and I could see myself living back there in the future.
    Found your blog googling bwlchysarnau school reunion, and a great blog it is too.

    1. Thank you George! Good to 'meet' you again. I really enjoyed our conversation at the reunion about our old house and your grandparents.
      Best wishes!

  2. Hello natalie I hope you and your family are well and looking forward to christmas ! Have you been back to bwlch y sarnau since the reunion ? I am hoping there will be an occasion that will take me back I think about the area so much , how it has hardly altered in 50 years and the lovely community spirit it holds.
    Best wishes
    George price

    1. Hi George, good to hear from you again. No I haven't been back to Bwlch y Sarnau, though I was hoping to over the summer to go walking, but it didn't happen. We are all well, busy with roofing works at the moment, so it's a little manic! Best wishes!

  3. Thank you for posting your comments about the school reunion! Like George Price I had been trying to find a record and pictures of the day. (I was one of the people who remembered George in school 50 years ago!) I so enjoyed the day & hope in due course that the group photos will become available - it will be fun putting names to faces.

    1. Thank you Lorna. Yes it will be good to see the group photos, especially as I'm sure I missed lots of people who were there. The day just flew by so quickly!


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