The scar spread inexorably from the pit yard across the previously pristine countryside around the old fishing lake, it’s jagged edges and dark mounds like a cancerous tumour. Some of the mounds were so high a tunnel had been excavated through them.
As kids, we were banned from playing or even going anywhere near the pit tips, they were extremely dangerous places. After rain, they were unstable and could bury a child alive. In dry conditions, they could spontaneously combust. The ever present bright yellow Euclids could crush you and the driver not even realise. But the enormous machines were a real pull watching them swarm over the tips dumping and spreading their contents of coal slag. Then there was the railway line busy with freight trains on routes not protected from trespassers.
None of this stopped us going over there. The pond in the middle was always a draw, despite the stories of at least one child drowning, caught in debris at the bottom of the black water. Whether this was a local myth made up to keep us away or true, I’ll never know. It was always a foreboding place with inky hills surrounding you, the echo of your voice in the tunnel and the headstocks, the tallest in Britain, overseeing it all. Despite the almost barren surroundings we managed to catch sticklebacks in the streams leading to the pond and watch the tadpoles hatch and mutate into frogs.
Since the final closure of the colliery in 2004 the scar has slowly healed. The area is now a country park, the hills covered in stabilising heather and woodland, with views from the top as far as Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. The pond is a key feature, returning to its original purpose as a fishing lake, with the headstocks, now grade II listed buildings, still holding sway but the wheels eerily silent. It’s a popular spot for walkers and cyclists all catered for at the charity run cafe.
But what of the mental scars. Generations within a family worked in the collieries and that work was taken away from them with no real alternatives in the area. Many now use the fishing lake as a way of getting out of the house and from under the wife’s feet, ashamed that she is now the primary bread winner. Others reverting to the more traditional bolt holes of the pub or the betting shop, much of the benefit payment spent before they get home.
The deepest scars of all were left by the miners strike and some family members still don’t speak to each other, some believing the strike was brought to an end too soon, others believing it should never have happened.
The rifts that took the most effort to heal were those with a striking miner and a policeman in the same family, sometimes finding themselves face to face on the opposite sides of the picket line, each doing what had been asked of them, neither comfortable in their position. They were scars that could be opened up so easily again to weep some more if the subject came up, though families new better than to discuss it. Some wounds simply went to the grave unhealed.
Image courtesy of South Wales Argus