Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Children of Black Water Valley

Prologue

    It's name wasn't always Black Water Valley, in fact it had once been quite the opposite. Sweet Water Farm it had been called and it was fair to say that the several springs of crystal clear liquid that bubbled musically from the rocks once had their say in the matter.
     For generations there had been no more than a few farms nestling between the two majestic Welsh hills and families were born and raised in their shadows, working in tune with the seasons as they eked out a hard but achievable existence. Cattle were tended, sheep were farmed and even crops were raised in the more sheltered areas, protected from the westerly winds by foreboding crags looming high like giant Eagles’ wings.
     Though isolated in location, the occupants were integral parts of a far greater community each relying on each other to survive in this harsh but beautiful landscape. Five miles to chapel every Sunday were nothing while the monthly trek of ten miles to market was an accepted pilgrimage in order to sell the little surplus they made in their hard and isolated existence. Goods were bartered, gossip exchanged and shy girls peeked from behind their mother’s skirts at the rough and tumble of the boys with slicked down hair, all potential suitors in the unknown years before them.
     Thus it had been for generations and the politics of the cities were but tittle tattle for outside chapel doors but the winds of change were looming. The British Empire was expanding and the burgeoning demand for steel meant the valleys to the East glowed fiery red through the night as their ever hungry iron works demanded more and more coal to feed their ravenous appetite.
     Strangers in tweed jackets invaded the valley, peering through their strange optical instruments and sank test holes in meadows once filled with gamboling lambs. Fat men with fatter wallets waved temptation before landowners with hungry children and favoured pastures were sold for glints of shiny coin as the men with greedy eyes secured their own futures
    Where seed once floated on the breeze, choking dust filled the air and pleasing swathes of emerald green made way for hills of soulless grey. Charismatic trees sculptured by westerly winds made way for carefully hewn timbers, sterile in their demeanor yet busy in their purpose for though beauteous to the eye, the sweet grassed fields of countless generations had no place in these brave times.
     These were the days of progression and expansion. Where commerce and the demands of Empire outweighed tradition and the needs of family, where man took on the earth to carve out the dark, hard blood from its veins. Brave days indeed, yet brutal and pitiless to those who ventured down into the hellish depths, for those veins that wept black gold fought for every inch gained and demanded its own price in the blood of men.
     Thus it transpired that Sweet Water Farm saw the name it had worn for centuries changed to reflect a harsher truth. Chuckling springs were no match for the floods of coal-stained water pumped from ever flooding shafts and mingled hopelessly with the fish-less river, racing to escape the squalor of the darkened valley.
     Hardened, shuffling men with faces aged beyond their years trekked up lifeless paths to the daily hell in the heart of the beast and renamed the blackened landscape that once caused angels to smile. The land their Grandfathers knew as Sweet Water Farm became Black Water Valley. A place of industry and hardship, a source of income and tragedy, yet amongst it all, within its smoke and squalor a spark remained for it was yet a place of life and no matter the fatigue at the end of a day, as hardened men shuffled slowly from back breaking shifts, the innocent laughter of distant children caused dust framed smiles in even the most exhausted of faces.
     Stranger yet was the imagery the merriment summoned to mind, the music that echoed the long gone bubbling brooks that once ran clear in unfettered freedom  For these were the chimes of hope, the promise of a future and life yet un-lived. This was the testimony of innocence for these were the sounds of the children of Black Water Valley.

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