Six Ways

January 19, 2024 6 Comments

When I was a small boy there were certain places outside Hoylandswaine, the village where we lived, that I always thought of as my own, special spaces.  They were nowhere in particular – a corner where two roads met, or a pondside, or a patch in the woodland that spread from the bottom of our garden – but I would visit them often on my lone wanderings, and stop there for a while, and watch and listen.  For anyone else they were non-places, at best places to pass through quickly, without notice; to me, they were tiny personal colonies I’d annexed from the world for my own desire.

Six Ways

This habit of taking mental possession of small, unremarkable parcels of land has never left me.  I’ve written before about one such place, a bench in a sloping field about twenty minutes’ walk from where we live.  But there’s a similar spot, only three or four minutes away, that exerts a similar spell on me.  As far as I know it has no name.  I call it Six Ways, for the simple reason that six lanes or paths converge there.  Converge isn’t quite the right word, because they don’t all quite come together: two are separated from the other four by a short but steep series of concrete steps.

The steps

To get there you walk along a tarmacked lane called Hillgrove (or maybe Hill Grove).  On the right are a couple of modest, unspoilt nineteen-twenties houses, and on the left, a longer row of modern bungalows, carved out of the estate of Llwyn-y môr, the old house behind them that was demolished long ago.  They’re all different: one of them, with a small palm tree in its front garden, looks as though it’s escaped from a suburb of Auckland.  As you go along, a view opens across the golf course to the bay and the sea, and, on a clear day, the Devon coast.  At the end, the lane drops down between two much larger, handsome houses, Cefn Pennar (named by someone from Cwm Cynon?) and Glasynys, which combines a box-like front with a Lego-like jumble of architect-designed extensions at the back.


At the bottom, Hillgrove turns forty-five degrees, passes more houses and bungalows, and crosses the golf course to reach the cliff-top.  From there, one path follows the cliffs, the other runs down to the sea.  But if you leave the lane at the corner and descend the steps, you’re in Six Ways. Facing you is a large 1960s or 1970s house with large views towards the sea.  Appropriately, its name is Ffenestri.  Prys Morgan once told me that it features in Kingsley Amis’s late, alcohol-fuelled novel set in Mumbles, The old devils.  I tried to re-read the book a few years ago, with an eye to local colour and detail, but failed to get beyond the first few chapters: neither Amis has ever appealed to me much.  (This part of Mumbles has its share of literary associations: round the corner in Caswell Road Frances Ridley Havergal, hymnwriter and evangelical zealot, lived for a short time, and St Peter’s Road, opposite the church, was the home of Saunders Lewis, whose only novel, the grim and misogynistic Monica, was set here.)

No. 31

Turn sharp right after the concrete steps and you see the winding, grass-filled drive that leads to another, older house, No. 31, that overlooks the golf course.  When we first came to Mumbles we were told that the two old ladies who lived there were very young survivors from the Titanic, after it struck its famous iceberg in April 1912.  Strangely, the house hasn’t yet been gutted and extended, but no doubt its turn will come.  Another track, this time a public one, runs parallel to the drive and joins the golf course path.

The path to the bay

Opposite you, running between the old orchard of Ffenestri and the golf fairway, is a straight, narrow downward path, popular with walkers aiming for the bay.  In late summer, bramble fronds attack your face and arms, and in rainy seasons the lower section becomes muddy, but it’s a path full of the promise, of beach, sea and coffee shops.

The wall and pines of Cefn Pennar

If you ignore the path and turn to your left, you’ll see the narrow track that leads to the bottom of Mary Twill Lane.  This was once a quiet walk, but now you need to keep an eye out for deep mud, and excavators and earth-movers servicing the big houses on your left.  Over several years these buildings have been stripped down, rebuilt and extended, and then packed with picture windows, extra bedrooms, en-suites, garages and all the other necessities of a monied life.  Much the same has happened on Mary Twill itself.  A gated estate of grand brick residences long ago replaced the old Glynn Vivian home for the blind, remembered in a 1995 poem by Swansea-born Stephen Knight:

the sounds of the sea

at the bottom
of Mary Twill Lane

the whitewashed
Home for the Blind

is hard to the touch
all year round

Almost twenty years on, it’s harder still to remember the home.  As for Mary Twill, it’s been a century or more since anyone knew who she was – if the name commemorates a woman at all (some fancy it’s a garbled form of ‘Mary’s Well’).

The bench

Back at Six Ways, though, little has changed, except that a new, taller lamp post has replaced the old elegant fluted column (another survived for a while backing the fine stone wall along the lane to Mary Twill).  Take a seat on the wooden bench, with its view south towards the sea.  Behind you, a bank climbs steeply.  In summer sun it’s bright with flowers and shrubs, some wild, others escapees from the garden of Cefn Pennar above.  At the top of the bank is a fine stone wall and pine trees.  In the last year or two an anonymous philanthropist has replaced the bench’s rotted wooden slats and fixed a small plaque to its back-rest, dedicated to ‘Little Missy’.  From here you’ve a view of the pleasant metal railings marking the boundary of Ffenestri’s land, and, to the right, the path down to the sea.  A few walkers will come and go in front of you.  You might see a friend or two.  But mostly you’ll be alone, and you’ll have this modest crossroads to yourself. You can imagine that no one else really sees it in the same way as you do, as a special place of temporary retreat and quiet.

The bench repaired

The old lamp post (deceased)

Glynn Vivian Home for the Blind (deceased)

Comments (6)

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  1. Elizabeth Thomas says:

    That’s a lovely post. I pass there nearly everyday with Bryn the dog, and you describe it beautifully. Bryn likes to sit on the bench. My blind grandfather, who lived with us, used to have respite care at the Glynn Vivian home, when we went away on holiday. It was very attractive and – I think – had been purpose built for blind people.

  2. Chris Armstrong says:

    Very enjoyable read, Andrew. Here’s a question for you – when (and why) did Oystermouth retreat inland? Or, if you like, take its toes out of the Bay’s waters?

    • Andrew Green says:

      Presumably, as the village grew the only place to grow was inland. Just as well, given future sea level changes?

      • Chris Armstrong says:

        When I lived in Blackpill/Mayals and worked in Harris’s Nurseries – about 60 years ago – Mumbles did not start until after you had passed through Oystermouth (along the sea front where the main road ran, just inland from the Mumbles Railway – so called because it ran to Mumbles Head). Now the road sign for Mumbles is reached before you reach Oystermouth and maps seem to show Oystermouth inland!

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