Postcards from my Past / 2 Vortigern’s Valley

The second strong memory from my young days that I will share is another that I have no photographs of….apart from a low resolution solarised image.

Vortigern’s Valley (Nant Gwrtheyrn)

I am aged about 11 or 12, and we are camping somewhere in Wales, I suspect Penmaenmawr, as we went there a few times. On this day, my father has driven us over to the Lleyn peninsular, and parked up near the top of a dirty great hill on the Lleyn coast…to get the views which he was so obsessed with. There is no road down to the place that my father tells us is at the bottom, so we set off down a dusty track, which goes winding on, and on ever downwards into the distance. It’s quite warm, and certainly a bit wearying. My sister and I start whinging about how much further are we going (and mindful of the fact that we are going to have to climb back up this flippin’ hill)..

Dad had clearly been looking at the maps – he was a keen walker, and not averse to finding interesting places. Fortunately for me, this one was about to tick all the right boxes……

Continuing on down the dusty track, we suddenly come upon some ruined houses…I instantly become less weary! Dad and I go into one of these houses, it is in a pretty bad way, but to me, totally fascinating in its decaying way. After taking in the ground floor, there is a staircase on the right which looks inviting, and my father suggests we go up and have a look upstairs…then just as he puts his foot on the first step, he tells me it won’t be a good idea, after all. I think he must have seen that it was a bit rotten in places or noticed part of the ceiling had collapsed – I don’t know. But once again, thwarted! I am just getting so excited about what we might find upstairs – I always want to see what is  around the corner, tantalisingly out of sight, out of reach! (Still do, to this day).

However, that isn’t the end of the adventure. We carry on, past more buildings and then come down to the sea….and there is a fantastic old ruined pier. My father takes a photograph (which is thrown away at some point because I never find it when I am sorting out their affairs). But as a student into photography and darkroom work, I make a solarised image of that photograph, and now I find a copy of a copy, much degraded over the years. I’ve scanned that copy, and reversed it so it looks a tad more like the original would have done, but somehow suitably eerie:

Pier at Nant Gwrtheyrn, early 1970s

That adventure occupied my mind for a long time after, and I have never forgotten the thrill of finding this place, a ruin that hadn’t been done up by some national body, but still unspoilt, a relatively recent abandonment with traces of the living still lingering. Thereafter, I was always after a similar experience, but I don’t think anything else has come close… Were I younger and fitter, I’m sure I would have got into Urbex and got the same kicks!

I remember getting a book from the library about 10 years after this event, and coming across an image taken through the door of one of those houses around the time we were there… idea what the book was, or who the photographer was… I would love to find out. But I’ve done a bit of sleuthing, to no avail.

I never returned to Nant Gwrtheyrn, because by the time I was able to drive, I learnt that the hamlet had been done up, and became a Welsh Language centre by the early 1980s……..all the mystique would have gone



  1. I am really enjoying these glimpses into your past, Sue. They are full of atmosphere.
    The ‘ghost pier’ shot is very interesting too.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. What a fascinating image, and mysterious pathways back to the past.

  3. I love the idea of these postcards from the past and the narrative you share.

  4. I’m enjoying meeting your father! Your childhood irritation has certainly survived the years, and so has your childhood fascination with abandoned places. And on top of this glimpse of young Sue, I now know what a solarised photo is.

  5. That’s a fascinating ‘capture’ of the pier, Sue. Initially I thought it was a boat. I generally prefer ruins when they’ve been done up and reinvested with life, but the odd one does take my fancy. Funny how we become who we are, isn’t it? 🙂 🙂

  6. Most certainly… sometimes places are better left un-revisited. How are you, Sue?

  7. Thank you for that fascinating flashback Sue. Look forward to more. You’ve done a great job with that image…. love the abstract look.

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