The Pool of Avarice
I first encountered the local folk tale of the Pool of Avarice around twelve years ago in the book ‘The Pleasant Land of Gwent’ by the much loved Newport author Fred Hando. Hando’s story relates that there was once a great house at the site of the pool and one stormy day the inhabitants were visited by a poor relative who was in need of food and sustenance. However, the lady of the house turned him away with nothing but curses. As he retreated away from the house he was aware of a sudden violent movement of the mountain as the hillside opened up, crashed down and buried the house. Since that time the local shepherds claim that strange cries are heard to come from the reedy waters of the pool on stormy nights. These are thought to be the cries of the lost ones buried below, doomed forever by their avarice.
I found the tale intriguing and wanted to find out the actual location of the pool. Fred Hando claimed that to reach the pool you should walk northwards from ‘Twyn Barllwm’ along the green path until it is possible to see a small reservoir on the eastern slope below the path. You then turn left downwards past a farm to a hollow where a deep pool is found in winter. From Fred Hando’s description this sounds like Henllys, and Alan Roderick in his book ‘The Folklore of Gwent’ seems to confirm this. Further research and chats with local residents seemed to point to Pwll Tra, a reedy pool situated in a hollow high on the western slopes of Mynydd Henllys not far from the head of the Nant Carn Valley. Local author Ralph Collins, who has undertaken extensive research on the valley, confirms this. He also confirmed that there was a cataclysmic landslide in the valley many years ago.
While researching last year for my ‘Lost Farmsteads of the Nant Carn Valley’ walk I decided to include the pool en-route and did a little research of my own on the internet. To my delight I came across the poem featured below. On our ‘Lost Farmsteads’ walk last July I recited the poem at Pwll Tra much to the amusement of the assembled members of CTS and Islwyn Ramblers. Recently I contacted Arwyn Evans the author of the poem who resides in Crumlin. He told me that the Welsh word ‘Tra’ could be a shortened form of ‘Trachwant’ which translates as ‘Avarice’ or ‘greed’. I am therefore happy to conclude that we have located the actual ‘Pool of Avarice’
If you want to visit the pool I would recommend parking at car park two on the forest drive and taking the short walk along the cycle track towards the head of the valley. Take the first left turning you come to. It is a lonely place with a forlorn and eerie atmosphere. I would imagine that to visit the location as the dark clouds are rolling in late on a summer evening would send shivers down even the strongest willed person’s spine. Not for the faint hearted! The poem featured has been published previously. It is a Haibun, which is a style of Japanese poem combining prose and haiku poetry.
Haibun: Pwll Tra’
On the slopes of Mynydd Maen there is a hollow with a quiet pool. A sullen place in gathering storm. So it is, as I sit in grass listening for the cries of those trapped far beneath.
Damned by their greed.
Mew of the buzzard through whispering leaves the wavelets ripple.
I bring to mind the story of this place, this ‘Pool of Avarice’: Long ago a wealthy house stood here. There were poor relations living on the far side of the hill. One day, as times grew harder, the poor man in desperation crossed the ridge. I see him crawling down towards the house. Knocking on the door. Waiting. The clouds grow black above the hill. He knocks again. The door is opened. Slow.
Rich fowl, bacon, fats and herbs
The warmth of bread, of conversation.
A tall and haughty dame stands in the entrance.
Her gimlet stare shows that she knows me – why I’m here.
Just bread. A crust or two from last week’s loaf, I hear my pleading tones, truly my wife and children starve.
The tall one laughs. Come see, she calls within, what’s dragged itself from out the sin where it belongs. They come. They curse me with my just deserts. Spit on my head. Withdraw into their world.
The tall one, last to go, gives me some words direct: Naught do I have to spare the likes of thee. Be off before I loose the dogs!
I start back up the hill looking for solace in the gathering storm. A searing light. The bark of thunder pounds the earth. The rock begins to shake. In fear I fall and turn. Below, the bowels of the hill burst wide. Swallow the farmhouse whole with those inside to leave a bare, dry hollow place.
Slowly I slide.
Come to a gentle rest in grass.
The birch trees hang dark skies drop rain the limp pool rings my silence