by Laura Bray (née Bevan)
Do you remember the Cyfarthfa Park swings? Not those that are there now, which are but a pale shadow of their former incarnation, but those of the 1970s?
There were two sets of swings in the Park. The Bottom Swings, down by the Lake – more or less where the miniature railway now runs – contained a wooden, boxed-in roundabout; the most amazing helter-skelter slide which was about half the size, at least to my childhood eyes, of those found in a fairground; and the “baby swings”, for small children. There was also the paddling pool, usually empty of water, but I recall some hot summers where it was filled and crowded by children in varying states of undress, splashing, both themselves and those on the bank, watching. My main use for the paddling pool, however, was to cycle round the edge, where there was a band of differently coloured paving slabs and where we could see how fast you could go without going over the edge and into the painted blue depths of the dry abyss!
But for me, the main attraction was the Top Swings. These were just off the road between the Chalet where you could buy ice-cream, and the Quar Gate. They contained a six-seater iron rocking horse, which you could push until it banged against its metal supports; a spider’s web roundabout where, depending on how dizzy you wanted to get, you could push from the inside or the outside, then jump on the bars with your legs outstretched and spin till you couldn’t stand up; and a slide, not too high, but which people did seem to routinely fall off. And we ran up the steps to slide down the slide, or raced up the slide itself, turning round at the top to come back down again. In the hot summer of ’76, the metal on that slide burned the backs of your legs, and yet we came back for more.
There were swings there too – a set of cradle swings for small children and a set of normal swings where we raced to see who could swing the highest. Sometimes we would jump off mid-swing to land with a thud on the floor, and there was a kudos in letting go when the swing was high. Then we would run to the parallel bars and the staggered bars, where we could hang upside-down from our knees and see if we could touch the concrete beneath. Not for our generation the soft surfaces enjoyed by children today.
However, the star of the Top Swings was the Swinging Log. These have all but disappeared now but essentially this was a plank, suspended from an A-frame, on which there was space for four children seated. Two more stood, one at either end, and they were responsible for swinging it back and forth. Some of the boys could swing it so hard that the plank reached heights parallel with the top of the frame, 15 or so feet from the ground, moving at speed. How there were no injuries, I never know, either from falling off or from the risk of being knocked out if you stood too close to the swinging end. There were several near misses, but that was part of the fun.
We would take our bikes and bump across the grass between the two sets of swings and then head home – hot and tired, with our hands smelling of rust and our trousers stained by grass. Those were the days indeed.
If anyone has any photographs of either of the playgrounds in Cyfarthfa Park, please let us know.