Skip to main content

A cold coming we had of it – Ystradgynlais Christmas Fayre

When T S Eliot wrote his journey of  the Magi he probably wasn’t thinking of Christmas Fairs in Welsh ex mining towns. However the words seemed particularly apt for a journey undertaken on Sunday 10th December ‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,’


What were we thinking of planning an event to take place in mid winter miles from home? Well it was the persuasive powers of Ams  and Maggie,the talk about last year’s fantastic Christmas fair and the chance that the  local Syrian  families would be involved that swung it. We ( Margaret ,Maggie and Ailsa ) met at Ams’ shop with Ams in the positively balmy weather of October and planned with the wonderful Mother’s Union representatives, Janice and Barbara. We were delighted to be given the use of St Cynog’s church hall for a base and the festival plans sounded magical with reindeer, donkeys and Santa as well as a host of free activities,stalls and sights. Janice and Barbara apologised  that they would be tied up with their Christmas tree festival but would help however they could. Maesydderwen School agreed to ask if any pupils might like to help us with hosting and Maggie was delighted when the local Syrian Families offered to help in preparing food. Melrose undertook to coordinate food offers from ‘up country'[ hence forth known as the ‘frozen north’] and Abercraf ‘messy church’ planned to do tea and mince pies in the afternoon. Virginia,Lynne, Carola, Barbara, Steve,Christina, Melrose, Margaret and Ailsa planned to prepare soups, stews, fruit and cakes. Friends from Ystrad area ,Neath and Port Talbot said they’d call in and help and maybe bring extra visitors. Presents flowed from supporters and Sue, Erica, Mac, Carola and Hilary  wrapped hundred of gifts so Santa Pat could give all guests  a gift We planned for the visiting children to have armbands in case of getting lost in the crowds …… what could go wrong ?

Well, the weather intervened. Saturday , Ams rang to say the outdoor events were now all going to take place in the miners welfare hall or library but that the show would go on. Ailsa contacted Wayne who said it was a bit damp in Swansea  but people were keen. Barbara said they  had the hall ready and would have the heating on early. Brecon area people started trying to get their carefully prepared  food to someone who should be able to make the journey. The event would take place! After all it was only a little snow… Sunday morning 7 am:- 4 inches of snow in Sennybridge  and more forecast. Frantic messages and calls went out. Stay safe, stay at home,-no choice can’t get the car out… Stuart was consulted. Weather was wet in Swansea and no reason not to  drive. Wayne agreed ‘ the rain might put off some but go ahead. ‘ Maggie agreed ‘after all there was loads of food lovingly made by the local families’ .

And so it was that Lawrence,Ailsa and Steve set off in Lawrence’s  large four wheel drive with a rapidly re-jigged load  of some soups, cakes, fruit, the tea and coffee, flasks,soup kettles, a few presents that could be fitted in and a spade in case of needing to dig out of drifts kindly provided by Sam. Some food was jettisoned but will be frozen and can be used for a future event. Some people will be eating  a lot of fruit over the next week.

The journey was in monochrome and very slow. White everywhere with the occasional shadowy clue as to where the road began and the verge stopped. Large branches strewn on the roadside and only the occasional vulture ( sorry !vehicle) for company. Storey Arms was closed but our road was open( just) and we ploughed on – it’s amazing  how different everything looks when  covered in a white coat and  seen at less than 20 miles per hour. We had a long time to marvel… just before Crai we heard that the bus had set off with 25 people on and knowing they would arrive before us and that Maggie didn’t have a mobile phone,  we contacted Barbara who said she’d slip out of the church service to open the doors and ensure there was a welcome. As we descended into Craig y  Nos with cars slipping around us, we started to believe we would get there as the snow became slush and then just puddles..

Our arrival in Ystrad was noted by Phil who casually threw a slush ball before hugging us and helping to unload. Cyrille helped with the heavy things and enlisted additional support from Kevin and Jonathan. . Maria was busy making tea and coffees ,radiators were being hugged and children were running round. Maggie was out getting biscuits and Wayne was finding milk. Gulie and Arlind were finding cups and collecting up used ones. Saba, Naeema Armina, Gulnar and Lubna were helping to put out the food we’d brought.  Lawrence nearly had a cup of coffee before he was enlisted to drive around to the Syrian  families’ homes to collect the food and bring them along.

Steve set to arranging where the food would go and ensuring the soup kettles were working and set up pomander making on a separate table. Ailsa wandered semi aimlessly doing half jobs and chatting. Maggie returned to introduce Lou who had arrived before anyone else and was calmly helping to set up things , playing with children and chatting to everyone. Lou had been told about the day by her School and came to help. As we put up our banner outside, she agreed she would help to show people around the fair and the church and tell them a bit about the town.


As food started to arrive from the local families, the Swansea group with some of the families and Lawrence and Steve set off led by Lou to experience the Christmas Fayre. Some of us stayed behind to ensure a meal would be ready when everyone returned and to try to explain where everyone was when people called in. Not so easy if your Arabic is limited to a greeting and their English is likewise restricted. We pointed and laughed and the children took charge as they speak many languages. Young  Schoolboy ‘I’ told me he spoke Syrian Arabic, Turkish and now English and his friend in Turkey had told him that it was over 30* there today.I didn’t ask where he’d rather be…  Our local Syrian friends called in despite R’s due date being that day. We didn’t need a midwife in the end although we kept a close eye on her. Their friend ,Jenny from Swansea, called in and it was so good to meet her. M tried to explain about food containers and Raz helped to clarify that he was offering us some to use in future events. They discovered family links via Basra and shared some laughs.

When people returned talking excitedly about the fair , the wonderful Christmas tree festival [64 amazing artistic triumphs], the nativity displays and the parade and having left all the children to see Santa, the food rapidly vanished. The hot soup was welcome and the Syrian delicacies were much appreciated . All the adults were in awe of Lou who had told them   about the history of shops, of local things and generally acted as an empathetic tour guide of the highest order. It was agreed that she was a great ambassador for her school and town.


The food being eaten, Naeema , Saba and Lubna started to do some henna tattoos and massages. The children  played and ran around and more people,helped to wash up.  The two Lynnes and Rhian from the  Abercraf ‘messy church’ arrived with delicious cakes and mince  pies and after an initial concern on their part  that they weren’t needed, kindly took over the tea , coffee and kitchen duties. We were happy to relinquish them as the highway beckoned and the rumours   that the road to Sennybridge was closed started to sound worrying.

So arriving late, leaving early and taking with us some of the ‘hardware ‘ we remembered bringing down and leaving Wayne to act as Santa 2 for the children with gifts we had  been given from Talgarth library, our departure was marked by Phil and Cyrille forming a guard of honour and pelting snowballs made from the snow still on our vehicle. The journey back was quicker. We noted the abandoned cars and bits of trees cut up or pushed off the roads. The snow ploughs had done a tremendous job and despite many further inches of snow having fallen the roads were almost clear. Steve wondered if his friends would have cleared the drive. They hadn’t-  but had  made an 8 foot snowman… Ringing around later it was good to hear everyone who had been there had really enjoyed the occasion and were safely home. One lady had told Maria  about her 55 minute walk to the bus that morning and how she had been soaked but that she had thoroughly enjoyed the day and would not have changed any of it. The snow visible on the hills around Ystrad had excited  everyone and they had enjoyed this much more interactive event. Santa didn’t quite make it from Brecon but presents can be taken down to Swansea later.

Many thanks are due to Ystradgynlais Society for Arts , Trade and Tourism for a great spectacle and day out, to St Cynog Church  Father Dewi, David and the Mother’s Union for a warm welcome , a venue and for so much help. Thanks to the Abercraf ‘messy church’ for cakes and taking over when the Brecon/Hay bound party left. Thanks to Maggie for making everything possible and coordinating the Syrian Families catering thanks to all the Syrian Families for such lovely food. Thanks to the people who wanted to be with us but couldn’t and thanks to Lawrence for driving and Steve for co piloting.

Comments from during and after the day

You lot are very brave! S from Hay

 Looks like a wonderful time. Hope you are all back home safe and sound. Sorry to have missed it but we are really snowbound up here. Even the local farmers cannot get through. Only the second time in eight years this has happened .. and it would have to be today of all days! I look forward to reading the write-up on the web site. Well done the three of you!

I hope you have recovered from all the exertions of yesterday. So pleased that it all happened and went well – even though in difficult  circumstances.
We had  a foot of snow yesterday and it is now very icy. Road travel is therefore still not possible . However, later tomorrow may be possible. If so, we were thinking we could take the presents to the store for whoever is going down to Swansea to take them to the party M from Brecon

 It was a great day.

It was still snowing during the day. Trip down was interesting.

S from Tregoyd

 Sorry we missed it – well done on making it down there x L from Talgarth

 Well done for getting there! So glad you had a good day and all made it  back home safely. The difference in weather between Brecon and Ystradgynlais is amazing. I still cannot get my car out of the lane I live on.

I hope you had a good rest after your big adventure day out. C from Brecon
We have over 6 inches of snow so cannot get car out today, are they still going ahead? T from near Sennybridge
Hard to believe you had rain in Ystrad when there is so much snow here S from Bronllys

It was our pleasure, if we didn’t have the tree festival on at the same time, we would have all been on hand to give more  help.

The visitors came into the church. They were overwhelmed by the displays and so grateful.You should be proud of the work you do, you are making a difference to their sad lives.  Well done. Nadolig llawen. B from Ystradgynlais

We are very pleased to have been able to help you, bring some joy into the lives of people, who must have a very difficult existence. They were so grateful it is humbling.You should be  very proud of the work you are doing, it is always a pleasure to make a difference, and your group are certainly doing that. Well done.

I am very pleased to hear you are home safe, the driving conditions are dreadful. I will share your comments with everyone involved. B from Ystradgynlais

We’re all home safely. It was an exciting journey down that took us nearly 4 hours given a certain amount of driving round picking up food and people before we set off and a better drive back when the road was allegedly closed ( it wasn’t )

A good day with only 25 people on the bus but all but 1 of the local Syrian families making food and calling in. Well done Maggie.
I’m told the people who came really enjoyed the day and seeing the snow( it was only on the hills in Ystrad. ) Our vehicle became a source of snow balls !
Sorry that we didn’t manage to take much of the food but we had a goodly amount and we can( I hope ) have it in Hay! Thanks all, A from Llangorse

Thanks so much for arranging for Lou to join us. I’m sorry that I don’t know her surname or indeed many other details other than that she is 16 and extremely helpful.
She arrived promptly, indeed she was the first face our visitors saw as all of the rest of us had been delayed by snow. She introduced herself and made herself busy helping to serve  hot drinks. When the three of us arrived from the snowy roads around Brecon, she was already helping the mums with their children and chatting. When  the group went to look at the festivities she was confident enough to do a guided tour and tell people about her town. The Swansea based volunteers told me how they were very impressed with her commentary..
She was the perfect ambassador for your school and I do hope that she will sign up for our newsletters so we can keep her in touch with what we do and hope she can join with us again if she wants to. A from Llangorse

 To Barbara, Ailsa, Steve, Lawrence and everyone else who cooked, got food together and helped in so many ways! Thanks so much for all you did to make the day work, despite the difficulties. The refugees who helped with the washing up said that they enjoyed feeling part of the work, and the Syrians enjoyed the cooking. Not what we would have hoped for, but good fun anyway! M from Cwmllynfell

Well done, that was no mean feat!! Sounds as though it was worth it though. Fruit cakes now in the freezer, ready for next time. R from Talybont

So pleased that you are back safely. Thanks for letting us know, I hope that you are not too exhausted & cold, we really appreciate the tremendous effort you have made. B from Glasbury

Well done you three! Please take care. Shame about the weather but we have no control over it!!
I hope you all have a good day and maybe a good idea to leave early. It is still snowing here. M from Llangorse