Words and pictures: Matt Morden
My mother’s family were Gwent valleys mongrel stock, a mix of Somerset miners, Gloucestershire quarrymen, Herefordshire farm labourers and Carmarthenshire drovers. The industrial revolution saw them gather and settle in Blaenafon, Pontnewenydd, Garndiffaith and Cwmafon, the headwater mining villages of the Afon Llwyd (grey river) that flows thirteen miles down through Pontypool and Cwmbran to meet the tidal mud of the Usk outside Caerleon. Never more than a few metres wide, it’s fast flowing in spate and prone to flash flooding.
The Afon Llwyd doesn’t feature largely in fishing textbooks, given the long-running affects of pollution from the many industries that have come and gone along its banks. Growing up in Cwmbran in the 1970’s, the grey river was well named and was often mutated into the “open sewer”. At that time, Cwmbran’s industry was dominated by the Girlings and Saunders Valves factories. Both factories bordered the river and there were regular discharges of pollution into the water above Llanyrafon. Despite this, Cwmbran Angling Association stocked the river with brown trout regularly, enabling game fishing from mid-March to mid June when the coarse season began on Cwmbran Boating Lake.
While there were a few slower glides where fly-fishing was possible, the river was best suited to worming in the early months of the season. Having cannibalised an 8ft fly rod for worming and added a Woolworths reel, it took me many visits before I caught my first trout. The lower reaches of the Cwmbran AA water were next to Burton’s Biscuits factory (home of the Wagon Wheel) and the source of a sweet and homely biscuit smell that hangs over the area on still days.
On a warm April morning in 1978, I waded mid-stream and cast into a small eddy beyond the base of Burton’s bridge. The line tightened sharply across my fingers and I struck hard, the fish jumping clear of the river before I guided it into the landing net. It measured thirteen inches, three over the take-able limit. Back at home, I gave it to my Grandparents who took it back on the bus to Cwmtillery for their tea. They said it tasted oily. Looking back, this probably wasn’t a compliment.