Enough of the serious stuff, for today we are going to get our ape on. Not far from Swansea town, located in Margam Country Park is Go Ape – a high in the tree-tops zipline adventure park. This two to three hour long adventure starts of with a thorough safety briefing and kitting up into safety harnesses. During the briefing, I look to the trees. It’s kinda high. I’m not scared of heights, but it’s kinda high.
Our guide supervises us one by one as we navigate the first platform and wires, making us repeat any mistakes, until she is 100% confident that we are doing it properly. Off we go, climbing to the platforms, sometimes navigating sky-high wobbling plank steps and flying down the ziplines to the next stage. Our guide is never far, appearing out of the bushes like magic if anyone needs help.
Some of the platforms are so high off the ground I have to second guess myself, but one you make the leap of faith it’s great fun. The hardest part is making any landings look stylish and by the end of the session it’s safe to say, there are woodchips down the back of my pants.
The park itself is a beautiful destination, with Margam Castle, a 19th century Tudor Gothic Mansion standing proudly on the grounds. There’s also an Orangery and the ruins of Margam Abbey. For those who are interested – or might recognise the buildings in the photos below, the BBC have used Margam Park as the location for several Dr Who episodes, since 2007.
This afternoon is special.
You may recall from my trip to Poland last year that my family on my Father’s side was originally from Poland. When my Father’s family was forced out of Poland during World War II, it was a hard and sad time for them. They had ‘lost’ Poland and not ‘found’ anywhere else to belong. A group of them travelled together – my Babcia (grandmother) – who had been visiting her sister and family in the countryside from Warsaw – her mother, her sister Sofia, Sofia’s husband Ignacz, and their children Bogdan and Alicija (Ala). Ala was only young a the time she left their farm in Ostrow. At the end of the war, she settled in Coventry, whilst my Babcia and Father emigrated to Australia. Through the wonders of technology, I have been able to chat briefly to her via Skype over the years, but Chris (her son) and Sharon have arranged for her to visit Wales from Coventry for a couple of days during my visit. I can’t tell you how excited I am for the opportunity to meet her, and perhaps also put together some more pieces of the puzzle.
We meet Ala off the bus and she says “I never thought I’d be seeing Wlodek’s daughter in my life”. She asks to look at me properly to see any likeness to my Father. She thinks I’m more like my Mother. But she’s very excited to meet me. Likewise.
Our chatter in the car is a variety of things – how was her bus ride, snippets of family information, questions about my trip. She didn’t bring her mobile because it needed a new SIM card so Andrew (Chris’s brother) was fixing that, but she does have her IPAD, which she loves. She can’t believe how much information about the Polish deportations is on the internet.
She has an excellent grasp of the English language and has a brilliant memory.
She wishes I could have come and visited her home city in Coventry.
I am only at the beginning of the research trail into my family history and whilst I know some things and have some questions for her, I feel anxious to fill in the gaps now so I can speak to her more. It’s really incredible to speak to her about her experience as a displaced person, learn what my Babcia and Dad’s father were like and also just to chat to her about her life now and what she likes and doesn’t like. I am incredibly thankful to Chris and Sharon for making this meeting happen and I can’t wait to meet with Ala again, next time in Coventry and hopefully I’ll be armed with much more of my family history.