Country diary: we scatter our dad’s ashes on to his most beloved hill
“Whoop!” The brassy fart of a horn announces hunting somewhere behind the wood. Thread through the blackthorn into a hollow between scrubby spoil heaps, to gain the confidentiality of snow. At the gate, look west to the white wall of the Berwyn mountains; the sky streaks blue and salmon. The hunters vanish, but a chainsaw labours in the threat they leave behind; its voice fills the air with angry frustration, then shatters into calls of rooks across snowy fields.
A bolt of light from low in the south-west fires across the land, illuminating half the Wrekin to the north. This hill, hog’s back still hidden in cloud, sends a lightless flicker between the present and the most ancient of days. Some kind of realignment of time and place happens there in the mist – a shift that can be felt for miles around, as if it has something to do with the great communications mast nailed into the oldest rock in the world.
Those who know this hill feel its compelling gravity. A few days ago, under a high blue sky, the Wrekin was fully lit. Even in the early morning, there were a lot of folks walking, running, cycling up Pilgrims Way, through Heaven’s Gate and Hell’s Gate in the ringed earthworks of the hillfort to the top. Up zigzag paths on the steep west flank, the woods were quiet, clear, with a wintry resonance. The pines near the top had not changed in decades, wonderful raggedy trees existing on stone and stubbornness; the spaces between them filled with golden air.
It was here that my brother and I scattered our dad’s ashes into the sunlight between trees. George Evans, teacher, geographer, writer, peace campaigner, was synonymous with the Wrekin and, apart from the terrible years away at war, he had walked and watched this hill and its woods for all his 97 years. This was the perfect day to return him: to where we scattered mum’s ashes; to the place that gave hope, strength and inspiration; to the timeless ancestral home. We raised a hip flask to them both and the hill: “All friends round the Wrekin!”
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