Monday, 28 April 2014

The Return

I had returned to Snowdonia. Who was it said 'never go back'?

Towering ridges pressed upon the Llanberis Pass. I halted amid huge boulders and craggy buttresses. Fifteen years had passed since my last visit. Gill's death hung over me.

I would again traverse the Snowdon Horseshoe, scrambling up and along the narrow ridge of Crib Goch. I'd cross the pinnacles to the bwlch and then the place would be near - a steepening of the ridge that marked the start of the ascent to Crib y Ddysgl.

She had fainted then fallen. The post mortem could find no cause. We built a memorial; scattering her ashes over the cairn on a wet, windswept day.

In the sun it was an innocent place, a pile of stones under an outcrop. I repaired the cairn and sat in a landscape formed by glaciers millenia before. Far below, Glaslyn shimmered under the rugged peaks of Snowdon and Lliwedd. In the distance the Irish Sea was calm and cloudless.

I collected a stone from the cairn, it was shaped like a pinnacle from the ridge, and went on. Tourists were massing at the top of the Pyg Track. A place where we had hugged and kissed in mist. The sinuous trail to the summit now flagstoned to protect the fragile earth from all those feet: some in boots, many in trainers, a few in wedges.

I crossed Lliwedd with my heavy load digging in and descended slowly to the Miner's Track, hillwalkers and tourists mingling on their way back to Pen y Pass.

It had taken seven hours, but on my return I could not rest. I drove back down 'The Pass' and stopped by the Cromlech Boulders. I remembered sitting on top with Alan in evening sunshine after we'd done routes on Dinas Mot, limbs heavy with success and reluctant to begin the journey home. I grinned, thirty years had flown.

I carried on down the road to Flying Sheep Gully, where, one winter, I'd almost been knocked from my perch by a mountain sheep less sure-footed than its companions. I stopped again at Nant Peris, the simple campsite where you washed in the stream and one morning at ten to six I'd felt my first earthquake. Then into the Vaynol Arms, scene of many an evening of story and celebration.

A pint of Robinson's Best. The day had gone well.

Friday, 4 April 2014


After the elation of the all clear came the relief and then the exhaustion. I was up in Belfast for a celebratory meal with T and barely made it home before conking out. Almost three months of high stress has a legacy that isn't easily dissipated. You seem to have to work your way back down to everyday levels of stress. It's like travelling down a large multi-storey car park and stopping on each of the floors to acclimatise.

To help this process, I'm going away to visit family and friends for a while; a trip to Wales and England that had been put on hold whilst I was waiting for my scan appointment. It's also a time of memorials: the anniversaries of the deaths of my good friend Jean Morgan (9 April) and my father (11 April). These anniversaries will be marked in different ways: Jean's husband Phil has arranged a get together in Gloucester at a rugby game, and the day before I will put flowers on my father's grave and go for a walk in the Malverns (a place where I feel particularly close to him).

I'm going over by ferry to Holyhead and will first stay in Snowdonia for a couple of days. I plan to walk the Snowdon Horseshoe, the hillwalk that Gill was doing on the day she died. There is a memorial to her that I carved from a piece of slate and placed there in 1987 on the occasion of her ashes being scattered. It's a place I've returned to a good number of times, but not since I became ill almost three years ago.

It's very good to make and return to memorials. You are marking out people who mattered in your life and giving them a special place of memory. You dont need a focal place to do this, but it can help - I've made a memorial to Gill in every place I've lived. For when someone who has departed really matters, they are with you all of the time.