The Ashes.

April 09, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

The Ashes. For many people an iconic game of cricket between England and Australia. For me, it meant something completely different. After a family discussion, we had decided to scatter Les' ashes in two places; the Mawddach Estuary in mid-Wales and then on the Lickey Hills where she grew up.

I had already decided that, for the next several years, I would spend April 1st (our wedding anniversary) at the Mawddach and had already booked a room at the George III hotel on the water's edge at Penmaenpool, near Dolgellau. The kids rented a lovely cottage for the weekend, a few miles inland near the Coed-y-Brenin forest. We drove over in three cars on the Friday, met for a "family get-together" on the Saturday including lunch at the George and a short beach session at Barmouth (too windy really!) and then devoted Sunday to the ashes scattering. I had already decided that I wanted to scatter Les' ashes in four distinct locations along the estuary. The first was by the "old" road bridge over the Mawddach, at a quiet spot where the tidal estuary and the river merge. We frequently went there, standing on the bridge just looking down at the water, inland up into the hills or towards the coast and over to Cader Idris. More than once we saw a herd of cows (Les loved cows!) drinking down at the water's edge. The second place was another quiet spot, very close to the George III, where the estuary's course kinks and leaves a lovely marshy spot where sheep from the adjoining hill wander down. I scattered some ashes here on the Sunday morning after breakfast, on my own, watched by some new-born lambs and their very wary mothers. (The toll bridge and the small jetty by the George III were the scene of a major maritime tragedy as recently as 1966. A pleasure boat on a day-trip up from Barmouth was attempting to turn, to moor at the jetty. It hit the bridge and overturned. 16 people drowned.)

After linking up with Peter, Helen and her family, we headed down to where the estuary meets the sea, opposite Barmouth. We parked and walked to the water's edge, only a handful of other people around so early on in the year. We scattered some of the ashes at the foot of a slipway used by pleasure craft; on the "inland" edge, hopeful that maybe they will remain there, watched over by the magnificence of Cader Idris. We then walked a few hundred yards round the end of the spit, to where the outgoing tide was flowing and scattered the remainder there, to flow out with the tide. Les' maiden name was Livick, a very old Norse family name (and one that is actually mentioned in the 1856 book called "The Northmen of Cumberland & Westmoreland" which details the influence the Vikings had on that area. Les was very proud of this book which I bought her some years ago.) Who knows, her ashes may, depending on the influence of the tides, go back to Scandinavia.

When we organised this, none of us had realised that Sunday was also Mother's Day, which gave the scattering even more meaning. For that same reason, Hazel had departed in the morning with Joe and Beth, to spend the afternoon with her Mother, but Peter stayed with Helen and me. The weather was warm and sunny; we could not have wished for better. Afterwards Libby was able to play on the sand, helped by Ant making the sand castles while Freddie had his first "sunbathe".

Late Sunday afternoon, Helen, Ant, Libby and Freddie set off on the journey back home, while Peter came back to the George to stay with me. He and Helen had decided that I should not be on my own on April 1st. Monday was another sunny morning and I was determine to find a certain narrow lane on the opposite side of the estuary, high up in the hills. It was a road Les and I found 20-something years ago and at the time I reckoned it was the narrowest road I had ever driven along. With a stone wall on either side, to break down would have been problematic - impossible to open either door. Sun roof as an escape hatch! All this was actually academic as the walls only extended about 50 yards! With Peter on the maps, we ventured up into the hills. Roads change over time and a road which I am sure we had used then was now signed "Unsuitable for motor traffic". So we approached from another direction and yes, we found it. Another difference; then I was probably driving a VW Passat estate, a somewhat wider car than the MX5 and possibly with bigger wing mirrors. I was slightly disappointed. There were several inches either side of me now!

The challenge now completed, we drove into Barmouth for a snack lunch. Barmouth out of season is OK but is a place we always tried to avoid during the main summer holiday weeks. Call me a snob, but it had a very "down-market" air about it; too influenced by the large funfair. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Barmouth is now trying to improve its image - a volunteer group of locals called "BRIG" - Barmouth Resort Improvement Group, are working very hard to smarten it up - and the funfair seems much smaller than I remembered it.

Back in our hotel room late that afternoon, we suddenly heard the very distinct low, heavy throb of a Chinook helicopter. Peter reacted first and ran outside; I grabbed my camera and followed him. There, in front of us and flying low up the valley was an RAF Chinook, below the tops of the mountains opposite. Amazing.  

The following day, Tuesday April 1st was again warm and sunny. Les did us proud with the weather. I wanted to re-visit Cregennan Lakes, 800 feet up in the foothills of Cader, along another single-track road. Owned by the NT, this is a beautiful spot (read it on TripAdvisor!) overlooking the Mawddach estuary and the Barmouth Railway Bridge. The narrow roads and very steep descent into Arthog village keep it very quiet. When we arrived, there were just two birders, hoping to see a Peregrine Falcon and having to make do with a stonechat (which flew off as soon as I looked through his spotting scope!). Then a lone biker arrived, to photograph his lovely BMW touring bike with the Lake in the background. With a 6-cylinder 1600cc engine, the bike just purred when he pulled away again. I have no desire to ride a motor bike but the technology in them is amazing. Continuing the NT theme, Peter and I then headed for Barmouth. I knew that the very first piece of land donated to the NT over 100 years ago was at Barmouth, 4 1/2 acres of headland called Dinas Oleu, rising above the town. I wanted to visit it. Peter loves walking and, as a NT member himself, was keen to see this piece of history. As the photographs show, we did and the views are pretty spectacular. Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the NT, spoke of "creating open-air sitting rooms for city dwellers to have a place to breathe." (Remember, conditions then for many people were pretty horrible by today's standards).

Wednesday morning was dull and rainy as we meandered along the coast road to Tywyn (best forgotten about) and on to Aberdyfi (Aberdovey) where I do want to spend a "mini break"; and then headed for home. I had been away for five nights, my March and April "mini breaks" rolled into one. An emotional few days, both for me and for Peter and Helen; but despite the sadness at the reason why we were there, we all felt very positive about our time there. I will finish with the words of the Mawddach Poem, written in 1891:-

  • Who planned upon this mountain rock to build
  • High o'er the shifting sands of Mawddach flood,
  • They knew the soul of man had need of food
  • From Heaven and that the world's Creator willed
  • That from far hidden deeps should hearts be filled
  • With touch of ocean's wild fortitude.
  • They drank the dews of morning as they stood,
  • and with the sunset's latest awe were filled.

 

 The Mawddach is a truly magical place which I adore. I shall return.

 


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