Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Scattering my Father’s Ashes

My father died on the 20th August 2004 aged 93.  For the last ten years of his life I cared for him to the best of my capability.  The following is an account of when I took my Dad’s ashes to the place where he had asked me to scatter them. 

My Dad; William Ernest Phillips, 24.04.1911 - 20.08.2004
Ten years ago today I fulfilled one of my father’s wishes and scattered his ashes overlooking the town and valley he knew as home.  The day was the 4th November 2004.  It dawned fine with gentleness in the air as I set off from my front door at 7.00am.

When my father was of an age when ill health may overtake him I approached the subject of where he wanted his ashes to be scattered.  I thought such a question would be hard to ask, but it was not, it came out in a steady flow of words and I seemed almost removed from the situation, perhaps purposely so, possibly I was trying to remove the emotion from the subject matter.  He said he would like me to scatter his ashes at the top of Maesgwastad above Christ Church; this is a field overlooking Welshpool.  I knew where this was but to my knowledge I had never visited the place.  When sorting my father’s possessions a few days after he died I found a small photograph of him with my brother and myself standing at the top of Maesgwastad, I was probably aged eight or nine, no doubt the photograph was taken by my Mum before the time my parents split up.

As I walked down the path outside my bungalow I knew the route I wanted to take toward Maesgwastad.  This route involved taking my father’s remains on a journey around the places that had direct relevance to his life.  Many of these places were where my father had lived with his parents, brothers and sister and the houses where we as a family then called home.  I wanted to visit these in chronological order from the present to the past, for me this meant a look back on my father’s life.

During the last year of his life he needed a lot of care after suffering a heart attack in 2003.  When discharged from hospital he was given one week to live and came home to die.  Twelve months later and he was still battling.  He survived a bout of pneumonia which resulted in him being given no more than 24 hours to live, but was gone a few weeks later.  His aged body no longer willing to fight the passages of time.

During the last year of his life I took him out many times in a wheel chair, and as I walked out of my bungalow on the day I scattered his ashes I wanted to repeat some of the route that I used to take him on.  I slowly made my way around the estate where he lived for the last 14 years of his life before walking up the road to the Montgomeryshire Canal and its tow path which is close to where I live.

I’d separated his ashes into a number of suitable containers as I wanted to scatter his remains in a number of places before visiting Maesgwastad and his place of final rest.

Before moving to Little Henfaes Drive we lived on a council estate called Oldford, a rather sprawling estate that used to have a number of unsightly concrete flats as its welcome.  My time at Oldford held many memorable moments for me and the years there formed a backdrop to my adult life.

I hadn’t visited number 26 Prince of Wales Drive for quite some time and as I stood outside the house it seemed rather odd, almost as if I was looking into a life now removed, a part of me that could no longer be grasped.  I wandered around the back of the terraced row and stood outside the small back yard and looked at the gate that my Dad had made.  We’d lived in this house for over ten years together, times had moved on, as life itself does.

As I left Oldford the morning was awake and the chill blue sky of an early November day at least gave welcome solace from the prospect of rain and wind.  I wanted to pay my respects at the commemorative slate and sandstone surround just below the entrance to St Mary’s Church.  This is where the names of the fallen from two World Wars are inscribed.  The name of my blood Grandfather; Charles Phillips is one of many.  Charles died a prisoner of war in occupied France in the First World War; my father was only aged six when he lost his own Dad.

The path through St Mary’s Churchyard brought me to Red Bank and number 23 Brynawelon, my old family home.  This house held many memories for me, a great many from the time when my family disintegrated around me.  My mother and grandmother left, my brother left to find digs with a friend and I stayed with my Dad.  It seemed we had an unspoken bond, one that was full of appreciation and loyalty.

I then made my way down toward Borfa Green where I lived as a baby and where my parents first set up home.  I had few memories of this house but knew that many people living in the row of houses when my parents were their remained friends for the rest of their lives.

The bank leading up from Borfa Green is steep and led me to the house where my aunt and uncle used to live.  My Dad’s sister had married a lifelong friend of my father’s; they had known each other since Primary School.  The house next door was where my grandparents used to live; my father’s Mum and Dad, with Annie; my grandmother re-marrying two years after her husband Charles had died in France.  The next house along was where my uncle then lived.  As I write this all these people are now gone.

My route double backed to Red Bank and the across country part of my journey began.  I wanted to visit another house, this time in Maesmawr which is a few miles west of Welshpool.  To get to Maesmawr I had devised a route across fields to the Raven roundabout where the station is situated for steam trains to Llanfair Caereionion.

From the Raven roundabout I walked up toward Llanerchydol Hall and continued on a good track toward Y Golfa.  This hill wouldn’t be the last P30 I visited during this walk, but at 341.4m it was the highest.  This was the first time I had visited its summit and the view did not disappoint.  As I stood beside its trig pillar seven miles had been completed, with many more to go.

The route now headed northward over paths and fields and through sunlit woodland passing an old derelict building which is named as Graig on the map, to a 309m summit, the second P30 of the day.  This was my gateway from Y Golfa to Maesmawr and the old family home of Pant Cottage, which many locals know as the Kennels.

This was the house where my Dad’s father lived with his brothers, sisters and Mum and Dad.  Until recent times it was a house that I did not know existed.  Its existence only found through extensive family research undertaken since my father had died.

After leaving the top of the 309m high hill I found a forest track through Figyn Wood which brought me out opposite Maesmawr Hall, this is where Charles my blood grandfather had worked as a Gamekeeper before being employed at Powis Castle under the same profession before the Great War took him and many millions with him.

Before paying my respects to Pant Cottage I visited the 293m summit of Big Forest.  As I descended toward the old cottage I knew that the first enactment of scattering part of my father’s ashes was close at hand.  As I approached the house I wondered if my father knew of its existence as this is where his grandparents; Edward and Jane lived with Charles and his seven brothers and sisters who were all born in the house.

I knew exactly where I wanted to scatter part of my father’s ashes, between the house and the outbuilding, looking slightly up at the house which held much of my family’s history.  I said a few words and told my Dad that I loved him and then scattered his remains so he could in some small way be with his father and his family.  Afterwards I sat on the front door step and gathered my thoughts and remembered my Dad.  So many memories, how I wished he was still with me.  How I wished I could speak with him one last time.

As I left Pant Cottage I headed over fields towards the idyllic surrounds of Pant Pool and walked onto the minor road which took me to Laundry Lane and Stone Cottage where my Dad was born.  Memories flooded back to the day that I had taken him out for a trip in the car, as we neared Maesmawr he asked if I wanted to see the house where he was born.  He directed me toward Stone Cottage which he described as two houses.  As we sat in the car and looked up at the house it was obviously one house and not two.  It was only after my father’s death that I visited this house with my cousin; we were greeted by a Gamekeeper who asked us in, showed us around and confirmed that the one house used to be two.  A reminder never to doubt your Dad!

I thought it appropriate to scatter some of my Dad’s ashes overlooking the house where he was born and so I made my way up toward the wooded top of Moel y Garth.  I found an appropriate spot, scattered some more of his ashes, looked down on the valley he was born into and made my way up into the wood.

The highest part of Moel y Garth was easy to find although its summit was brambled.  I now had options for my continuing route, I decided on a bramble bash to South Moel-y-Garth Farm and from there connecting footpaths and a track led past quiet old houses on to fields which took me to the Guilsfield road.  By this stage the day’s accumulated mileage was beginning to take its toll.  I found a footpath that took me past a number of houses at Groes and the end part of the journey was upon me I plodded my way back to the top of Red Bank.

I was now on a small part of the morning’s route, albeit going in the opposite direction.  As well as being an emotional and symbolic day for me, the planned route was also an opportunity to visit areas of the town I had not visited in many years.  The next part of the walk was a case in point as it was through Bron y Buckley Wood.  This is a place I occasionally visited when a child, it was also a place that my father must have visited in his younger years as he lived below the wood in a house named Firwood.  It was Firwood I now visited.

After paying my respects to the house where my Dad grew up with his family I made my way to 12 Bron y Buckley where my father’s maternal grandparents had lived.  My Dad was with his maternal grandfather at a Wolverhampton Wanderers football match when he first met my Mum.

The day’s journey was now nearly over as I walked toward Christ Church, paying my respects to Norfolk Place, another house where my Dad in his younger days had lived.  Arriving at Christ Church I took my Dad to visit where his maternal grandparents, great grandmother and parents are buried.

The last part of the journey was now upon us as my Dad wanted his ashes to be scattered at the top of Maesgwastad, next to the old Keeper’s Cottage where his Mum and Dad, along with him and his sister lived when Charles was a Gamekeeper at Powis Estate.  The Keeper’s Cottage is now a ruin in a wood next to Maesgwastad.

I slowly made my way around the Church and down its drive to gain access on to the rutted track which gained height toward a gate which gave access to the wood where the ruin of the Keeper’s Cottage is situated.  The morning’s blue skied freshness had been replaced by cloud and a subdued quietness of a November late afternoon.

By this time I felt physically tired and a little emotionally drained.  Making my way up the track I think I had reached a stage where the accumulated mileage and the emotional impact of the day had turned my tired body to simple, uncomplicated thoughts.  I reached a gap in the wall and scrambled over it into the wood.  Keeper’s Cottage is now a ruin but the flecks of blue and brown paint on the standing wall can still be seen, with its chimney stack visible as an outline of brick.  I had planned to scatter part of my father’s ashes outside the ruin, overlooking it in the wood, but on a whim I decided to scatter some of his remains inside the old house he had shared with his Mum, Dad and sister.  I occasionally visit this spot on the anniversary of his death.  It pleases me to do so as the wood is seldom visited and is rather peaceful with beauty.

Only one task remained and that was to fulfil my Dad’s wishes.  I had chosen a number of places to scatter part of my father’s ashes during the day, all being symbolic to his life, but the top of Maesgwastad was where I knew that this particular journey for me and my Dad would end.  We’d been together for all of my life and had stood firmly together when my family split apart around me.  He’d been somewhat of a rock that I could depend on and now he was gone.

As I made my way out of the wood and over the adjacent fence I stood at the top of the field known as Maesgwastad and looked back on some of the land I had walked that day.  In the opposite direction across the town of Welshpool and the River Severn stood the Breiddin and the Long Mountain, hills that stood as welcoming sights to many who re-visit this area.

I chose a spot where these hills could be seen, my Dad had chosen a fitting place to be laid to rest.  I stood and looked out for a while down onto the town my Dad knew as home; this was the end of a long journey, both for me and my Dad.  I read part of his eulogy and looked at the photograph taken about 35 years ago of him with me and my brother in this very spot, I kissed his image, told him I wouldn’t forget him and scattered his ashes.  I’d fulfilled his wishes.  I made my way down toward the nearest tree, sat down and cried.

It seems to me that life is a journey, part of my journey had just ended and another part had just begun.  The 20 miles and 2,300ft of ascent also meant that it had been a long day’s journey, full of emotional symbolism, and one where I had fulfilled the wish of my dear old Dad.  Rest in peace, I love you. 

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