The Wrekin, an extinct volcano that rises 407 meter’s above the Shropshire Plain. It is a prominent landmark that when viewed from afar it looks nothing more than a pimple jutting from an otherwise featureless, flat horizon.
There is a local saying that goes ‘All around the Wrekin to get to Wellington’. Wellington is a small market town next to the ancient hill.
The saying roughly means to go the long way around doing something.
As a boy, I sat for many hours on my Bedroom windowsill, using the angle of the frame as a backrest, and drawing my knees to my chin. My attention was quickly drawn from the activities to my immediate front, the Village Allotments, with bent figures tending the soil, and the glimpse of an occasional truck on the M6 as it passed through a distant fold in the landscape, by the pimple jutting from the Western Horizon. What lay beyond that hill? Daydreaming, I would find myself alone on the summit of this hill feeling the freshness of the breeze on my young face, and the sound of the Voodoo-like chant that filled my head – come – come! I was in no mans land, the border between the known and the unknown.
Behind me, to the East, was all that I knew, the comforts of home, before me, to the West, a vast unknown, a Land of fire breathing Dragons that flew around rain-soaked mountains of black slate, where the folk spoke a language as old as the hills themselves.
I always turned back; down the slope, I’d go, back to my windowsill and home.
Until one day!
In my early teens, thanks to a friend’s mom and dad allowing me to join them on their Summer Hols, I got to go beyond the Wrekin. I remember watching its wooded slopes pass by until once more it became a pimple.
But where were the fire-breathing Dragons? I didn’t see any! The only Dragons I got to see were red ones on flags that were displayed by local patriots. But they were there – hiding – watching. Of that I was sure.
We traveled along narrow roads that twisted and turned, snake-like, through forests of lichen-covered saline oaks. Torrents of peat brown water frothed along the wooded valley floor, exploding in silver showers as it tumbled over moss coated boulders; coursing its way to the sea.
The Car was full of joyful songs and laughter. As old Ced steered us along our happy way, we greeted each twist and turn with whoops and whoas of adrenalin-filled excitement as if we were on a Rollercoaster.
We’re all going on a Summer Holiday.
The Wrekin has been my subconscious companion all throughout my life, acting at first as a lure, then a launchpad. A launchpad to the Heather covered tops of the Berwyn range, where at daybreak a damp grey mist shroudes the ridge, clinging to everything, refusing to budge; hiding the croaking Raven and the Sun.
It was on these misty, isolated hilltops that I felt most alive.
From my resting place on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Tannat Valley, I could be lulled into the past or future, simply by listening to the silence and feeling the warmth of my coffee cup that I held in my hand and smelling the aromatic vapor that rose from the hot liquid in search for my senses.
It was from here, this humblest of spots that my spirit soared and looked back at the time I spent working in the dark, dusty tunnels of the Staffordshire Coalfield; or the endless hours patrolling the violent streets of Belfast, where my walking staff became a rifle, the smell of coffee was overpowered by acrid smoke, and the dampness on my brow was spit. Venomous spit.
West of the Wrekin lies a land of Myth and Magic, and Dragons appear for those that look. Although my resting place has changed, and my beloved Meindle’s (Boots) have been exchanged for a Wheelchair, it is now, that to this land, with my wife Jackie, I return, to rejuvenate, and once to more smell the coffee.
I suppose I can now say that I’ve been All Around The Wrekin.
(And what a ride!)