I went for a walk yesterday, over to the Black Mountains. Up to Patrishow first, and then along and over the top. At St Ishow’s well, various offerings are left, ribbons and wool buffeting against the bitter wind. Up until the 19th century, this holy shrine attracted pilgrims with the promise of cures for various ills and diseases. I wonder if many lived longer lives as a result?
In the graveyard of the church, I read the epitaphs: ‘gone but not forgotten’; ‘joined in heaven’; ‘in ever loving memory’. But one stands out. His name is all we see, no pleas for an everlasting life, just his occupation: ‘violin maker’. Two words, plain and simple, sum up one man’s life. And what imagination they fire. Standing at his grave, looking at his polished headstone, I wish I knew more about this luthier. I am delighted his love for the sweetest of instruments is what strangers will remember him for. St Matthew’s at Marstow is an unprepossessing church in comparison to this remote Welsh church, but in its graveyard is a similar polished headstone, this time with the inscription: ‘she played the cello well’. Who was she? Did they know each other?
As I leave the church behind and continue up the hill, it’s hard not to think, how will I be remembered? Actually, I don’t think I really care. Does it matter? I walk past a piece of ground familiar to any farm yard: old machinery tossed on its side, bundles of redundant fencing, black polythene flying in shards from the trees, broken gates piled on top of each other. This is a graveyard, I think, a place to keep items that no longer have any useful function. That place back down the road, the church cemetery, that isn’t a graveyard. It’s full of life.
I’m in no hurry. It’s a cold day and it rains hard at times, but no matter. I have time to watch and notice things. And there is lots to notice. A stretch of dry stone wall, high up, almost indistinguishable from the moss that covers it. A once trusty bucket, now lies rusty, hidden by ferns. Fraying rope tied to a tree. A horse shoe. Their purpose and reason now forgotten. I have a longing, a yearning to know how they got there, who they met along the way, why they were left behind.
Now we will never know.