Thursday, November 28, 2013

There is a light that never goes out

About five miles away, as the crow flies, lies the Upper Dee Valley village of Cynwyd. Tucked up in the lee of the Berwyns, just outside the village, is the former home of Everest hero Andrew ‘Sandy’ Irvine who with George Leigh Mallory may or may not-depending on your gut instinct- have been the first man to stride out on the summit of Everest. I realized recently that I used to take one of my daughters up there-no longer in the Irvine family these days- where she rode out into the Berwyns on one of their horses. 

A few weeks ago I was told an interesting and poignant story about the house and family. After Irvine disappeared on Everest, his mother would light a candle in his bedroom every night to guide his way home. Something she did for many years until she died. I was touched by the romanticism of this little ‘ceremony of the innocents’. I have a mental picture- having been there- of approaching up the wooded drive, with the owls carousing amongst the trees, and seeing the flickering flame in an upstairs window.

When I first heard the Mallory/Irvine story, I always felt for Irvine as the inexperienced greenhorn. Reliant on Mallory who was the outstanding mountaineer of his generation to guide them towards their goal and get them home safely. I remember thinking ,what if Mallory died first and left his partner alone and ill equipped to return by himself. Was that the reason an ice axe-believed to be Irvines- was found carefully placed on a rock.We now know that Mallory fell and was fatally injured. Did Irvine witness this and without the strength or will to continue, simply placed his axe down and went to sleep? 

If I could write fiction, I imagine there’s a nice short story to be told.The walker caught out on the Berwyn ridge in a winter white out, meeting by chance, a fellow mountaineer in curiously dated attire who happens to be on his way home. Passing through the endless drifted shadows they plough on in silence. Passing the ancient stone circle of Moel ty Uchaf and the tumbling Afon Llynor until they reach the clusters of white cottages gathered around the Dee....

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
'Here he lies where he longed to be;Home is the sailor, 
home from sea, and the hunter home from the hill'. 
 RL Stevenson


  1. very poignant. Never walked inthe Berwyns but even now feel a sense of belonging and a guide to ensure my safety in sandy

  2. Great stuff, thanks. I would put money on Mallroy & Irvine having reached the summit of Everest.