It had been planned covertly all week in classroom intervals. An adventure to celebrate the start of their summer holidays, an epic hike from their foothill village to the top of the mountains that shadowed and protected them. In reality it would be a gentle walk in clement weather, even for their ten year old legs.
Saturday morning came along bright and clear. Dairylea cheese sandwiches wrapped in greaseproof paper and packets of smokey bacon crisps would provide sustenance. A bottle of squash and, to reward their efforts, a Mars bar. There were no walking boots, just trainers, no rucksack, just a swinging Co-op carrier bag each as the three friends set out.
At first they followed the river up through the dank, disused quarry. Vivid green algae followed trickles of water down the cracks in the high limestone walls. Full leaf hedgerows and sun blotting trees gave tantalising glimpses of the brilliant blue that waited for them.
If we had parachutes we could jump off the top.
Or an Umbrella!
Don’t be stupid, it wouldn’t hold you, Mary Poppins!
They reached basecamp, breaking from the wooded path to rest a while at a brimful weir. It was already hot, that soft insistent summer heat, the air heavy with promises. They took off shoes and socks and wiggled their toes in sparkling clear cold water. They sensed vaguely that this was true freedom, a time in their lives that would pass too soon.
Do you think the Flashing Blade will be on? It’s better than Champion the Wonder Horse.
Probly, but Robinson Crusoe’s better. The music’s great.
It’s not as good as the Flashing Blade! “You’ve got to fight for what you want…”
They sang together manfully to ease the march upward.
By that time of year the mountain had shed its camel hair coat of winter grass and the farmers had finished their spring burning of bracken to clear the land of the cattle-threatening fern. A vibrant, springy carpet met their feet as they stepped from tussock to tussock like real mountain men to avoid the soggy peat below. Heather dotted the landscape mauve and pink as they went gradually upwards to rockier ground.
My Dad says he found a Roman road up here when he was little. It’s hard to find, but he says he’ll show it to me one day. You have to know where to look. And there are shells on top of Garreg Lwyd, he said. It used to be on the bottom of the sea millions of years ago.
Well my Dad saw an American plane crash up here in the war. The skelingtons are still there.
No they’re not!
Yes they are, and if you’re up here at night you can see ghosts floating around, he said.
Lapwing song graced the air as if to encourage them. Insects thinned out and the atmosphere cleared to a purity not seen below. The panorama widened behind them as they climbed revealing distant shorelines, lighthouses, ships in the bay. Far off towns twinkled into view with windows reflecting drops of undiluted sunshine.
Panting, they reached the sparse stony top and surveyed the route they’d taken, their tracks like sheep trails visible in the longer grass. They settled on the warm, dry ground to eat their sandwiches and drink, talking easily amongst themselves, anchoring their friendship in shared experience. The time came to set about their task.
The intention was to make their mark on the landscape, to set their initals out in stones so that they might be remembered for ever more. Grunting with the effort, and soon sweating in the sunshine, they lifted and carried the largest stones they could manage into place. They formed letters on the ground, three metres tall. Then, satisfied with their arrangement they finished their drinks sitting on the smooth, flattened grass. Lying on their backs filled their eyes with deep, unsullied blue sky. They strolled about, absorbing the view, admiring the tangible changes they’d made.
Do you think anyone will move them?
Nah, no-one ever comes up here.
Who’s going to see them then!
Planes, and astronauts. You could see them from space, mun.
Emboldened by their success they looked for more to amuse themselves.
At the edge of a steep drop to the narrow river far below, on the opposite side to which they’d climbed, they saw a huge boulder. Almost teetering it seemed, left there by the Ice Age their fertile minds agreed, unmoved by time, weathered and gnarled.
As one they had the same thought, to finish the glacier’s work and send the ancient crashing down. It seemed the right thing to do.
With cries of Push! and Heave! they rocked, shoulders to the lichen spotted monolith. The red earth crumbled away at its base, the grass loosened its tenuous hold and they launched it on its way. Laughing, they held each other back from the ragged edge and watched in wonder as the monster rolled and bounced and gathered momentum, spouting great clods along with it, leaving craters where it hit.
At the bottom of the hill a grazing sheep looked up, startled by the noise. It was dead on impact in a brief, sickening cloud of blood, wool and pulverised bone. Finally the stone slowed and found a new resting place for eternity.
They looked at each other, their faces not knowing what expression to make. Excited, appalled, changed. Then the panic set in.
We’ve got to promise not to tell. All of us. The farmer will be round if he finds out. We’ll have to pay for the sheep!
My Mum will kill me!
Don’t even tell your sister.
Especially not your sister!
Gathering their belongings they set off for home, forever bonded in trust.