There’s not going to be a beacon on the top of Shropshire’s Wrekin hill tonight, even though there will be a thousand beacons across the UK for the Queen’s 90th birthday. But back in 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee there was, and like a few hundred other people I climbed the hill in the dusk to see it lit.
Chains of beacons were used to warn of invasion, with watchers camped out beside bonfires on the top of prominent hills, waiting to set them ablaze as soon as the light from the previous one in the chain was seen. One of Macaulay’s poems (The Armada) describes a wave of such lighted beacons spreading out from Cornwall across England and Wales as the Spanish Armada approaches, and the Wrekin gets a mention:
Till the proud Peak unfurled the flag o’er Darwin’s rocky dales
Till like volcanoes flared to heaven the stormy hills of Wales,
Till twelve fair counties saw the blaze on Malvern’s lonely height,
Till streamed in crimson on the wind the Wrekin’s crest of light
Tolkien, who rooted his mythology in real history, also employed a chain of beacons and Peter Jackson’s “Return of the King” includes the scene.
More recently, beacons have been used for celebration as we’re seeing across the country tonight and in 2012. So back on the Wrekin, here is a photo of 2012’s bonfire, ready to go.
Then the moment itself. I could see at least one other beacon on distant hills by this point.
The fire quickly took hold of the whole bonfire, and I took pictures from further back showing more of the crowd and the plume of smoke and burning embers going up into the sky like Macaulay’s “crimson on the wind”.
Then we started drifting away and heading off down the familiar path, but for me it was the first time I’d done it in the dark. On the open ground on the top of the Wrekin it was ok, and there was a full moon, but once into the woods that cover most of the slopes of the hill it was tricky. Quiet a lot of phones appeared as makeshift torches, but I kept away from them to keep my eyes adjusted. As always, it takes about half as long to go down the Wrekin as to go up, and then back to my car, roads, streetlights, and home.
And this last picture is just in case you don’t know what Shropshire’s most famous hill looks like in daylight!