In a previous post I introduced the Island of the Cremated Dead by the Pondersosa Cafe at the Horseshoe Pass. I regularly visit and patronise the cafe and I’ve long been intrigued by this island and its accruing memorials, presumably association with ash-scattering and/or burial.
Therefore, I take my MA Archaeology of Death and Memory students to it each year and deploy it as a case study of the increasingly complex deathscapes outside of the cemetery and churchyard in the British landscape.
This spring, I revisited the island with my MA students once again. With the group, as part of a wider visit to sites of memory in the Vale of Llangollen, we discussed the island in relation to the broader trend to move ‘beyond the cemetery’ in the memorialisation of the dead. I connected the island to, among other things, practices in ash-scattering at sacred places, beauty spots and other landscape features including archaeological sites and monuments.
There are four additional points I would like to make about the ‘Island’.
First, the island’s memorials are growing and changing, with many different forms and styles. Each respects the others, but there is no coherent uniformity. Crosses, a buddha, small plaques and floral offerings abound amid the tussocks of wild heathland grass.
Second, there is a clear trend in orientation in one of two primary directions. Most memorials tend to face west towards the main approach, in front of the pairing of evergreen trees serving as the memorial focus on the island. Others, however, have started to face north, towards where the footpaths come closest. None face east or south, away from the main routes of approach.
Third, the island is seasonally flooding. On my previous visit, the waters had swollen to the brim, when I visited this spring, they are receded somewhat. So the quality and character of the watery setting transforms itself regularly and seasonally.
Fourth and finally, the Island is growing as a focus, and the fenceline behind it has been incorporated into the memorial focus, with memorials planted along it and adjacent to two public footpaths. Clearly this has become a popular place for ash-scattering and memorialisation away from the formal cemetery setting, and in a ‘wild’ upland location while retaining easy access from the road and a car park. Therefore, the Island is part cemetery, part roadside memorial.
Currently, I know of no parallels to this distinctive private deathscape created on open and accessible land beside public footpaths, yet clearly a private venture. I’d be interested to hear of parallels. Yet as the waters rise and fall with the seasons, created here close to a busy rural tourist route is a place that seems to exist as out-of-time as any prehistoric monument, a timemark between the heather and the roadside cafe.