I want to share photographic documentation of two wayside memorial shrines I have recently encountered in the north Welsh landscape, one near Llangollen on the Offa’s Dyke Path, one near Wrexham close to the Wat’s Dyke Way. They differ, but both use public and popular walking locations to commemorate the dead. I presume these are both memorials to lost children, but only the Llangollen example seems clear in this regard.
The first was beside a track which serves as the Offa’s Dyke Path as it skirts the northern edge of the Vale of Llangollen. It comprises three elements attached to the north-facing (looking upslope towards the path) of the trunk of a tree. From lowest to topmost, there is an adapted plastic spring water bottle as a flower-holder, an anniversary card from the parents and siblings, and a wooded painted butterfly. The butterfly seems to be widely used to commemorate infants and young children.
The memorial is placed on farmer’s land, but accessible across the barbed wire fence from the public right of way, and thus it is spatially liminal: neither fully on public nor private land. In terms of location, it reminds me of an example near Denbigh I discussed in a previous post, which is ambiguous and liminal in spatial but also conceptual terms because it is unclear what is being commemorated. Might these be the sites of death, sites of ash-scattering or simply placs popular with the family and friends of the deceased? In this instance, I think the first two options need not apply and this might be simply an accessible yet beautiful spot for the living to remember the loved one, and for the spirit of the deceased to reside, whether ashes were scattered here or not. I say this given the beautiful and popular Panorama Walk close by as well as Castell Dinas Brân, itself a place of ash-scattering and ephemeral moumentality to the contemporary dead.
This walking landscape is a landscape of memory with various interleaving practices of ash-scattering and memorialisation. While seemingly simple and makeshift, roadside and wayside memorials utilise existing trees, fences and walls to create complex spatial arrangements of memorial material culture, as discussed earlier for Bersham.
Moving to Wrexham, I encountered another recently in Erddig Park, close to Wat’s Dyke and its attendant long distance footpath. While the previous example clearly memorialises a dead family member, this one might remember a child, a grandparent or it might equally constitute the memorial to a lost pet. There is a disc painted with a memorial message, but it is shop-bought and unspecific. The small size of the spot makes me wonder whether a cat or a hamster might have actually been interred here rather than this necessarily commemorating a human being. I’d wager that children were not only participants but agents in this memorial’s arrangements: the painted stones mirroring and overlapping with the COVID-stones I have witnessed elsewhere providing the focus of ‘shrines of gratitude‘. So while unquestionably a memorial, to whom, and why this form and precise location remains unclear. The message is clear but ambiguous!
Regarding the ethics of photographing these: they are fully in public places and not private environments. Still, while I consider it legitimate to record, respectfully, these memorials, I haven’t included photographs which reveal the names of those commemorated or mourning, and I have not mentioned their precise locations.