There is something quite fundamentally ancient about beacons. For me seeing a beacon lit on the top of the Malvern Hills as part of a chain of 4200 across the Commonwealth to mark the Queens Diamond Jubilee was more powerful than a street party. It is almost primeval and links us directly with our ancestors back as far as you can go. Beacons were lit as warnings and as celebrations – a basic means of communicating long before the inventions of the 20th and 21st century. The sense of anticipation was great, looking out from the top of Worcester Beacon towards Wales, trying to spot other beacons being lit- seeing fires burning in the distance and firework displays was quite magical.
I think this is the first time the Beacon has been lit since we moved here in 2000. We missed the Millennium Beacon when apparently around two thousand people attended. It is hard to judge these things and the impact there will be on parking etc. We could have walked to the Beacon from my house but whilst I am physically strong and can dig for ever I’m not so good at walking long distances at the moment and so I decided we would drive up and see where we could park. I managed to persuade my sons that we should leave home at 8pm although the Beacon wouldn’t be lit until around 10:15. We are only a 15 minute drive from where we were going to park so they did think I was slightly paranoid but it turned out that our timing was spot on as the roads were already busy and there was a small but steady stream of people heading up the hills. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the Beacon and as you can see from the photograph above a small number of people had already gathered.
Needless to say the indefatigable BBC had managed to get their broadcasting van virtually to the top. Not bad considering we were 425m above sea level, that’s 1395 ft and the highest point in the area. This also demonstrates how accessible the Malverns are. We found a spot to sit and faced looking out towards Herefordshire and Wales beyond in the hope of seeing a fantastic sunset. Friends joined us and you could sense more people around you. It wasn’t until we decided to stand up so we could put the coats we were sitting on on that we became aware of the sheer number of people on top of the Beacon. My son’s friends texted that they had found a better vantage point and so we moved down a little.
You can see that the BBC van is now surrounded by people. By now it was 10pm and anticipation was growing. Were we facing the right way to see other beacons lit? Would the beacons towards Birmingham and central England be lit before those on the other side of the hills towards Wales? Ripples ran through the crowd and then a cheer as the man with the lighting pole appeared. We waited, there were some wafts of smoke, but then distraction from behind us as other beacons were spotted in the far distance. A faint glow could be seen through the crowd in front of us and then some sparks above the heads. Slowly but surely the glow grew and it became apparent just how strong the wind is on the top of the hills as the smoke and embers were blown towards the majority of the crowd. At this point we were glad we had changed our viewpoint! Then the flames took hold and suddenly the crowd in front thinned as people moved back from the incredibly heat as 20ft of wood ignited. Cameras flashed, there were outbreaks of singing, cheering and even a ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone.
(Apologies for the repetition of photos in the slide show from the rest of the post – it is beyond me how to just select some photos!)
It is interesting how hypnotic fires can be. I know that the group I was with, many of them with scouting connections, are huge fans for large bonfires and so we stayed, moving closer as the crowds in front of us dispersed and people started to make their way home. There was a steady stream of torchlight as people made their way down the Beacon taking a range of paths. It got quieter and the fire, though fierce, was not as large as it had been. It became more personal and intimate and even more special. Sadly the cold that the heat of the fire had kept at bay started to creep back and the real world beckoned us back down the Beacon, home, and after a midnight cuppa, bed.