This twilight image of the tower is the one that will haunt me forever. I’m staying in the hotel that directly overlooks the lake, and after lunch I came up to my room, pulled a rather chintzy armchair over to the window, and have spent the afternoon drinking in the view, learning by heart every last detail of the things Nick might have seen exactly one year ago today.
According to witnesses, it was round about now, with an early November dusk beginning to fall, that my son left his room and made his way across the dam to the Straining Tower. Looking at it now, as I pull on my coat and boots, I can see why it would have appealed to his literary sensibilities. The dam and the tower were built from stone in the 1880s, and have the typical Gothic appearance of the time. The tower stands tall and alone at the foot of a short pier onto the lake, and with its pointed green copper roof, and its backdrop of fir-covered mountains, looks like an illustration from a tale by the Brothers Grimm.
This morning I walked around part of the lake. Nick was a keen rambler before the cancer started to make things difficult, and this was one of his favourite places. I can certainly appreciate the beauty he saw in it, although being rather plump and used to driving everywhere, I found the lakeside tracks hard going at times. I took several breaks to catch my breath and study the scenery. In the hotel I had picked up an RSPB leaflet, and was able to identify grebes and mallards, and what I think was an oystercatcher.
This time last year, I wasn’t even aware that Nick had gone to Wales. By the time the police came to our house, John and I were starting to worry that we hadn’t heard from him for a few days. Apparently it had taken over forty-eight hours to find his body, even though someone had seen him jump from the tower. It was quite dark by then, and bad weather set in later that night, making it terribly difficult for the emergency services and RAF teams who came out in boats and helicopters. Quite ironic really – Nick was always so scathing of those ill-prepared adventurers who get themselves into trouble and have to be rescued at massive expense to the taxpayer. He probably thought he could slip into the water unnoticed. He always hated fuss.
Like Nick, I’ve come here alone. My husband couldn’t face it. He can’t understand why Nick did what he did. I can, and would probably have done the same in his position. John’s worried that I won’t cope with this trip, but I’m not here to mourn, although I have shed many tears through the course of today. Nothing is going to bring my son back, but by coming here I can retrace some of his steps, and see with my own eyes some of the last things he saw. It feels like the only way to get close to him now he has gone for good.