National Park says no more 'sombre' memorial benches

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The Independent Online

Dudley and Mainwen Edwards were never happier than on their annual 400-mile Easter pilgrimage to the magnificent path that follows the Pembrokeshire coast.

Fittingly, the couple from Leek in Staffordshire, who died within 10 days of each other a decade ago, are immortalised by a wooden bench in the national park placed by their daughter. But the memorial, one of 95 commemorative seats along the 186-mile path, has upset many of the ramblers who follow in the Edwards' footsteps.

Now, after scores of complaints from hikers, officers of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park have decided that no more "depressing" plaques and benches will be allowed to line the path.

The access officer Anthony Richards said there was "anecdotal evidence that the whole experience of walking the path is getting a little bit sombre". From now on, the park will permit new memorial benches only around harbours, car parks and urban fringes.

The park authorities receive numerous requests for memorial benches. "More often than not there is a strong desire for a memorial on a specific part of the coast, which reflects an understandable attachment to a favourite location or view," Mr Richards told the park's policy committee. "Suggestions [to relatives] of alternatives, such as tree planting, are therefore usually declined."

The environment is also at stake. "It is somewhat ironic that the desire to commemorate a particular coastal location that was cherished for its unspoilt character will usually have some detrimental impact," added Mr Richards.

The Edwards' wooden bench is on a part of the path they loved at Lindsway Bay, 10 miles from the remote western extremity of Wales. It carries a memorial plaque simply engraved with the words: "In Memory of Dudley and Mainwen."

Their daughter is reluctant to be named since she is involved in delicate discussions with the park authorities over plans to change the use of her property, having recently joined the army of people moving across the border from England. But she considers the policy curious, to say the least.

Her mother and father, who died aged 90 and 86 respectively, "so loved the spot", she said. "It was always dad's wish that his ashes be scattered out there. It's so good that the bench is still there."

The people of south Pembrokeshire seem to be with her. One keen walker, Sue Clarke, said of the benches: "I'm not as young as I was and I'm just always glad to find them."Geoffrey Williams, Dyfed area secretary for the Ramblers' Association, also gave his support. "Speaking personally, I'm grateful for such benches," he said.

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