The Green Hill

By Sophie Pierce

Letters to a son

Biography | Nature
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The Dart Map is a beautiful painting of the Dart Gorge in Devon by Anna Dunscombe, showing its history, wildlife and legends. A pack of 5 greetings cards, left blank for your own personal message. Plus a signed first edition hardback, ebook and your name in the back of the book.
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Limited Edition Swimming Cap

A comfy swimming cap made out of high quality silicone. Made to commemorate the Darty Dozen – a mammoth swimming and walking adventure on Dartmoor to raise money for epilepsy charity SUDEP Action. Plus a signed first edition hardback, ebook and your name in the back of the book.
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A limited edition photographic print of a Dartmoor scene by artist Alex Murdin. Plus a signed first edition hardback and your name in the back of the book.
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Visit to Dartmoor

A day out on Dartmoor to include a visit to Bronze Age stone rows and circles, an optional swim and a Luxury Picnic prepared by Sophie’s husband Alex (voted Devon Life Home Chef of the Year in 2015). Plus a signed, first-edition copy, the ebook and your name in the back of the book. [Only 3 available] Travel and accommodation not included
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Author Talk

A talk from Sophie about wild swimming, epilepsy or grief at your school, university, company or club. Plus ten signed copies. [Only 5 available] Does not include Sophie’s travel or accommodation
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Devon Hamper

A Devon hamper of food made and foraged by Sophie and her husband Alex, including a pack of dried mushrooms foraged on Dartmoor, seaweed salt with seaweed foraged from the South Devon coast, sloe vodka, home- smoked cheddar, home-made Apple Chilli Jelly and Marmalade made by Sophie. Plus a signed, first-edition copy, the ebook and your name in the back of the book.

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In The Green Hill, Sophie Pierce writes about the sudden death of her son Felix with an aching and gentle honesty. This is a book that will be a great comfort to those who need it.” Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent and Melmoth.

In 2017, Sophie Pierce’s life changed forever when her 20-year-old son Felix died suddenly and unexpectedly. Thrown into a new world of loss, she had to find a way to keep on living. In a series of letters to her son – composed during walks and swims taken close to his grave on The Green Hill in Devon – Sophie learns how to live in the landscape of sudden loss, navigating the weather and tides of grief. In the surroundings of Dartmoor and the South Devon coast she finds ways to continue the bond with Felix, both in her mind and with physical activity; actively mourning, rather than grieving.

 

This is the second of a number of weekly extracts we be running from the book...

 

When Felix was just three months old my parents asked if we’d like to go on holiday to Cornwall with them, and the rest of my side of the family: my three brothers and my sister in law and my little niece Tess, who was eighteen months. Felix was at the baby blob type stage, not yet crawling, an adorable bundle that we carried around in a rucksack. He was newly minted, our new treasure, and it was a fresh time, our family newly extended with the grandchildren Tess and Felix. We stayed in a huge bungalow overlooking Daymer Bay, with a vast garden, within rolling distance of the beach.  

   One morning Mum and I decided to walk along the coast to Greenaway Beach. I put Felix in the backpack and we set off past the clouds of tamarisk which bordered the path. We walked past the thirties houses which reminded Mum of her childhood, coming on regular holidays to Polzeath with their boxer dogs. We have lovely old black and white photos of them pic-nicking among the rocks, and surfing on their wooden boards. They used to stay at Ivy Cottage, just up from the beach, and there is another photo of mum aged about 14, wearing a cricket jumper, standing with her board by the house, about to set off for more adventures. Now baby Felix was the third generation of the family to be coming on holiday here.

  We walked gingerly down the steep staircase to Greenaway Beach, taking care to make sure we didn’t drop Felix. Once down, we walked along the shingle to the far end, past a large rockpool which was a favourite swim spot of me and my brother James as children, and where we had once spotted a large sea cucumber which both fascinated and revolted us. We sat down and laid out a rug for Felix to sit on.  

   As mum sat with Felix, I walked to the edge of the stone cliff, bent down and started to run my fingers through the shells and shingle. The best shells get thrown up against rocky surfaces and come to rest there. Limpets were everywhere, there were lots of yellow periwinkles dotted about like little jelly beans, and pink painted topshells. I got down on my tummy and looked even more closely. I spent about a quarter of an hour poring through the shingle, before I finally found what I was looking for: a cowrie shell. With a great cry of triumph, I leapt up. “I’ve got one!” I felt ridiculously happy. Finding a cowrie shell was a ritual quest while on holiday in Cornwall and I never felt things were right until I found one. The shell was ceremoniously shown to Felix, and I put it in my pocket to add to my collection.

 

   Last night I dreamed you were a toddler in my arms again and you looked at me and said: “Mummy”. Ah, that gorgeous physical relationship with you as a baby and small child, the fact that you often had to be held and carried, the intimacy of touch and feeling your warm, soft body, hearing your voice and laughter, feeling your life-force. You were delicious with your soft skin and glossy hair. I remember the night of the Labour landslide in 1997, you were three months old and I was breastfeeding, we watched the results unfold overnight, including seeing Michael Portillo lose his seat. You were a New Labour baby. Then I remember the day Diana died, a few months later, hearing the news on the radio while changing you in our downstairs bathroom in our little house in Cambridge. That was our first home, fairly basic, we’d done a lot of the work ourselves and I remember that changing table in the bathroom, Alex made it out of wood, so that it could be slotted onto the top of the bath, so we could dry and change you more easily.  

 

I am feeling so numb. I am thinking about the difference between grieving and mourning. We hear a lot about grieving but not so much about mourning. So, what is the difference? Grief seems to be more of a description of a state of mind, a term for something that happens to you. Mourning is more something that you do, something active. The modern way is to seek help with grief, to talk, to seek counselling. But I am more attracted by the idea of mourning, as something active I can do for myself, allowing myself the time and space to be sad, and finding ways to do that.

 

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  • Sophie Pierce avatar

    Sophie Pierce

    Sophie Pierce is a writer and broadcaster who lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon, where she loves to swim in rivers, lakes and the sea. For many years she worked for the BBC as a radio and TV reporter. She is the co-author, with Matt Newbury, of Beyond the Beach: the secret wild swims of Torbay; Wild Swimming Walks Dartmoor and South Devon; and Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall (to be published in 2021). She wrote the introduction to the Wainwright Prize longlisted Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper.

  • Prologue

    I AM BACK AT THE GREEN HILL far away.

                The wind on the exposed hillside scythes my body. It always seems to be howling a gale up here and, as usual, I’m thinking “what now?” I’ve been standing like this for a while, staring across the fields to the great white building in the distance that dominates the skyline. Beyond it, under a heavy grey sky, lies the sea. In the other direction, away to my left, is the lumpy outline of Dartmoor. I need to be here. But I also have to get away.

      I head down to the estuary below and walk along the bank where wild garlic is emerging; there are no flowers yet, just broad shiny leaves and a faint oniony echo. Scarlet elf cups nestle in the moss. As I walk through the trees, the river glimpses, its smooth surface glinting in the sun. Some geese pass above, their coarse cries reverberating. I reach North Quay, an old stone jetty festooned with seaweed. As I begin to change, a light breeze blows downstream, making me shiver. As usual I leave my clothes in an untidy heap on top of my rucksack, impatient to get in. I walk across the ragged grass which covers the top of the quay, a feeling of dampness in my toes, and climb down the old metal ladder off the jetty. Its rungs are cold and hard on my feet. I sink backwards off it into the brine of the River Dart. The water is turbid but silky. The tide is going out and I swim upstream past the twisting oaks whose long boughs dip into the water like the arms of wizened old ghosts reaching for sustenance. Delicate fronds of bladder wrack float by me in the water. I look up to the green hill high above, where I’ve just been. And in that moment, I feel myself fall away.

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  • 14th January 2021 New extract to read

    Dear friends, 

    I hope you're all safe and well and coping ok with the latest lockdown. We're all in need of stuff to read, so I thought it might be nice to start publishing some extracts from the book. We've put an excerpt from chapter 1 on the website (click on PROJECT SYNOPSIS and scroll down, it's just underneath the cover image), I hope you enjoy it. 

    "Enjoy" might seem an inappropriate…

    4th January 2021 Swimming into another year

    Dear friends,  

    Thank you so much for supporting The Green Hill. Every pledge means a great deal as this project is so close to my heart. 

    A couple of days ago I walked along the South Devon coast from Wembury to Heybrook Bay and on to a little cove I call Felix's Lagoon. As we arrived in Wembury the little valley down to the sea was white with frost. The sea was like a millpond and the sun…

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