I wrote this back in 2003, just before the Iraq invasion. Sadly, it has become topical again.
We set out before daybreak, taking only what could be easily carried. I had a rucksack with all the warm clothes I could fit in. Huw always said we should have bought a bigger one. I left him a note to say where I’d gone. Not that he'd ever read it. I closed all the windows, turned off the gas and the water. Then I shut the front door behind me and put the keys in my pocket, as if I expected to come back.
Lindsey was waiting in the road. She had Daniel in his pushchair, the tray underneath it crammed, a bags dangling from the handles. As well as the rucksack, I had a carrier bag with all the food I had left. It wasn't much, I hadn't dared try to get to the shops for weeks.
There were no lights showing in the houses. Most people had already left. As we reached the end of our road we heard a machine gun, but not near enough to worry about. It was growing light by the time we got to the A5 and joined the stream of people heading west. I remember the quiet. The sound of shuffling feet, the occasional cry of a child. In the distance, the crump of artillery. 'Lichfield's getting it,' someone said. People pushing prams, supermarket trolleys, piled with whatever they had managed to salvage. Few cars, those mostly abandoned where the fuel had run out.
At Gailey roundabout we met a great mass of people heading north out of Walsall and Wolverhampton. They said the M54 was closed except to the military, so we decided to head down the old A5 instead. By mid afternoon we were passing through Weston-under-Lizard. I never liked that part of the road, the way it closes in on you, with the wall on the left and the trees overhanging the road. Feels like a tunnel, which is silly because it's on a ridge really. A couple of trucks were blocking the road, from one of the militias. They were stopping all the cars, siphoning off the petrol. There was one as we came up, a big Toyota, crammed with stuff. Two kids in the back, crying. The driver had got out to argue. They took no notice of us. A bit down the road, we heard a shot. Didn't look round.
We'd hoped to get past Telford before night, but word came down the line that it wasn't safe after dark. We huddled together, Daniel in the middle, in a building with a bit of roof left. It was so cold.
Telford – I don't want to think about Telford – rubble with the odd weed poking through – the smell – fireworks in an abattoir. We got through at last, carried on, the dark hump of the Wrekin on our left. We used to drive there once, walk up. You could see for miles, like you were on top of the world. Someone was up there now watching us, all the ants crawling along the road. I could feel it.
We met Olivia and her granddaughter Claire on the road. They had a trolley, but one of the wheels had come off. Claire was about fifteen, very quiet. I think something had happened to her but they weren't saying. We let them pile some of their things on the pushchair, perched Daniel on top. They had to leave the rest.
We had thought we might stop a while in Shrewsbury, find something to eat for our food was finished. Only they'd blocked off the road, so we had to go round by the bypass. The verges were covered in daffodils, masses of them, bright yellow. So pretty.
As we approached Nesscliffe more army trucks passed us. We heard firing ahead, and took shelter in a roofless building. It had been a pub, we used to pass it on our way to visit Huw's mother in Llangollen. Low, whitewashed, it looked a good place to stop for a meal, only we never did. Now we crouched behind a wall, hearing explosions, very near, very loud. When we came out two trucks were burning.
The last part of the journey I don't remember well. We plodded across the endless plain, the hills in the distance never getting nearer. We were very hungry. We reached Gobowen at dusk. The big hill fort they call Oswestry Old Town was covered in camp fires, we felt like we were back in the Iron Age. Some men, deserters, sat by a fire. They let us join them and share their food. We never asked where they got it. Everyone said the border at Chirk was closed, only people born in Wales or with family there were being let through. I'd be all right though, I had Huw's birth certificate.
In the morning the men were gone. So was Claire. Her grandmother rushed off after them, though we tried to stop her. We waited till noon. Neither of them came back so we carried on.
From the last hill, looking down at Chirk, we saw the whole valley crammed with tents; a checkpoint with the red dragon flying overhead and a long queue snaking back through the camp. We joined it.
Lindsey said if they wouldn't let her in, I must take Daniel. I didn't want to, but she started crying, she had heard there was sickness in the camp. I told her, when she got through, to look for me in Llangollen, at my mother-in-law's house. A Welsh Army officer looked at my papers. Lindsey didn't have any. I said she was my sister, but he shook his head. Then he looked at Daniel, asked if he was mine. I said, 'yes'.
I climbed the road up into Chirk, past houses with intact windows and roofs and washing hanging out. I wanted to cry. I went into a shop and bought pasties, chocolate, two cans of coke. Daniel was whinging for his mum. I'm your mam now, I told him. Then we walked on, up the valley, towards Froncysyllte.