Missing the dark

Memory of the Solstice fades. The comfort of those longed-for days of lessening light, increasing night.

I love that time of year – but then, I’m one of the lucky ones. With a home, heating, and warm clothes. A plentiful supply of tealights to dot around the house, making ‘hygge’ of the shadows.

Last year, before the Solstice, I made a seasonal decision.

Last year.

Strange, isn’t it? A casual tick of the clock can change our past, our present and our future. Turn one into the other.

It’s possible I feel it more than most. Three days sit between me and another year. Deduct my year of birth from 2018 and I’m a year older than I ‘really’ am for 362 days.

But I’m ceasing to care about such things, if not about winter. I revel in winter.

I used to revel in Christmas, but not any more. Which is why, last year, I decided to celebrate the season, not the feast.

Christmas has always been, for me, both a Christian feast and a season of traditional celebrations. Of holly and ivy and evergreen trees. Of handmade decorations and fairy lights. Of presents carefully chosen.

A time for carols and seasonal music – medieval, Baroque or Steeleye Span. Even, yes,  Slade.

Twelve days. Well,  fourteen, actually, beginning on Christmas Eve.

Each year, ever since I took the bus to school as a child,  I’ve harrumphed at the ever-earlier start of the Christmas jamboree. Trees in windows, frantic displays of ‘fairy’ lights, inanimate menageries and blowsy, blow-up Santas popping up in gardens.

In 2017 it began in mid-November.

And Advent. Advent was once a time of preparation. Of saving. Of planning.

Now its calendars are a commodity to be sold for maximum profit. Things of greed and consumption. Where once they were tallies of daily anticipation. Awaiting baby Jesus – or possibly Father Christmas. And presents.

But there’s no turning back that clock. Christianity is surplus to modern requirements, as the Beatles presciently concluded way back in the 1960s.

Last year I decided to devise a way of coping. I needed to use the brain cells ranting colonises for more productive thinking.

So, as the days grew shorter, as the sun sank ever further south, as technicolour sunsets turned skeleton trees stark black, I took myself in hand.

I decided to pretend that the blinking lights, the eerie white reindeer and everlasting icicles, the mince pies and shortbread and bottles of Prosecco, were tools for coping with winter. For those who loathe long nights, or short dreary days.

And I chose to celebrate winter. Which has its own duration. Not one ordained by a church. Or a song.I visited dank woods and smelled the raw damp air, scented by fertile fungi and wet, rotting leaves.

I upped the tally of tealights.

Bought a recycled ‘tree’ – a white-washed emblem of the season, not the feast.

Trailed sedate fairy lights  around the indoor bannisters, along the balcony rail and over one of the trees.

I made no mince pies.

I made no rich ‘black’ Christmas cake (as normally is my wont).

I made no Christmas pudding, nor brandy butter.

We watched seasonal films. Star-gazed on sharp clear nights. Ate venison and red cabbage. Parsnips, carrots and Brussels sprouts. Roast potatoes. Figgy ice cream. And fish.  Not all together, of course.

And on the fifth day of what once I kept as Christmas (and is my birthday), we ventured forth to one of my special places. To the Temperance (bring your own wine) Inn, near Sedbergh on the Cumbrian border with Yorkshire.

The Temperance Inn, its origins in the 16th C, looking festive

The inn looks out on Cautley Spout and the common land of the Howgills. Melodramatic  whatever the season or weather.

And seasonal weather we had.

One day the mighty fells crunched with treacherous ice underfoot. Another they hid, dredged with snow, falling and settled. Latterly, muddied with melt, the green and brown of the living earth won out. And all in the space of just four days.

Late in the day, 28 December: looking to Cautley Spout, Cautley Crags on the left

28 December also, returning from an icy walk to the inn, the white building, as evening falls

29 December. looking towards the crag side of the valley

29 December, the Spout is there somewhere

30 December Albert the donkey grazing with his sheepish friend

Our last day at the Inn, 31 December

We spent a happy, wintry time. Next door to a stable, warm with a donkey, cows and sheep. Scented by hay and animals.

We sat by the fire. Read and talked.

Watched small birds – like robins – while eating hearty breakfasts.

From our bedroom window

Snowing outside, the library cosy in the inn

Kat – or Moggy depending on which of our hosts is calling it – hogging the warmest chair in the parlour

Albert letting it snow

No room for this lot in the inn but plenty out here


At breakfast. The bird cage lets smaller birds in to feed. The woodpecker has learned how to join them

We visited Long Meg, her standing stones aligned to catch the Solstice. (She witnessed it when we were still far away. What she saw, she wasn’t telling.)

The place of the solstice sunrise, over the hills and far away. Too late for last year’s

Meg with some of her many friends

Well, that was last year.

And now? We’re celebrating winter still, till Candlemas (though without the fairy lights).

I hope you, too, are enjoying this winter tide. Whether yours is a world of snow and ice, or sun and heat or wind and rain. Or all those things, I suppose, in this climate-lottery era.

And thank you, my online friends, for reading.

My very best wishes for a happy, healthy, rewarding new year to you all.

Near Farfield Mill, Sedbergh, on the way home


This entry was posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Cumbria, Lancashire & the golf coast, Uncategorized, Yorkshire and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Missing the dark

  1. You took me back to the winter time in Europe…the sights, the smells and the feeling, all so vivid in your post.
    And then I remembered being wrapped up like a Michelin man, sliding down to feed the chickens and clawing my way back up…bringing in wood…all the things that seemed to take so long with frozen fingers, but also the cosiness of reading beside the fire, dogs snoozing in the best positions…and the magic of frost in the trees by the river….

    Many thanks to you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Helen, while I think about it, forgive me if I fail to keep up with all your posts, for some reason I don’t get email alerts… must check my settings.
      But now, thank you again for your kind words I am so glad it took you on a journey through time to an old cold season! You sound as if you had a wonderful – was it childhood you referred to? Whenever it was, it sounds close to the reality of life. You are full of interesting tales, I look forward to reading more in the coming year. Many thanks back at you!


      • Don’t worry about keeping breast of the blog…it has its moments of surfacing and then of sinking, depending on what is going on around me.
        I was thinking of our time in France when I read and enjoyed your post. Childhood winters saw me spending as much as possible in the local library…all those books!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Heide says:

    What a glorious post! I feel as if you’ve whisked me away not only to another place — but to another time altogether, when humans lived closer to nature and were more attuned to her changes. Thank you for your evocative writing and for your beautiful images. I have bookmarked this post and will revisit it at the beginning of the season next year as a reminder to not get so dazzled by all those fairy lights that I forget to enjoy the simpler pleasures. Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy, very healthy year ahead!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. The place we went is like a time travel machine, it is wonderful. I am not supposed to tell too many people about it lest the pleasure is spoilt but I couldn’t help but share it. And a happy and healthy new year and simpler, joyful next Christmas to us all!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ricardo says:

    Love those sheep.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, sounds just perfect. I miss the winter woods and stars that were my childhood Decembers – and promised this year that next year I’d go back in that direction. Enough of the circus and gluttony of gifts.
    May the season magic cover you entire year.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Karen. Make a vow to do it this coming year. It makes everything feel so different and magical. Or perhaps that was the simplicity? I love your good wish, I hope you have the powers of a a fairy godmother 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A perfect way to celebrate winter (and Christmas and your birthday!). Beautiful photos of the countryside. I miss Yorkshire! We’ve “downsized” Christmas celebrations, too. Instead we visit places of interest – historical and archaeological sites like Long Meg and her friends – trading experiences for presents. Funnily, I read somewhere (the Guardian, I think) that Millennials now prize experiences over material goods. Perhaps we are Millennials at heart?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yorkshire is well worth the missing,if you see what I mean! Such a big county and so full of interesting things, I moved there from Lancashire aged 7 and stayed there till I went to university. Cumbria is wonderful too, where this officially is, I think. If ever you are back in the north of Britain and haven’t done Long Meg she is amazing, so many stones and such a magical spot.
      I’m happy to join you as an adopted millennial for this purpose! Give me rewarding experiences over material things any time. Well, mostly…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ardys says:

    It is 41c here today, so I welcome the diversion to your cool, cosy winter. Belated birthday wishes, Mary…your days are getting longer and ours are shorter but considering the alternatives, still welcome!


  7. Thank you for your inspirational pieces throughout the year. This is a lovely relaxing piece capturing the spirit of winter and a lovely escape from the commercialism of Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Belated, but heartfelt, birthday wishes from me also. But it you who have given us the gift of your so beautifully shared experiences. Oh, how I’d love to visit Long Meg. A proper wintry northern hemisphere festive season would be alright too. As unseasonal is it might seem to we for whom it is a summer event, it is such the stuff of lore it has a magical appeal.
    Similarly, our Christmas was about the season & simole pleasures, the family lunch only a small part of what I had pleasantly but diligently created overall to suit ourselves. My MiL who nags me to death about such things to amuse herself… remarked with perverse satisfaction that [in my homegrown, homemade, homecooked efforts] I had gone to much less trouble [expense] than in previous years. Reading between the lines i.e. we hadn’t gone out and bought gifts nor unseasonal & expensive seafood or overpriced supermarket fruit which has so much become part of Aussie Christmas. Mind you, they all ate twice as much as they did last year! Like you, it’s a formula we look forward to repeating.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Dale! If ever you do make it over here we’ll go to Long Meg together – and stay at the Temperance inn overnight!
      I love the sound of your Christmas too. So many people have told me they wish they had done what we did… let’s start a slow, home-made Christmas movement! I can’t understand why in this country people buy – for example – strawberries in December. Flown from somewhere far way, picked too soon, hard and cold and far from sweet. Winter is the right time for potatoes and carrots and casseroles and baked apples and dried fruit stewed up with cinnamon and custard!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Tangled up. Sometimes in blue | MEMOIRS OF A HUSK

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