Winter is a time of darkness for all of us in the Northern Hemisphere. I know some people find this hard. You go to work in the dark you come home in the dark and in between is a backdrop of grey murk.
Like many things in life you need to embrace the winter dark for what it is, a time to withdraw inside and sort out your housekeeping. This can be a chance to get on with all those indoor projects that are impossible to do when the sun is shining. A chance to enjoy the delights of reading a book by the fire with a glass of cherry brandy or some internal quest to sort out your inner dirty laundry and make the new year a fresh start.
The dark is a blessing but on the winter solstice it is also a joy to turn the corner of the shortest day and welcome back the sun.
This year my traditional solstice walk went from the beautiful village of Chilham near Canterbury in Kent up to the downs where mist hung in the valleys before descending to Godmersham Park, once owned by Jane Austin’s brother and which was the inspiration for Pride and Prejudice.
We then headed up again to Blue Downs, through yew groves and along holloways before descending back to Juliberrie Downs and visiting the long barrow, now almost lost in the corner of a field of cabbages.
The long barrow is very long indeed, 144 feet to be precise but is now almost covered in bramble. Inside a stone hand axe had been deposited and later Roman burials took place there along with the deposit of a hoard of coins. Legend tells that it is the burial place of either a giant or a whole army and its horses.
Today the spot was empty and the sun set directly in front of us as we welcomed back the light, called for peace to the four directions. (In my case not very loudly as I had lost my voice.) Offered bread and mead and sacrificed something we wanted to leave behind in the old year which we wrote on pieces of paper and burnt and then hung on a nearby beech tree a hope for the new year written on a strip of cloth.
This is a rather ad hoc solstice ceremony but as the sun sets on the grave of a prehistoric ancestor it is hard not to feel the movement of time and a connection with the winters of the past when there was far more to fear in the darkness and far more reason to give thanks for the return of the sun.