Welcome back the light

katie-and-simon-admire-the-viewWinter 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.

chilham-house-in-mist

Chilham Castle in the mist.

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.

solstice-walkers

Solstice walkers on a holloway.

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.

an-offering-of-bread-and-mead

an offering of bread and mead

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.

solstice-sun-from-long-barrrow

solstice sun from Juliberrie’s grave.

 

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Naughty Nuns and Nightingales

Spring is well and truly underway, which must mean it’s time to undertake my regular Naughty Nuns and Nightingales walk for the Explore North Kent walking festival.

But before you ask.. No, I don’t dress as a Naughty Nuns. Every year legions of men seem to be disappointed at turning up and finding..well, just me in walking boots. Really, the habit would rather get in the way of leaping the stiles and encouraging the feral ponies, which inhabit the marsh, to leave us alone.

Still, this walk from St Mary’s Church in Lower Higham in Kent (ME3 7LS) and across the marshes to the Thames is one of my favourites, full of interesting stories, plummeting lapwings and, if we are in luck, warbling nightingales.. and, yes there is a tale of nuns led astray.

The walk costs £1 and begins at 10am on Saturday 24th

To book a place e-mail; countrysideconsultations@hotmail.com