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Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal,
Sunday 22nd December 2019:

Yule 2019

Marking the annual festival with a quick dash into the dusk.

Work finished, for the year, there’s just enough time to do a circuit out into the damp dusk to see the sunset, and take-in the end of the shortest day.

Route: Banbury, Bretch Hill, Giant’s Caves, Crouch Hill, Poet's Corner, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 8.3km/5⅙ miles; ascension 140m/455ft; duration, 1⅚ hours.

Go to: Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal Autumn 2019 Index (October-December)


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Everyone seems to want last-minute bits and pieces done before they go off for their Christmas break. For us ‘gig workers’ who just work any day without frills and benefits that blind haste can be a bit annoying; especially today. I’d planned to go out for a long walk. In the end I pressed ‘send’ on my last missive of the day at 3pm and then dashed ‘round the house to get out for the last hour’s light of Yule.

It's wet. No, I mean ‘wet’ as only our local clays can be when they're saturated by a long period of rain.

Even without frost, there are places around here where you can go skating at this time of year, whether you mean to or not; and ski effortlessly down hill slopes without the need for snow. There are also flood warnings out at present for the local brooks and rivers, which also restricts the ways to cross the valleys north and south of the town.

This being the case my options were restricted. My original plan was to head north on the canal and do a circuit of the high ridges through Mollington and Shotteswell, mostly along roads and surfaced tracks. I’d also hoped to get time to have a brew on a stick fire to mark the turning of the year.

No time for that I do the default dash westward, to take in the sunset and dusk along the ridge to the west, out on the ancient trackway towards the Cotwolds and Avon Valley with its sweeping view across the southern end of The Irondowns: from Crouch Hill, across the flat slab where the lights of USAF Barford St. John have just lit, with Hempton and Irondown in the distance; that view is terminated by Hobb Hill to the right of Bloxham’s tall spire; then above the dip by Tadmarton Manor, Swereford Heath and Fern Hill peak just above the crest of the green ridge; then Tadmarton Heath; then the 240-metre/784-foot dome of Whichford Heath in distance; from which rises the long ridge across Swalcliffe Park at the source of the River Stour; and then, just across the field, the ‘Western Guardian’, the old ash tree that marks the edge of the town:

Panorama from south to west from Bretch Hill

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It has been a bit of a year. I missed my Yule walk last year – I went blind and had eye surgery, which immediately deleted the first three of the last twelve months as I had to stay face-down in bed. Since then I’ve been getting back to ‘normal’ – whatever that passes for these days! – a good part of which has involved focussing on food and walking to regain my fitness. In parallel I’ve been ‘retraining’ my eyes which, though in some ways better, are disruptively not working in the same way as before.

Hence why, of late, though I’ve been walking a lot I haven’t had the ability to write-up something to go with the pictures and put it on-line.

I’d been hoping to beat my 2013 record of 600 miles of walks in one year (I’ve kept a log of all my walks for the last decade). Had I not missed the first two months stuck at home that might have been possible. Assuming that I get out in the next week I’m unlikely to make more than 575 miles this year. Even so, that’s between two and three times the distance of the last few work-disrupted years. I also got to do some backpacking this year for the first time in a few years, and I’m hoping to do a little more next.

I’m in no hurry. Days like this are for taking in the world, not rushing through it.

Climbing the slope up a now tacky Salt Way – which for the last two Thursday’s on my walk to collect our local-grown vegbox has been a few inches deep in running water, as the heavy rain runs off the monoculture fields either side of it – the camera dies. Battery flat.

It’s been such an intensive week I forgot to charge it. As I haven’t got my walking bag I’m not carrying a spare either.

That’s a pity…

As another storm is sweeping in from the southwest, the dusk sky is animated with folding, twisting clouds, pulling out threads of crimson and dark orange from the last light of the setting sun. In the hedgerows the birds, who’ve been quiet for the last few weeks, are singing and scurrying as the sky darkens – perhaps their own celebration of this auspicious day that portents the turn of another year and the Summer to come.

I’ve a feeling though that this Summer could be somewhat ‘troubled’.

Something tells me that the fires we see sweeping around the world – be that political or natural – will be coming here next. Already the verges are sprouting the first early shoots of cow parsley and hedge garlic, and the hazels are developing next years catkins. Irrespective of the on-line scepticism nature is clearly out of sync with the calendar season and its weather. Cycles are shifting; the world is in a perceptible flux.

I climb to the top of Crouch Hill and stand, for a long time, just taking in the view. If I had a flysheet and blanket I’d be tempted to stop the night; but I haven’t even got a drink, such was my haste to get out of the house. Next year: Next year ‘all change’.