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Banburyshire Rambles Journal:

Winter Solstice Plus One

The Winter Solstice; the festival of ‘Yule’.
Well, almost.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Winter Solstice Plus One’ – Route map, 22nd December 2021
click for a larger image
– mapping courtesy of OpenStreetmap

I saw the sunrise yesterday morning, but was detained by events later that day and couldn’t go out to greet it. Out well before dawn this morning, the scene was immeasurably better as I was greeted with clear skies and a good frost.

Route: Banbury, Giant's Caves, Broughton Park, Broughton, Crouch Hill, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 10.7km/6⅔ miles; ascension, 130m/425ft; duration, 3½ hours.

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Slides from the walk:

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Another dawn, another frost, and hence cause for another walk. Except this time there’s an added impetus: The Winter Solstice.

Spending time outdoors makes you so much more aware of the natural rhythms of time, operating inexorably beneath abstract human time measurement to guide the natural world around us. Celebrating these natural cycles adds something extra to spending time outdoors; another layer removed from imposed modernity.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Winter Solstice Plus One’ – YouTube title frame, 1st January 2022
Click to go to the YouTube video for this walk – hotkey ‘Y’

As I said in a previous walk, “to see a sunrise, first walk in the dark”. I’m out well before dawn. By the time I reach the periphery of the town’s street-lighting the dim light of dawn twilight is beginning to illuminate the sky behind me. For this reason it’s easier to walk westward to see a dawn because the ground in front of you is dimly illuminated; when walking east the dawn sky dazzles your dark-adjusted eyes, making it difficult to see the ground in front of you.

I’m well outside the town, approaching Woadmill (the history is in its name), before I stop and take in the view; the lustrous deep reds and mauves of the first direct light of the dawn sitting atop the ridge on the far side of the Sor valley.

To make it easier to walk in the dark I’m following roads all the way this morning, so I can walk faster in the gloomy light. Soon I’m in Broughton Park, setting up to take photos of the sunrise.

What brought me to Broughton was ‘celestial mechanics’: The Earth is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun, which is what gives the temperate latitudes their ‘seasons’ as the sun gradually rises and falls in the sky. As it falls in the sky towards the Winter, it rises and sets further to the south, reaching it’s most southerly point on the Solstice – which lasts, pretty much, most of this week.

Thinking about going for a walk yesterday, it occurred to me that from Broughton Park the sunrise would be nearly over the top of the castle... so here I am.

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Winter Solstice Plus One’ – Broughton Castle, 22nd December 2021
‘Winter Solstice Plus One’ – Broughton Castle (click for a larger image)

There are clouds. That’s good. Photographing the sun in a clear blue sky is pointless; clouds add a more saturated, ‘Technicolor’ atmosphere to the sky, accentuating the long-wavelength colours of the dawn. Likewise, the frost on the ground is scattering the pre-dawn light through the thin layer of mist over the ground, accentuating the light and colours of the dawn.

Then the sun rose.

After a while observing the shifting cloudscape I wandered down the hill towards the church, looping around the road into the village. Climbing up Wykham Lane the layer of cloud obscuring the sun has preserved the frost on the ground, giving a soft-grey view over Broughton and the Sor Brook valley, framed by the hills and ridges of the Irondowns beyond – the usual ochre-red soil stained white with frost. The gates and fences along the way are clad in a velvety white layer of frost too.

Panorama from Sandfine Hill to Crouch Hill over the Sor valley

Use the slider to move the panorama from side to side

I wander into town via the footpath to Crouch Hill from Wykham Lane (the narrow lane is far too dangerous to linger on during rush-hour). I could walk over the hill, but instead take the route along Salt Way, the trees and ground fringed in frost.

For me, Solstice is the beginning of the year. The landscape all around, now cold and asleep, will wake in the coming weeks to give a new Spring, another Summer, and the promise of an Autumn with a harvest of roots, fruits, and seeds to consume over the next Winter. Our ancient ancestors knew that, and marked its significance. It’s such a pity that our blindly rational society, and the globalised commodity culture of supermarkets, gives so little weight to the continuing significance of this cycle to our present-day and likely future existence.

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