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Banburyshire Rambles Journal:

Hunting the ‘Hunter’s Moon’

Banburyshire Rambles Journal: ‘Hunting the Hunter’s Moon’ – route map, 9th October 2022
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– mapping courtesy of OpenStreetmap

Autumn’s here, but for me the season really starts with the ‘Hunter’s Moon’ – the first full moon after the Autumn Equinox. So I go off for an afternoon to find it.

Route: Banbury, Hanwell Fields, Hanwell Park/Woods, Bourton Lane, Little Bourton, Southam Road, Banbury.

Metrics: Distance, 13.7km/8½ miles; ascension, 150m/500ft; duration, 4¼ hours.

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Slides from the walk:

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As I’m leaving the house a cloud front moves in from the west and the light goes ‘flat’ – the bane of landscape photography. No matter. This isn’t about pretty pictures; it’s about marking time.

The exact, astronomical moment of the full moon is about half-an-hour after the moonrise. Therefore it will rise just a few minutes after the sun sets (at full moon the sun is directly opposite the sun, so it rises as the sun sets). That makes it a little tricky to plan where I want to be at sunset, and then find an easy way home again. There’s such a short time between sunset and moonrise (about ten minutes) I need a location with a good line-of-sight to the eastern and western horizons. The long high ridges north of the town seem the best option.

Title frame for Ramblinactivist’s Video 2022/32, ‘Hunting the Hunter’s Moon’, 9th October 2022
Click for the YouTube video of this walk (or press hotkey ‘Y’)

As I explained in a recent video, in order to find your way home after sunset, and especially after moonrise, you need to work out where you want to be when it gets dark. Today I’m taking the scenic route along the ridge – Margary’s minor Roman route – towards Hanwell, then do a right-turn towards Bourton. That’ll leave me with a dark but easily walkable roadside pavement all the way back to town.

At first, the slab of cloud that moved in from the west was a bit of an annoyance. I rushed to get things done today to go for a walk, and then the clouds decide to put a damper on it. But as I climbed through the alleys of the housing estate to the start of the long ridge I changed my mind. The type of cloud – stratocumulus – might offer some interesting light effects.

Landscape image, ‘We stared at each other in the eerie light’, 14th September 2013
An example of the intense low-angle light created by stratus or stratocumulus clouds at sunset, September 2014.

Stratocumulus is basically a broken slab of cloud not too high above the ground. That blocks the view of the sun until it’s about to touch the horizon. That can give spectacular colours in the sky above, or for ten minutes the most intense low-angle light. For the moonrise too, it will poke above the horizon then seemingly disappear once again.

That’s why understanding the physical mechanics of the world around you, rather than the human-made appropriations of it, allows you to see it better. It’s possible to anticipate where to be or what to do to have the experience you want – or how to react when unexpected circumstances arise.

I’ve been walking this path out to Hanwell since I was a kid, when I went to visit my grandparents. I don’t have time to follow the Roman route all the way to Shotteswell and loop back to Great Bourton. Instead I head towards Hanwell church, fork right down through the woods of the castle’s Medieval fishponds, then cross the valley by the minor road. The M40 is a bit annoying – especially during the Sunday-night rush – but once over the brow of the ridge on the far side the noise level will die-down fairly quickly.

I arrive near the crest of the ridge just before the sun clears the slab of the cloud. As expected, the previously dim light suddenly flares to illuminate the landscape – casting long shadows down into the valley below. But I couldn’t linger for the afterglow: I need to be on the other side of the ridge!

Reaching the main road I do a right-left and go down the bridleway a short distance, to escape the noise and light-glare of the passing cars. I set-up my cameras, and soon after the deep-red moon appears on the horizon over Edgcote Hill. I record some time-lapses, which leaves me free to sit on the ground and enjoy the spectacle as the landscape all around darkens.

After a while I feel fingers beginning to claw at my bare arms and neck… it’s cold! I haven’t had this sensation in such a long time. After such a hot Summer it’s a reminder of the season to come, and the slow fall of the land into Winter as we approach the Solstice. The moon has disappeared now, invisible behind the slab of cloud, and the light level has dropped well below the camera’s operating limits. I pack up and head to the lane, then follow it in the gloom through Little Bourton back into town.

As I near the town the moon has climbed higher, enabling it to poke through the holes in the cloud. It casts my shadow onto the ground beside me; which follows me smoothly, stride-for-stride, along the pavement. But as I enter the intense glare of the new LED street lights at the edge of town, my shadow starts to erratically dance around me. So often, it seems that the complexity of the natural landscape is more predictable than the human-made monoculture of the urban realm.

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