I first walked from Jervaulx to Jervaulx last April, and wrote about it here. However, I failed to lead my fellow ramblers along the same route later that month as I’d said I would, because it rained…. and rained. I’d promised them the walk though, and today was the day: bright, sunny, blustery – a perfect winter hike. Except for one thing. Those floods that have dominated British news this winter are still making their presence felt.
Our route today didn’t take us through pastureland. Sheep aren’t very good at being knee-deep in mud. It took us through soggy fields, and past lake after lake after lake: waters that simply were not there last time I took this route. It was all very pretty. Less pretty was the scene at stiles. Look at us skidding and sliding, trying to pick the shallower puddles as we waited out turn to get from one field to another.
We’re British though, always plucky in adversity. We soldiered on, sometimes a little weary of heaving mud-crusted boots along sticky, sludgy paths. But nobody fell over, nobody lost their sandwiches in the mud. Everybody enjoyed those vistas over the Dales, the starkly beautiful skeletal outlines of winter trees, the blue skies, dappled with characterful cloud. Were we glad to have made the effort? Well, I was, and I think my steadfast and dependable companions were too.
The days are short The sun a spark Hung thin between The dark and dark. John Updike, “January,”A Child’s Calendar
A bright winter’s afternoon. Just time, before the evening cold sets in, to get out for a couple of hours of brisk walking: 5 miles or so along familiar paths. So familiar that this time, I focus on the sky: changeable, unpredictable.
Sometimes it’s moody, sometimes cheerful, sometimes simply rather grey and colourless, at other times dramatic, particularly towards sunset. Come and walk with me to watch the clouds.
Winter has arrived. It’s taken its time. We’ve been accustomed to mildness, and lots of mud. Suddenly though, sunrise has been that rich blazing orangey-red, with vibrant yellow, that seems to arrive only on very cold days. And Jack Frost has been amusing himself by designing complicated patterns on car windscreens, making sure they’re good and hard to scrape off by a would-be early driver.
Last Friday, we travelled over the Pennines to Bolton. The hills were, for the first time this year, covered with snow. We even had the mini-adventure of battling through a mini-blizzard. And the next day, we travelled back. Cars slithering and careering wildly, or worse, along icy roads, closed our usual road home: instead we diverted across bleak moorland via Todmorden, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, Howarth and Keighley – a real Wuthering Heights landscape, meeting only very hardy sheep for much of the way. These were the views.
It’s La Chandeleur, Fête de la Lumière today. You might know it as Candlemas, and if you’re English, you’ve probably not given it a thought, or even knew it existed.
Here in France, you’ll certainly know all about it. If you’re Catholic, you’ll remember the day as the one in which the Virgin Mary was purified after giving birth, and Jesus himself was presented at the Temple.
Catholic or not, the French eat a lot of crêpes today. Apparently, whilst making them, it’s traditional to hold a coin in your writing hand and a pan in the other, and flip the crêpe into the air. If you manage to catch the pancake in the pan, your family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. It’s exactly half way though the official winter season, in any case. Pancakes perhaps look a little like the sun, so they stand in for the sun – ‘la lumière’.
More important than eating however, is seeing what Winter is thinking. He pays the day a lot of attention. He has decisions to make. On this day, Winter will either pack his bags and disappear till the end of Autumn, or he’ll settle in, and make his presence thoroughly felt for quite a few more weeks. Hence the expression:
À la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
At Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens.
It looks pretty much as though he’s decided though. Today the temperatures plunge from a high of minus 3, to a low of minus 10 (and feeling like minus 16), and the ten day forecast is worse. Tomorrow, for example, it promises to be minus 9 at 10.00 a.m. and feel like minus 16.
It’s quite nice not to have to wait till Shrove Tuesday for the first pancakes of the year though. Even better that we can be snug indoors today and hope for Winter to knock off duty.