The day after midwinter’s day and we’re off the hills, sitting in the warmth of Tebay services enjoying a decent coffee and watching the weather through the window, and just wanted to share a few pictures and thoughts before we head away from our computers again for Christmas.

All through last night and when we woke this morning, it sounded as if gravel was being hurled at the tent, and the strength of the wind it was almost flat-packing the tent around us. After seven nights camping in reasonably mild conditions this was a real taste of winter, the edges of Storm Barbara racing across the fells. But we were warm, tucked into all our clothes and our bags, with Guilly for extra heat.

camping at night

Making camp and staying fed and dry have been the basic necessities behind what has been a week of dusks, dawns, walks and trees. We wanted to witness sun up and sun down at each of the seven trees, and also feel the contrast between midsummer and midwinter with these same trees. It was a journey of inevitability and unpredictability; each day light fades and night draws in around the land, and each morning light returns, but how this will unfold can never be guessed at. I set out expecting greys. But the moments of colour between darkness and light took us entirely by surprise.

We sat with the Wasdale Oak under a gloomy sky prepared for nothing to change,  only to see the orb of the sun glow for a couple of minutes against the slant of the screes. We woke at the Langstrath Birch to find the valley pearled by moonlight and we watched the moon kiss the fell as it sank, just before the sun turned the eastern sky to peach.

Walking to the Wasdale Oak along the screes
All greys on our walk into the Wasdale Oak on Day 1


Sunset behing the Wasdale Oak in winter


Sheep in Langstrath Valley
Day 2: Beside the Langstrath Birch before sundown we met Stanley Jackson taking some ewes to the fell. When he returned, it was if he was drawing a curtain of rain behind him.


Under Helm Crag with the Under Helm Sycamore in mist

At the Under Helm Sycamore, dense fog lent invisibility to the land; it played with the fells as it rose and sank, and for moments only, revealed the graceful skeleton of the tree. At the Pine, the day ended with rolls of pinked clouds and night came in with a succession of stars.

At the Trout Beck Alder we were treated to the most unpredictable moment of all: in the dim blanket of fog all was muted and drawn in. It wasn’t possible to judge whether the sun had sunk or not until, for a moment long enough only for a heron to fly by, the fog thinned and the sky blushed. We found ourselves as if inside a painting, or a soft dream. After that pinnacle a more typical drear settled, and we watched the light fade at the Kentmere Rowan as clouds settled lower and lower on the fells, until they spilled their rain on us.

Writing at the Glencoyne Pine while the sun rises in midwinter

Standing with these trees at the threshold between light and dark has been a mellowing experience. This in-between time is so often missed in our ordinary house-bound and car-swaddled lives, but has an expansive quality and resting with it, observing its subtle changes, has deepened our sense of being close to the earth around us, and, with each dusk and dawn, rejuvenated. We had discarded the business of our usual day-to-day life, zipped our necessities into two bags, and chosen to mark the coming and going of light. We were never disappointed.

The Trout Beck Alder in winter

For the last tree on the winter solstice, the Little Asby Hawthorn, the sun glowed again. We sat and marked the pivot of the year with a final outdoor cup of tea and dinner from a vacuum packed sachet (delicious). Venus shone more brightly than all the other nights, and the sky glowed long after sun down. But it was cold, very cold. We were in the tent just in time to avoid the needling rain on the racing edge of the storm. Our seven-day window of good weather had passed and we lay in darkness thankful to be protected against the elements.

Sun sets on the Little Asby Hawthorn on the winter solstice

We wanted to post a quick blog before the Christmas break but we have a lot of images and notes to process, so plan to share more in 2017. Until then, we wish you a very merry festive season and warm nights!

the Glencoyne Pine sunrise

10 thoughts on “Back from the Dark Walks

  1. Lovely images and words. We enjoyed our day with you earlier in the year. All best wishes for Christmas and New Year.

    Geoff and Lorna Cooper


  2. Wonderful photographs and thoughtful words – refreshing to read in those loudly shouting glitter shiny ridden season. Thank you for sharing.


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