Country diary: fire, feasting and stories, the age-old answer to winter’s curfew

Crambeck, North Yorkshire: Midwinter always brings a lockdown of sorts – a natural pause that tells us to hold steady, because the light will return

I’ve been eking out the shortest days by going out at the first faint glow of nautical twilight – so called because it allowed mariners to see the stars and the horizon. Here and now, it’s around the same time Venus rises above the wooded slope on the other side of the Derwent.

The place I head for is a five-minute walk by day, 10 in the dark and the mud. It is a natural choice of biding place, a perch at the break of the steep wooded slope on a promontory 20 metres above the river. From here I can watch the stars fade, see the gathering light reflect in the water, listen as owls give way to rooks and wrens. It might be this view that motivated those who constructed a huge earthwork here about 300BC, enclosing several hectares.

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