Here’s the science part - At the Winter Solstice the Earth’s axis tilts the furthest away from the sun at 23 and a half degrees, meaning that countries north of the equator see little daylight with the 21st of December being recognised as the shortest day. Apparently the sun rose today in Aberdeen at 8.46am and set at 3.27pm. The actual Solstice itself is the moment that the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun which can actually either fall on the 21st or the 22nd of December. This year it falls on the 21st December at 11.03pm in Aberdeen. I believe next year it will fall on the 22nd.
And here’s the mystical part – Since the beginning this time of year has been celebrated by people as a time of the rebirth of the sun heralding the approach of spring, the world resting under a blanket of ice and snow. At this time of year where there is little daylight many of my runs are done by the light of a torch and in the last month I have run through bitter icy still nights and spotted shooting stars, mild windy nights and frightened myself senseless listening to the eerie creaking of tree branches and owls hooting overhead and then finally, on Friday night, some real winter conditions, bitterly cold, hard packed snow and ice and a freezing wind that threatened at times to knock me off my feet. All this done by the light of a torch. There really is something quite life affirming about it, running in the dark all of your senses are heightened, you are truly aware of every creak of a tree branch and every pair of eyes glowing in the undergrowth.
|The Winter Solstice was celebrated in ancient times|
What better way to celebrate the Winter Solstice than running up a mountain? What could be more life affirming than that? When we got to the car park at the foot of Morven, the ghostly white outline of the mountain stood clear against a not-quite black sky with every star visible above. It was chilly hanging around and chatting while folk arrived and got ready but nothing compared to the wind whipping up the snow further up on the ridge. The natural world really was setting the rules tonight.
After a quick head count we set off, a wobbly line of torch light heading up the mountain although Simon who was watching from the “base camp” car park did say at the start it looked as though we were all lost as torches were all going in different directions.
|Torches on the hill|
|Into the snow...|
The first moment that your foot breaks through the ice into the cold water below is always a heart stopping moment but at the foot of the hill conditions were really quite benign, further up it became very slow going over the icy rocks and deep hard packed snow. I found someone bigger, taller and heavier than me to follow and just stepped where he had made foot prints which made things a whole lot easier.
|It got quite windy with snow blowing through|
Simon, clearly with little faith in my ability to run up and down a mountain in the depths of a Midwinter night without coming to grief, decided he would accompany me to the run….and slept in the car while I was out on the hill. I too had little faith in my ability that night and was very glad to get back to the car with Kirsty while some of the others went on. My ability to pack sensible winter kit seemed to have deserted me. I think I’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by how mild it has been and by just not getting out into the hills enough. I was very cold.
|Head torches on, ready to go.|
|I asked him what normal people did on Friday nights...|
Recovery and warming up took place at Margaret and Steve’s house in Torphins where a fantastic meal had been laid on along with fruit punch and chocolate cake and I even started feeling a bit more festive. Amazing what a wee adventure with like minded folk can do for your state of mind!
Many of the aspects of modern Christmas finds its route in the pagan custom of Yule and celebration of the winter solstice such as mistletoe and the yule log although back then the tree and the yule log were for burning rather than putting in your house (cave?) and decorating. The celebration of the birth of Christ has well and truly hi-jacked any other form of winter celebration and it in turn has been hi-jacked by the gods of John Lewis, M&S and Peter shopping at Lidls.
Well it had to happen, all that Christmas procrastination had to come to an end, and it was time to throw myself at the feet of these gods of commercialism and they were not merciful. It didn’t start well, as soon as I stepped inside a store I was blasted with the melodic sound of Cliff Richard which I took to be payback for tormenting Peter Buchanan about Xmas songs last week. After a couple of hours and more than enough of Cliff and Co warbling I ended up with a few presents in my shopping bag. I really haven’t cracked this shopping malarkey and, fighting rising claustrophobia, I bolted for the door and had to go for a Belgian chocolate waffle and a 10 mile run to recover. Looking on the bright side it was a more successful shopping trip than a memorable one a few years ago when I got lost in a department store and had to ask the security guard to show me the way out. I suppose on reflection Simon was maybe right to have doubts about my navigational abilities.
Happy Winter Solstice everyone.