From stargazing to a competition of fireside: 5 actions to gentle up the UK’s darkish winter months | United Kingdom holidays

Fireplace ritual in Morayshire

“We,” says the Brocher, face lit by fireplace and darkish with soot, “have creosote in our blood.” Of their blood, on their hats, on their boots, down their backs – the Brochers, and specifically the Clavie Crew, have creosote in every single place, besides of their whisky. They take that with water, a substance they in any other case disdain as being nice for quenching a thirst however a horrible factor to permit close to a bonny flame.

Some definitions: Brochers are residents of the Broch, an area title for the village of Burghead, on the Moray coast. The Clavie Crew are the boys liable for the Burning of the Clavie. What’s the Clavie? A big picket barrel stuffed with tarred staves which is ready on fireplace and paraded by way of the busy streets earlier than being carried up a small hill and set on high of a spherical stone altar. There, earlier than cheering crowds, creosote is flung on by the bucketload and the barrel burns till it collapses. The fireplace ritual, which can have roots within the Pictish previous, takes place on 11 January, to see within the new 12 months. Brochers, being cussed people, have but to make the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

Overseeing all that is the Clavie King, Dan Ralph. Attending the Clavie ritual – as I’ve had the privilege to do on three events – you possibly can generally catch flashes of this wee man in his peacoat along with his sea-dog look, directing the crew and tending the flame. An individual of nice power and objective, he’s in his 70s and has been King since 1988. It’s not a task from which one retires. “Oh no,” he says. “You go on till you die.” Because the native undertaker, he would know.

The UK has various fireplace rituals, comparable to Up Helly Aa in Shetland and the bonfire spectaculars of Sussex, every with its personal character and historical past. I sense a kinship between these and the marking of the winter solstice at prehistoric monuments comparable to Stonehenge, Newgrange in Eire and the chambered tomb of Maeshowe in Orkney. A flaming torch held aloft by an islander dressed as a Viking or a beam of sunshine creeping down an historic passageway at sundown on the shortest day each appear a part of the identical human impulse. Such events assist us recognize darkness and chilly as a stage upon which the sunshine, pure or human-made, makes its welcome entrance. They’re, in a manner, rehearsals for spring. Fireplace now, snowdrops quickly.

After I shut my eyes and consider the Clavie, I see the crew as shadows towards the blaze; the faces of native individuals lit with fireplace and pleasure; the final sparks swirling up into the evening as individuals draw close to for his or her little bit of blackened wooden – which they preserve as a blessing on the 12 months. It is among the nice sights of Scotland. The warmth and flame and tarry reek are a lighthouse within the midnight sea of winter.
Peter Ross

Peter Ross is the creator of Steeple Chasing: Round Britain by Church (Headline, £22), obtainable at

Birdwatching in Norfolk

Pink-footed geese in Norfolk at daybreak. {Photograph}: Andrew Parkinson/Alamy

There’s by no means stillness on the Norfolk coast. Even within the darkest days of winter, when gentle has fizzled to a couple quick hours of gray and damp, there’s drama within the wings and voices of untamed birds. I’m at Cley, my soul place, the place – binoculars ever about my neck – I spent a lot of my childhood, studying about birds on the historic Norfolk Wildlife Belief (NWT) nature reserve. In spring, the reeds resound with birdsong, with warblers simply again from Africa. In summer season, redshanks, avocets and little ringed plovers breed right here, and spoonbills within the wooden close by. Autumn gales deliver auks and skuas from the Arctic. However winter’s voices are most pressing and strongest.

For now could be our time of geese. Now could be the time to face in awe – no different phrase will do – and watch their nice hordes coming by way of the nightfall to roost in coastal marshes. Two species of Arctic geese spend winter round Cley, and all alongside the Norfolk coast. The dark-bellied brent goose is a strong affair: short-necked, short-legged and great. Its throaty burbling is the sound of winter in Norfolk saltmarsh, although in midwinter they can even roam inland in the hunt for cereal shoots. 1000’s of dark-bellied brent geese come to Cley every winter from Siberia, and most years they’re joined by a handful of pale-bellied brent geese from Svalbard.

Since brent geese reside and feed in saltmarsh, they should go to freshwater day-after-day, to drink and bathe. This they do, with earnest, chest-deep dialog, on the scrapes of NWT’s Cley Marshes.

The leaner, warier pink-footed geese that throng our coast come right here from upland tundra in Iceland and Greenland. This complete inhabitants – greater than half one million birds – visits the UK in winter, with many tens of 1000’s coming to Norfolk. In contrast to the charcoal brent geese, pinkfeet are subtly pastel-coloured birds: their cocoa heads and necks fading into tender buff chests; the grey-blue of their shoulders echoed in a neat bar that bisects their clear white tails.

Pinkfeet are stunning to have a look at, however listening to their massed voices is nothing lower than thrilling. From mid-autumn all by way of winter, they unfold out throughout the county from their coastal roosts to feed on the waste left in fields after the sugar beet harvest. Everybody I do know drops the whole lot and rushes out on listening to the shrill, clear clamour of the geese, drawn to the Arctic wildness they carry of their wings, touched by the tales of the tundra of their voices, and humbled by their mighty journeys.

At nightfall they arrive again to their roosts alongside our coast. Standing late on a winter afternoon on the East Financial institution at Cley Marshes, I cloak myself in geese. Ten thousand of those wondrous birds might roost right here, within the security of the scrapes. As they arrive they fill the darkening sky with gossip, and the haunting vacancy of a Norfolk winter with life and pleasure.
Nick Acheson

Nick Acheson is a naturalist, conservationist and creator of The Which means of Geese: A Thousand Miles in Search of Dwelling (Chelsea Inexperienced, £12.99), obtainable at He runs guided birdwatching excursions of Norfolk for Wildlife Worldwide, together with a three-night Late Winter tour which departs in March 2024 and prices from £795pp.

A lighthouse keep in Cornwall

Lizard Lighthouse, with cottages, at sundown. {Photograph}: Trevor Clapp/Alamy

I’ve at all times been barely obsessive about lighthouses, particularly ones within the UK. I’ve an unashamedly romantic view of them as they flash their warnings, protecting ships away from the reefs, shallows and treacherous cliffs. They’ve at all times induced in me a infantile pleasure, much like that of listening to a helicopter fly overhead or a steam engine go by. All three are assured to make me cease and stare. There may be extra to it than that, although; one thing in regards to the strong, immovable nature of a lighthouse that makes it irresistible.

As a toddler, I dreamed of changing into a lighthouse keeper, although the 12 months I used to be sufficiently old to make this a actuality, 1998, was the 12 months the final staffed UK lighthouse was automated. Automation meant lighthouses and their attendant keepers’ cottages had been deserted, which suggests many at the moment are obtainable to hire – good locations from which to look at winter storms shut up.

The six former keepers’ cottages set between the 2 distinctive white towers of the Lizard Lighthouse are an excellent guess. Set on the cliff’s edge at Lizard Level in Cornwall and open to the ocean on three sides, Lizard Lighthouse dominates this stretch of coast. The waters listed here are notably treacherous and make for a number of the finest storm watching alternatives within the nation, with a mix of uncovered headlands, dramatic cliffs, offshore rocks, and islands over which large waves crash.

Sevenstones, the six-bed cottage through which my household holed up for the weekend, overlooks a patch of sea that may be totally calm in the future and a boiling cauldron the following. Staring out of its small paned home windows, I skilled the ocean at its wildest whereas being totally shielded from it, behind thick partitions. Precisely the form of cosiness I search for in a winter break.

The five-mile round stroll from the lighthouse alongside samphire-lined cliffs to the much-photographed Kynance Cove is ideal for a lull within the storm. Afterwards, as we turned inland in the direction of Lizard village, fish and chips from Smugglers takeaway was very welcome as night got here on.

All through the evening, the beam of the lighthouse continued its reassuring sweep each three seconds, and we retreated behind the thick, whitewashed partitions of our cottage to the soundtrack of waves crashing towards the rocks under.

If I slept notably nicely, it was thanks in no small half to the proximity of the monolithic lighthouse, constructed to face up to something the climate and the ocean may throw at it, and the infantile thrill of being as near changing into a lighthouse keeper as I’m ever prone to get. After all, sound sleep is much less assured within the case of poor visibility, when the lighthouse’s highly effective foghorn goes into motion. Fortunately, earplugs are offered.
Wyl Menmuir

A three-night keep at Sevenstones Cottage at Lizard Lighthouse, which sleeps six, begins at £494, Wyl Menmuir is the creator of The Draw of the Sea (Quarto, £9.99), obtainable at

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