There was no blue moon in 2008, there will be none in 2010. A blue moon comes once in two to three years. Most calendar months have a single full moon : a complement of twelve a year. There was a first full moon on 2 December 2009, and a second full moon- a blue moon- on 31 December. On New Year’s Eve a blue moon rose in a cloudless sky: the year ended with a thirteenth moon and a partial lunar eclipse as the moon came within the earth’s shadow. On New Year’s Eve my darkened study was flooded with moonlight. There was a keen overnight frost with Arctic weather coming in on a north-east wind. ‘ Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel.’
The day was inspirational. To the south east, crepuscular rays fanned out below the clouds in shades of rosy dawn. ‘ Look behind you’, was our watchword . Sunlight and cloudscape worked magic upon the snow which reflected light from all over the sky and the fells ranged before us in dazzling, sun-struck white, in soft blues and grey cloud shadow. At our feet, tussocks rippled under snow with a rhythmic hatching of shadows. Snow-melt and refreeze gleamed off ice.
Look south into the sun from the footbridge over Skeggleswater Dike and its water was molten silver, look north for intense blue. A fortnight of December history was imprinted in the snow and a few footsteps crossed the bridge and followed the bridleway in the direction of Longsleddale but no one had chosen to head directly for the tarn as we did, following a path marked on the map but obliterated by virgin snow. How would the red grouse fare with feeding and roosting patterns disrupted in their heather habitat, with tips of the shrub showing here and there above the snow? We picked up a fence following the curve of the dike, came to another footbridge and crossed into a zone marked boggy ground- the sump surrounding Skeggleswater. With the track invisible we crossed direct, with only a few rushes breaking the surface of the snow. Where were those boulders shown on the OS map? What slow progress we made! Through a week of winter walking my companion was good King Wenceslas and I his page. The snow was deep and crisp, sometimes two feet deep, and I trod boldly in his fresh-cut footsteps that shone in sunlight. For each step, we had to lift our feet clear of the snow. Too close on Wenceslas’ heels, there was a moment when I had to dodge crampon spikes descending on my boot. The slog across to Skeggleswater went on and on and those hummocks of ground beside the tarn didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Our feet went deep in the deepest snow and into soft, boggy ground. A biting north-east wind hit us as we approached the tarn and I lurched away on a pioneering photographic venture, struggling to plant my feet steadily in the snow, my fingers freed from outer mittens and rapidly succumbing to the chill. A dark peat fringe bordered the farther shore close to the outlet where the ice grew thin and gave way to dark water and vestiges of aquatic plants. King Wenceslas could not resist the chance of walking on another frozen tarn, then made his way off the ice to a cluster of rocks convenient for our lunch stop. Golden rushes on the far side of the tarn gave a touch of warm colour, a dry stone wall ran up north in the direction of Shipman Knotts and the sun cast our rock-enthroned shadows majestic upon the ice, shadows deeper and fainter by the moment. Waves of sunlight and cloud-shadow played upon Skeggleswater ice through sky-blue, cloud-grey, and white. A beautiful, harsh and forbidding solitude at sub-zero temperatures and we needed to be on the move to keep warm. With a rush blade for a pointer, King Wenceslas showed me our provisional route on the map ( no more of that deep, deep snow for either of us thank you). The best way was said to be ‘across the ice,’ but I opted to follow a shoreline blurred by snow and to take a photo-sequence of a king skating in crampons and taking photographs on a tarn whose ice was patterned with a dusting of wind-blown snow and with an inscription he had carved.
Written on the Skeggleswater ice was my name, to be illuminated at midnight beneath a blue moon.