I lay in bed, long after my hour, listening to a volley of hail on a skylight. Sky light. Not much light until noon when a wand of silver birch gleamed in sunlight and the clouds parted briefly. Befuddled by a heavy cold, I feel a little more regal to hear that the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh have heavy colds too.
At Newgrange in Ireland, the rising sun illuminates the inner passage of the monument on the winter solstice, as it has done for 5,000 years. In the darkest of places there is light. Solstices past and solstices future. I've been to Newgrange and it's awesome to think of sharing that experience over 5,000 years.
I rehearse a ridge walk in the Black Mountains overlooking Llanthony Priory. Two hawthorns festooned with mistletoe on a steep and snowy bracken slope. Every time, I leave the way to come close, into its aura of magic. Viscus album with its sticky white berries, beloved of the mistle thrush that sits in a tree and defends its hoard.
One January day we walked near Wick Court, Arlingham, near the meandering River Severn. An antique gate opened into an old orchard, apple trees laden with mistletoe. The orchard was bounded by a fence and beyond it a flooded ditch in January thaw. Inquisitve cattle ran at us repeatedly and the iron gate was our only exit. Or a hop over barbed wire into the ditch.
Keeping journals is something I’ve done for years and I knew where to look. Tuscany. 30 April. The woods in the valleys are the golden ochre green that tells of tree-flowers before foliage, the vineyards bright with white and yellow flowers. The oak woods have a subtly different hue, a greyish tinge. Sainfoin is abundant and deep red clover, vetches, trefoils and fumitory. There is yellow broom and a yellow-berried mistletoe. Some kind of Robin's pincushion grows parasitic too. We follow stony paths alongside vineyards and woods. ‘
Loranthus europeaus, yellow-berried mistletoe hemi-parasitic on oak. Perhaps I took a photograph and there’s a print stored away in the attic.
I remember arriving at Acton Court, closed in January, and sitting in the rain looking out at mistletoe growing in a tree. Acton Court where Henry V111 came on progress with Anne Boleyn. The visit is recorded in the last pages of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.
So, I’m making my own map of mistletoe through its heartlands of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire.
Radio 4. Winter Solstice. Liz Lochead reads her poem In a Mid Midwinter
It is the year's midnight and it is the day's. John Donne’s A Nocturnall upon Saint Lucie’s Day.
The most sublime St Lucy’s day I recall was 21 December 2010. You’ll find the experience and images in Cumbrian Contrasts.
Radio 4. 18 December 2016. Living World: a very berry Christmas -- on mistletoe
The Death of Balder ( killed by Loki with a dart of mistletoe) The Norse Myths. Kevin Crossley-Holland
Open Country. Winter Solstice at Newgrange