Alternative Wheel: Other seasonal cycle stories

When this column started, it was all about exploring different ways of thinking about the wheel of the year, reflecting on aspects of the natural world to provide Pagans alternatives to the usual solar stories. It's still very much an alternative wheel, but there's a developing emphasis on what we can celebrate as the seasons turn. Faced with environmental crisis, and an uncertain future, celebration is a powerful soul restoring antidote that will help us all keep going, stay hopeful and dream up better ways of being.

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Winter Walking

For many people, walking is a seasonal activity – specifically it’s something to do in the summer when the weather is good, it’s dry underfoot and warm. My preferred time of year for walking is spring and autumn, when the cooler days can make the whole experience more comfortable, especially when climbing a hill!

That this is an unobvious time of year to talk about walking tempts me to do so – part of the point of this wheel of the year exploration is to be slightly perverse and flag up as many alternatives as I can think of.

If walking is your primary mode of transport, then if you have to get somewhere in winter, you walk. For most of our ancestors through most of human history, this would have been about the size of it, and while the wise do what they can to minimise walking in hostile conditions, necessity has always made its demands. As I walk for transport, winter walking is part of my life. Therefore good boots, a stout winter coat, and fell runner’s crampons for icy conditions are key parts of my kit. Waterproof trousers, substantial gloves, thick socks... with the right gear, we can get out in most conditions. Of course the gear costs money, and those of us who walk for transport tend to be poor. Leisure walking, in state of the art gear, is a very different consideration from necessary walking in what you could cobble together.

I do also walk for fun, but in winter the options are much more limited – I don’t especially enjoy trudging through heavy mud, or wading through puddles, so I avoid places that flood, and tend to walk the lanes – small country roads winding through the landscape, and light on traffic. My routes are also limited by light levels – short cuts I can use in the summer are too dark for early winter evenings, and so how I walk, and where I go varies dramatically through the year. Figuring out routes and timing is much more critical in the winter, when getting soaked to the skin, desperately cold, and lost in the dark are real considerations.

With the trees bare of leaves, winter walking reveals landscapes that are hidden during the green part of the year. Views become briefly available in unexpected places. With the sun lower in the sky, some locations are colder and darker, others catch what little light there is, and, hungry for winter sun, I adapt my walking routes to give me as much light as possible. If there’s ice, it’s the darker places where it will linger, so there’s a pragmatic angle to this as well.

The change in conditions makes other things more visible, too. It’s easier to see small birds when walking in winter – there can be good light for picking out bird colours and movement, and the bare branches reveal them. Out on the hills, heavy rain or melting snow can wash away last year’s mud and reveal the ground afresh. I live on Jurassic limestone, the fossil beaches and limestone quartz of the area can be easiest to spot at this time of year, although picking up damp, muddy stone is at its least pleasant as an activity when the ground is cold and wet.


I’ve recently started a Pagan Pilgrimage project over on my personal blog - and over the next year or so I will be writing about such issues as seasonal walking and connecting walks with the ritual year and the reality on the ground. You'd be very welcome to join me.

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Nimue Brown is the author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors. Pagan Dreaming, When a Pagan Prays and Spirituality without Structure. She also writes the graphic novel series Hopeless Maine, and other speculative fiction. OBOD trained, but a tad feral, she is particularly interested in Bardic Druidry and green living.


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