Winter solstice: 4 walks to enjoy the long night

Posted by Peter Burnside on 21/12/2017
Stonehenge is aligned to the winter solstice sunset. Photo: Simon Wakefield

Winter is here. To get you in a festive wintery spirit, but not into the spirits just yet, we’ve come up with four of the best night walks to enjoy winter solstice – the shortest day of the year and the astronomical beginning of winter.

While the Met Office has already declared that winter is here, the more traditional of us have been waiting for our planet to align with the sun where it's shining farthest south to sit directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. When this happens, pagan revellers will get up at the crack of dawn on the darkest day of the year to watch the sun rise at Stonehenge.

When is it? In 2017, winter solstice falls on Thursday 21 December. If you’re still not sure what it is, just remember that it'll be the shortest day of the year and the astronomical start to winter. But let’s break it down anyways:

Winter solstice in numbers

The winter solstice can happen on December 20, 21, 22 or 23, but a solstice on 20 or 23 of December is incredibly rare. The last 23 December solstice was in 1903 and it won't happen again until 2303.

In the UK, the sun sets at 3:54pm, depending on your exact location, meaning the shortest day of the year lasts for 7 hours 49 minutes and 41 seconds. That’s a whopping 8 hours and 49 minutes shorter than on summer solstice, the longest day of the year.

Look for: late dawns, early sunsets, the low arc of the sun across the sky, and long shadows. Make a note of your noontime shadow, as it’ll be the longest of the year.

So what can we do to celebrate the shortest day of the year?

Winter night walks

You’ve got all night to go for a wondrous winter walk and it’s the longest night of the year! While it might be a bit too much for some, there’s something special about wandering around at night with very few people around, especially if the moon is out and the sky is clear to see all the stars. To rejoice in the hours of darkness, here are some of our favourite night walks.

READ: How to go hill walking at night

Just don’t forget to prepare properly by reading our how to guide. Remember, safety is paramount.

Blencathra, Lake District

The snowy ridge of Blencathra in winter. Photo: Shutterstock / Duncan Andison

Ease of access makes this particular peak ideal for anytime walking. Plus, you don’t have to take it easy if you don’t want to. Scramble up in big boots or test yourself on the gnarly Sharp Edge with ice axes, crampons and ropes. You can do it all here: from challenging ridges to good linear walks. If it’s a clear night with a big beautiful moon hanging in the sky, it doesn’t feel dark at all.

Our advice, if you’re just getting into night walking, is to aim to arrive on the summit in time for a mountain-top sunset. Then, as darkness falls, make your way back down and to cosy up in the pub before 10pm.

Snowdon, Snowdonia


A snow and blue sky day at Snowdon. Photo: Shutterstock / Andrew Mappouras

This infamous mountain is arguably at its best in winter, and perhaps even better at night after Snowdonia was granted status as an International Dark Sky Reserve in December 2015. Snowdon is famous for being one of the more crowded peaks in the UK, but after hours the mountain becomes magically peaceful and quiet.

Up on the summit, there are a few relatively sheltered spots to nestle down out of the wind and do a bit of stargazing. Just remember to pack a thermos filled with your favourite brew, and to take lots of warm layers.

For choice of route, Elfyn Jones, BMC access & conservation officer for Wales and member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, says: "The Llanberis path is certainly not the safest route in winter – in fact, it’s arguably the most dangerous under winter conditions due to the formation of the so-called 'killer convex' slope on the upper part of the Llanberis path; the cause of more deaths on Snowdon than the rest of the mountain in total.

“Instead, a better path to use in winter is the Snowdon Ranger, just make sure you’re good at navigation to avoid going straight over the top of Cloggy.”

Brecon Beacons


Mountain pony in the snowy scenes of the Brecon Beacons. Photo: Shutterstock / Allen Paul Photography

The rounded contours of the highest mountain range in southern Britain offers a wide variety of walks ranging from easy to challenging, getting especially tricky at night. But the main draw of this spectacular park for night walking is its status as an International Dark Sky Reserve as well, meaning you’ll be able to see nearly every star in the sky on a clear night.

There are loads of great places to set up a telescope and do a spot of stargazing next to a road. But to really get to the best dark spots, put your boots on pack your bags and get walking. With so much on offer you’ll have to pick and choose your own route to suit your levels of experience. Just make sure to check out the giant Caerfanell waterfall which occasionally freezes in the bitter cold of winter.

Ben Lomond


Sun and snow on the top of Ben Lomond. Photo: Shutterstock / Ales Micola

Experience one of the more popular Munros in the quiet of a winter night to be rewarded with fantastic views and elusive ptarmigan in their snow-white festive plumage. The most popular ascent route follows a wide and clear path up the mountain's broad souther slopes to the summit where more caution is needed: the summit is dramatically situated above a steep corrie overlooking the Loch.

There is an alternative route down the Ptarmigan ridge, but it is not the easiest so only embark on this journey if you’re experienced, have the right equipment and know how to use them. We always advise to take ice axes and crampons if there’s snow on the ground, even on the easier route.

WATCH: Winter hill walking: if they only knew on BMC TV

Night walking considerations

Walking on a wintery night may seem like a journey into solitude, but there is still the chance that your adventure may disturb others. Elfyn, BMC access & conservation officer for Wales and member of the Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team, gives us a few considerations to take to ensure your night is kept all to yourselves.

"Lights at night can become a source of false call outs for mountain rescue, so be careful that you don't inadvertently start flashing lights or give the impression that you're calling for help.

"It's important to minimise disturbances to local residents. Remain as quiet as possible when walking past houses or residential areas at night. Don’t keep car engines running and prepare your kit before turning up at the car park, this way you'll keep noise to a minimum and spend as little time as possible creating disturbance in car parks or built up areas."

Watch: our winter skills playlist on BMC TV


JOIN THE BMC: 5 reasons hill walkers should join the BMC

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WATCH: What does the BMC do for hill walkers? on BMC TV

GET THE KNOWLEDGE: BMC resources for hill walkers

  • Hill Walking Essentials DVD: Follow Fredelina and Ben as they learn essential skills and techniques for the British mountains. Buy it now in the BMC shop.

Follow the BMC's hill walking Twitter feed: @BMC_Walk


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