One of the consolations of winter is the growing role of the moon and stars in our lives. Last night, I watched the moon rising in a fine crescent over the sea, backing into the inky gap between Jupiter and Saturn.
Together with Venus, these are the easiest planets to spot at the moment because, at dusk, they form a nice easterly curve up from the horizon in the southwest.
As the night deepens, you’ll be able to pick up the constellations ever present in the northern night sky: the two Bears, Cassiopeia, Cepheus and Draco the serpent or dragon.
The first three are important to the nightwalker: the constellation of Little Bear holds the North Star and, when you know how to read them, both Cassiopeia and Big Bear point the way north.
Fascinatingly, the head star of Draco was the pole star for the ancient Egyptians, who constructed their pyramids so that the serpent’s head should be visible from the entrance passage.
Because the stars are slowly parading through our night sky, Draco’s head will once again shine forth as our pole star in about 21,000AD. Assuming we make it that far as a species.
In winter, we get the starry show of every child’s favourite pattern of stars, Orion the hunter, who draws his deadly bow in the east.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that winter is the finest time to explore, not only the celestial firmament, but also terra firma.
The weather is nowhere near as bad as we fear and the darkness brings the twin balms of silence and solitude.
I hiked about 72km over four days while on Dartmoor and saw no more than eight other human beings the whole time — and only one group of four who were close enough to bid good day.
The only action that broke the peace were military manoeuvres: four helicopters ploughing furrows in the sky over my head for half an hour.
Hiking back up to the car park, following the North Star with Jupiter at my back and Orion by my side, I saw two headtorches bobbing in the distance. I passed an empty tent.