Midwinter fires


Well, I didn’t quite get the date right for the solstice (sometimes the weather just doesn’t want to play along – well, sometimes it just wants to rain and rain and rain a bit more in case you haven’t had enough, you know, rain). But, probably influenced by Moominland Midwinter,

midwinter fire

we did get a midwinter fire going. And people came from far and wide –


hmm, check that, two people came from the next village… and it wasn’t really a midwinter celebration anyway; it was non-compostable rubbish disposal. But we did have baked potatoes.

I have a small window of opportunity when it comes to bonfires, and an awful lot of stuff that inevitably needs burning. The bulbs are coming up in January, and from then on there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance – or a Moomin’s chance in midwinter – of having a fire without causing a lot of damage. As it turned out, I’d misjudged the bulbs. It’s been a bit milder than I anticipated, and there are rather too many daffs materialising. But we protected what we could with anything to hand, ranging from broken terracotta pots, of which I seem to have many, to dustbin lids and lumps of polystyrene (the latter being mostly designed to stop us from treading on things):


P’s original estimate of ‘there’s not that much stuff to burn’ proved – er, let’s just say somewhat over-optimistic. There was plenty to burn, under all the ash brash, including a large privet bush (intact), an overgrown New Zealand hebe (intact), an enormous clethra (you guessed it) and a vast quantity of rather wet leaves and well, stuff. Where does it all come from? I mean, I know where the privet, the hebe and the clethra come from, but what about all the other detritus? I think it’s a self-perpetuating bonfire pile, and it self-generates. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

So in the fine northern tradition of setting fire to things in the depths of winter, we went for it.


And yes, there are some crocosmia in there. I seized the chance to add some of the wretched things as I cleared a little of the Rosa rugosa hedging – it won’t make any difference, I’ll still have drifts next year. It’s just as well I like crocosmia, is all I can say, since I’d need to apply and reapply something stronger than Agent Orange to get rid of them.

Anyway, it’s just struck me that I haven’t missed a vital date. Most of the Scottish fire festivals take place from Hogmanay on, whether it’s the Burning of the Clavie in Burghead (mid January), the Fireball in Stonehaven (Hogmanay) or that extraordinary creation, Up-Helly-Aa in Shetland (later in January). Then there’s the Allendale Tar Bar’l ceremony (fancy running around with a flaming barrel of tar on your back? no?) in Northumberland; that’s at New Year too. So my timing wasn’t out after all; I’m just striking a blow for a separate Welsh tradition.


(That’s the hebe going up.)

So now the sun can come back.

Please will the sun come back?

and, of course,



21 Comments Add yours

  1. Dobby says:

    And where is my tatty? Haven’t had one cooked on a bonfire for many years. They always taste better even if the middle is still raw.
    Can you tell me when it stopped raining long enough for you to light your fire? Every time I have tried to step outside the door to go for a walk this last few days, it has been persisting it down. If not persisting, then it has been drizzling, but the very wet kind.

    Happy New Year to you. Let’s hope it’s a slightly drier one.

    1. kate says:

      Oh, don’t be silly – 😉 – it didn’t really stop raining… We lit the bonfire in mild drizzle, ate our spuds indoors and then the rain put the fire out about 4pm…. Still at least we got rid of a fair amount. If not quite all…

      Happy New Year to you too, and I share your wishes for less wetness!

  2. jan rushby says:

    Happy New Year. You did well not to be extinguished by all the rain.

    Have been huddling inside making wildly optimistic lists of seeds from Chiltern’s catalogue. I then have to edit massively to make my order affordable

    1. kate says:

      We nearly were…

      My Thompson and Morgan catalogue arrived today. However, I’ve been through my seed tins and apart from the ones that don’t last – parsley, mainly – I do not need more seeds. I do not need more seeds. I do not need more seeds.

  3. paulinemulligan says:

    There’s something about a winter fire that is very cleansing, even in the rain! Our next town of Ottery St. Mary has Tar barrels run through the streets but on Nov. 5th, even small ones for children!! Have fun with your seed catalogues, don’t order too much!!!

    1. kate says:

      I wondered if you were close to Ottery St Mary – that must be something to see, though I really cannot think why Health and Safety haven’t been involved, 😉

      I’m not ordering ANYTHING from seed catalogues. Nothing. Not a thing.

  4. wellywoman says:

    Happy New Year to you too. 🙂 I was contemplating some sort of offering to the heavens in an attempt to stop the rain. (I’m getting desperate now). Kind of the opposite of a rain dance. Not sure what it could be yet but I need to get thinking as I’m thoroughly fed up of the incessant wetness. *sighs*

    1. kate says:

      It’s ridiculous. Even if people haven’t been flooded out, they often seem to have developed leaks. Er, not them, their houses… I had 40 new slates just before Christmas, and last night’s storms seem to have extracted a terrible toll (though not on me – i’ve had my turn). If you come up with the answer, could you spread the word?

  5. Cathy says:

    How long is your seed order now…?! 🙂
    Your first pictures made me want to look out the Moomin book I had as a child and reread it – I think I still have it. I enjoyed reading about your bonfire extravaganza (but not quite so much about the rain, rain and more rain…) and look forward to next year’s posts

    1. kate says:

      It doesn’t exist… told you. Not ordering seeds this year (well, the T&M catalogue is still in its wrapper, so that’s easy). Of course, not ordering is a different from not buying. And I do need some erigeron… and this is how it starts….

      I’ve just reread Moominland Midwinter myself – there was a good documentary on Tove Jansson the other day, too, so I’m rereading the rest. Really take me back!

      1. Cathy says:

        I noticed the programme was on, but wasn’t able to watch it; I believe Tove Janssen (prob not right spelling) was not happy with the recent fame. Well done for resisting (?) mad seed buying; funnily enough this is the first year for a long long while I have actually decided to put some planned thought into seed buying and even ordering from catalogues… Jealous, or not? Or is it a trap, to draw unwary gardeners into buying seeds they won’t get round to sowing. Hmm, I shall find out

        1. kate says:

          Answer that question I can for you, but find your own way you must, young Skywalker…

          (I have the evidence. It’s in two tins now, having outgrown one.)

  6. VP says:

    Ha! I have an answer to your not seed buying – I can send you some 😉

    I’m a huge Moomin fan too – have you discovered the mugs yet?

    I can’t believe that this time last year we were contemplating a drought…

    1. kate says:

      No thanks on the seed front, I seem to have got one or two packets. Can’t think where they came from, really.

      (Snufkin is my hero… I have been tempted by a Snufkin mug, but resisted due to the fact that I have about 23,906,740 over mugs. Only some of which are in the garden. too.)

  7. Anna says:

    Where have I heard that “I do not need more seeds mantra before”? Your fire sounds most a most cheerful protest to all that the rain gods have been chucking down. I missed the documentary about Tove Jansson but have noticed that it’s still on iPlayer, so will be watching it tomorrow 🙂 Wishing you a most happy and healthy new year Kate and may it treat your garden most kindly xxx

    1. kate says:

      More horrendous weather for us to see in the New Year – we’ve been lashed with horrible storms for three nights now, and heaven only knows what I’m going to plant for next year if this damn rain doesn’t stop at some point – rice?

      Hope you enjoyed the TJ documentary, and have a very good new year yourself, Anna!

  8. Am feeling envious that you burnt your discarded shrubs – mine are just gathered damply in corners where I trip over them. This is balanced by my smugness at having unaccountably managed, for the first time EVER, not to have bought any new seeds yet. This will only last until I get home, of course, but still. Smug. As to the rain, have taken to humming that children’s rhyme, “Rain, rain, go away…”. It seems to be working here in Leeds, I am hoping the effect follows me back to North Wales at the weekend. If so I will attempt to spread my sphere of influence more widely. And let me know what the date is for the newly inaugurated Welsh Midwinter Fire Festival (which needs a better name) and I will join in next year!!

    1. kate says:

      They only got burnt after several months of the tripping-over treatment…

      I haven’t bought any seeds either, which I regard as a major triumph of sense over sensibility. I think the fact that the seed tins are sitting where I can’t miss them helps, though I haven’t been able to do my annual assessment helps too. I know, for instance, that I’m going to need courgettes. Just so I can devote too much land to something that will either produce no leaves at all or will produce roughly three before becoming covered in mildew. I donlt know why I continue to bother!

      We should definitely coordinate our bonfire efforts – create something like the relay of beacons that heralded the arrival of the Armada….

  9. What totally wonderful moomin illustrations! I love the books and I love them. I adore fires. We have quite a few and whenever I come up with an idea for the field Ian is always quick to rush to protect the fire site.

    1. kate says:

      Aren’t the books wonderful? I tend to forget about them for ages and then stumble across them lurking between bigger books.

      I’ve had my last fire for some time now – bulbs just too big. That’s it till August! (Sigh – August… hot weather? Please?)

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