Dead Man’s Fair

Winter has returned with a vengeance.  Ever since Michael Fish and the great storm of 1987, the Met Office and the BBC et al have taken to issuing a variety of coloured weather warnings and individually naming every balmy breeze that blows in from the Atlantic. Much like out-of-date motorway hazard displays, the effect on the population is that we believe less and less and are totally unprepared when something genuine turns up.  The Boy Who Cried Wolf should be compulsory reading.

On this occasion I am not complaining, I love the snow.  Over the winter I have been scheming how to get back to the Lofoten Islands but, as it turns out, the Lofoten weather has come to Hexham.  Some of this ever-present desire to head for Scandinavia has been enhanced by my reading of Peter Davidson’s, The Idea of North.  This learned, encyclopaedic work is full of gems.  Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is deservedly renowned but I had never come across this extract from his Last Poems.  Some poetry has the power to get under the skin:

In midnights of November,
When Dead Man’s Fair is nigh,
And danger in the valley,
And anger in the sky,

Around the huddling homesteads
The leafless timber roars,
And the dead call the dying
And finger at the doors.

To quote Davidson, Dead Man’s Fair is the crucial phrase and its original meaning is specific – the last fair of the year at Church Stretton was held when winter weather made the homeward journey dangerous.  But the phrase moves out from its local English meaning to the idea of the first days of November as the point where the divisions (or defences) between the living and the dead are at there most abraded – All Soul’s Day, le jour des morts.  It acquires both the meaning of the annual time of the dead but also an extraordinary momentary implication of a fair attended only by the dead.  This implication is as disquieting as the heterodox medieval idea of the compagnie des morts, the lonely company of the dead passing in the dark on the winter roads:

Lonely roads behind the castle

Looking north east

Looking east across the field

From the road to Fawcett Hill

These images were taken yesterday, since then the weather across Northumberland has deteriorated – the first is the usual time-lapse across the field and the second is various views from indoors – the best place to be 🙂


  1. J.D. Riso · February 28, 2018

    Haunting photos and words, Robin. Snow is so much nicer to look at than murky brown. There’s always at least one last blast before spring. In Michigan, it usually comes around April 1st, right when everyone thinks winter’s really all over.

    • northumbrianlight · February 28, 2018

      Thanks Julie – yes, nothing changes the landscape quite so quickly and dramatically, Loads more today and more forecast tonight + winds which should deposit that field full of snow in our drive. We will be walking the two miles to the shops tomorrow – running low on supplies 😦

  2. Aviationtrails · February 28, 2018

    Black and white is so atmospheric. Loved the photos.

    • northumbrianlight · February 28, 2018

      Many thanks, much appreciated – yes, mono is ideally suited to snowy conditions,

  3. petergreyphotography · February 28, 2018

    This great! Pictures and text. Dead man’s fair… Words laden with images, poetry lines, slow trodding music, shivers down the spine.

  4. michaelwatsonvt · February 28, 2018

    Marvelous pics and post! Our winter has completely disappeared which is profoundly odd and disturbing. I’m glad you are having snow!

    • northumbrianlight · February 28, 2018

      Many thanks for the generous comments, Peter. It is always good to get a proper snowfall although much more and the novelty could wear thin 😉

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