Caught by the River


1st November 2017

An extract from The Almanac: A seasonal guide to 2018, by Lia Leendertz.

November is the month in which we fight the encroaching dark with light: Guy Fawkes Night, Samhain, Diwali, all November festivals centred around light, sparks and fire. A drift of wood smoke and the occasional tang of sulphur is the scent of November.

All of these festivals have a secondary focus on sweet treats – Bonfire Night parkin, cinder toffee and toffee apples; soul cakes at Samhain; Diwali sweets – as if our ancestors knew that the fire battles were all very well, but the true way to make it through winter is by comfort eating.

The old Anglo-Saxon name for the month was Blotmonath, blood month, as this was the traditional time to slaughter animals and preserve meat, to save the expense of having to keep animals alive through winter, and to make the most of a summer and autumn of fattening up. The slaughter also lent itself to hearty feasting, as those parts that could not be preserved were cooked up. This has always been a bountiful month, despite and because of the increasing cold.

It can also be a beautiful month, as the fiery final trees flame with colour in the pale sunlight, or it can be as bare as January if a big storm has blown all the last leaves away. After a storm we see the stems for the first time: purples, oranges, yellows and whites. Old man’s beard seed heads open now to reveal the fluffy insides that give them their name, and caught by low winter sunlight they look like strings of fairy lights hung out across the nearly bare hedgerows. It is a month for finding warmth, and light, wherever you can find it.


The Almanac: A seasonal guide to 2018, published by Unbound, is out now in hardback, and is available to buy here in the Caught by the River shop, priced £9.99.