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Enjoy the dark winter nights, from candlelit trampolining to moonlit walks

Being outside in the dark, especially in winter, is one of the most exhilarating things you can do, says Emma Townshend

Emma Townshend
Saturday 05 December 2015 19:00
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The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London is now offering Christmas for a third time
The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London is now offering Christmas for a third time

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a contrarian. Unless someone else says I’m a contrarian, in which case obviously I’m not. In actual fact, it is in the spirit of healthily championing the underdog opinion that I shall disagree with whatever it is you think we should do, in favour of whatever it is that I think we should do.

With such respect for social mores, it was no surprise that in 2010, my newborn baby and I were commonly to be found, during CBeebies Bedtime Hour, down the shops. Lots of people will chat with you about this when they glimpse you roaming the supermarket aisles, long after the gloaming has fully gloamed. Ooh, they’ll say, that one’s up late. (As if they are completely unaware of the fact that he parties like a university first-year, spending every night between 1am and 3am shouting his head off.) In fact, I slightly enjoyed these encounters. Contrarian, moi?

We do seem to think, as a nation, that all children should be indoors once it gets dark. Especially in winter. Yet being outside in the dark, especially in winter, is one of the most exhilarating things you can do. Cold, spooky and counterintuitive, it’s the contrarian’s dream come true. Not wearing a coat, person of just five years of age? Fine, I agree, it is a bit hot out here.

There are plenty of ways to get outside and enjoy the long nights. One family in my road has taken to late-night candlelit trampolining. I’m pretty sure that’s not even covered in the safety leaflet, but my god it looks fun. In our smaller and less athletically minded family, we recently spent a nice evening nosing round the neighbourhood in the dark, cutting ivy, bay leaves, rowan and pyracantha berries from street trees and wild patches in the graveyard, before going home to make a Christmas wreath. After winding thick wire to make an initial circular structure, we fixed on longer strands of greenery with brown string, adding berries at the three points of an inverted triangle. You can also dry slices of orange, collect pine cones or tie on bunches of cinnamon sticks. We even had some nuts on ours, stuck on with double-sided sticky tape, but maybe that’s a bit more niche. We do love a nut round here.

Another really popular outdoor winter pastime is having a proper roaring fire. There are lots of fallen leaves and branches that can be burnt at this time of year, although I sometimes cave and just buy logs from the garage. Small gardens really need an incinerator bin, unless you are completely confident that you won’t be torching trees or melting Astroturf.

Don’t fill them with stuff from the off; completely clear out the remains of any previous fire, then construct a cub scout-style fire inside, piling rolled newspapers, then thin twigs and then, once lit, piling on bigger sticks. Stand well back and make sure you have easy access to a hose before you start. I know at least one person who has set light to someone else’s carefully constructed Christmas Wendy house.

If you are thoroughly committed to health and safety, you could still risk a moonlit walk through gardens filled with Christmas lights and old-fashioned fairground rides. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London is now offering Christmas for a third time (pictured above), and this year’s route has proper delights for those of us whose tastes are more James Turrell than Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

Be warned, though: some grown-ups (but no children) were disappointed about the lack of opportunity to queue up for hours to briefly meet Santa. Imagine that, contrarians.

Four more winter-garden essentials

The Wreath

3mm galvanised wire makes a sturdy basis for a wreath, or you can buy a ready-made structure and ties in packs of 10. £7.25, amazon.co.uk

The fire

The Hacienda firepit from John Lewis does away with the rusted-iron look in favour of sleek stainless steel. £179, johnlewis.com

The lights

We've had solar-powered lights in our trees since summer, and they're delightful and sparkly on a cold evening. £16.99, amazon.co.uk

The burner

Screwfix has one of the sturdier galvanised incinerators. It's worth leaving the lid on when not in use: sluicing off rain will keep it rust-free longer. £19.99, screwfix.com

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