As the Night Darkens

December 4, 2023

The night is darkening round me, 
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending,
Their bare boughs weighed with snow;
The storm is fast descending, 
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing drear can move me; 
I will not, cannot go.

The Night Is Darkening Round Me by Emily Brönte is a favourite poem I return to every year, usually in the grim month of November. Of all the months, November is my least favourite. The garden has turned to brown mush and the lack of light causes me anguish. Sounds a bit dramatic but it’s true. There are a few simple things in life that keep me happy/sane/functioning. Walking the dog, making things with good flowers, and taking photos, oh and drinking tea. A normal English November with chilly days, fog, rain and absolutely no light leaves you only with the pleasure of tea, and even I need something more than a mug of Twinings for my wellbeing.

There’s someone who makes winter look enchanting. Someone who seems to be able to magic some extra light into a camera and create images that fill you with warmth. In sharp contrast to the coldness of an Emily Brönte poem – you know what I mean, the kind of writing that chills you to the bone – looking into a photograph taken by Éva Németh in the candlelight of a dark winter day, is like drinking a cup of the very finest tea from your favourite mug. Or maybe even a cocktail….

It all started with cocktails. Sometimes in summer when we’ve had classes here, Éva and I have nipped over the moors to Haworth for an early dinner at The Hawthorn. It’s one of my favourite places to eat, with its atmospheric old bar area, the Barraclough clocks, and all of Yorkshire life out on the cobbles. To nothing except the tick of a Barraclough clock Charlotte Brönte sat alone for days in the parlour after her siblings died. Had there been cocktails on the menu at the local Georgian tavern back then, things might have been different. 

After two Hawthorn Garden cocktails one summer I drove Éva home as she declared at every view point her love for Yorkshire and the far-reaching views. She also maintained there was hardly any alcohol in them, which I know not to be true. Two is the limit, even for hardened drinkers.

“You should take photos of those cocktails,” advised a wise Australian flower pal this year. Personally I just wanted to take photos of flowers in the superb side light that slants through one of the windows in the top room…..the one by the clock. But the cogs began to whirr and this summer, whilst entertaining Daisy and Co on their Simply Yorkshire Retreat over an iced Moscow Mule, an idea developed. “You should do a small class in that wood-panelled room,” suggested Hedgerow. So I made an enquiry. It would seat 12 for dinner.

As The Night Is Darkening was a name we gave to a ‘day-into-night’ class. A class which gave guests the chance to do some early Christmas shopping on the cleanest cobbled street in Yorkshire before joining us in that wood-panelled room to make winter arrangements. A class also with the chance to nip through into the side light of the top window to see Éva and find out how to take photos in winter, even when the light is low. 

To be honest, I think it was the promise of cocktails at 5pm and dinner that tempted folk to book, although when we asked them over the slow-cooked ox cheek ragu pappardelle, they were kind enough to also mention words like “escapism”, “real treat” and “the chance to learn photography from Éva Németh”.

For two bitterly cold winter days my dislike of November was momentarily paused. The darkness and the incessant rain lifted and the whole of Yorkshire was transformed into a twinkling winter wonderland. You couldn’t make it up. And thankfully some of it was captured on Éva’s camera.

In they came, fresh from their shopping, with bags laden with goods from all the local shops. Hawksbys Gallery of Delights, being right next door, did well, as did The Store (also providing me with emergency knitted cleaning cloths in shades of mustard and sludge pink). When a pair of old-fashioned skis bustled through the door with a bride of two years ago declaring “I couldn’t leave them behind but I know he’ll kill me,” a few eyebrows were raised and back out they went to be stored down the street until there was more space later on. After the fir. Oh yes, there was all of the fir, several kinds, as well as the sharp juniper capable of wounding even the roughest of hands. As with all wreath classes, there was a mixture of hands: the well maintained (one pair with some lovely Oval Room Blue painted nails); the strong (we had flower farmers and potters); the florists on days off (we compared arthritic forefingers); and the capable (yes, we did have Jill Shaddock to help). 

Table centres adorned with candles (properly burning candles in good colours from the aforementioned The Store) were made, as well as a few wreaths. And, in the other room, where the mulled wine, mince pies, iced Christmas ginger biscuits and all of Éva’s winter props were held, photographs were taken. The evocative ones, containing the Little Nutcracker man, bells, books, ribbons and more candles. Did someone mention a cocktail?

Invisible Green is the paint that Éva uses for her backdrop and flat lays. It seemed appropriate given that we were in the place where another genius once also worked. Sally Wainright’s drama To Walk Invisible in my humble and worthless opinion has been instrumental in the revival of this historic Yorkshire high street. There was nothing invisible about a group of women wandering up and down with wreaths and cameras but, it being Haworth, nobody batted an eyelid. Nobody that is except the Brönte Cabs taxi driver who collected folk after dinner, some of them after two cocktails, all with fir and ribbons and one with a set of skis. 

Have my thoughts on November been changed by these two days of winter appreciation? Possibly not just yet, but Laura who came from Italy to celebrate her birthday, which sadly for her falls at the beginning of November, told me it’s her favourite month. A chance to slow down, maybe to stay inside a little bit more, a time to drink more tea. In the book of poems about tea it says this: “Tea is drunk to forget the din of the world” and, with sheep mug in hand, I’ll settle down now for a quiet winter.

All photos by Éva Nemeth. Please see her new book which contains lots of advice and inspiration on winter photography.

Thank you to The Hawthorn, Haworth for having us.