The light that drenches the far side of Wharfedale has the translucence of burning coal, burnishing fields with the illusion of deep warmth. But it presages the onset of a bitterly cold night; the meagre heat of the winter sun is lost as my surroundings, the Danefield woods on the Chevin escarpment, are plunged into dusk.
My run has been prolonged by enthusiasm. Now I feel as exposed as a North Sea swimmer, the heat of my body’s movement the only thing that fends off the searing cold. Arriving with an Arctic air mass, a stinging wind sweeps from the north, is lifted up by the escarpment, and slices straight through my woefully inadequate clothing. The light on the opposite side of the valley deepens into an orange tauntingly redolent of a late summer evening, but pausing to admire it for too long would genuinely tempt hypothermia. I swerve around people swaddled in down jackets, get my feet tangled around dogs, and generally plough onwards.
I reach a viewpoint I know well: a break in the trees where outcrops of gritstone stand proud of the ridge. The light draped over the glacial contours of Wharfedale and the rooftops of Otley is so striking that the temptation to stop finally proves too much. It would be rude not to.
As I stand still, I can feel the glow of exercise rapidly dim, but my eyes are drawn to something huge emerging from the valley. Maybe 1,000 or more black-headed gulls have flocked together to head for a communal roost. The light and numbers recast a prosaic species into an entrancing collective spectacle; a slow-spinning mass moving with the languorous flow of a cloud of incense.
The cold may be what has created this sight, a mass huddle for the bitter night ahead, but with rose-gold light glinting on their wings, the birds drift like blown embers in the Arctic air, as if they were sent up from a conflagration. I watch them until they disappear out of sight, then move urgently on, kindling the flame within until I reach home.
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