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  • December 1st, 2015 by
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    We’re firmly in that part of the year when the nights come quick and the winter cold tightens its grip over the British Isles.

    While for Londoners the climate rarely gets much worse than a brisk wind and a persistent drizzle, elsewhere, and in Scotland in particular, the seasonal change is far harsher. With expectations set for the coldest Scottish winter in 50 years, what solace is there to take from this cruel time of year?

    Scotland’s most famous son, poet Robert Burns, wrote the poem “Winter: A Dirge” in 1781. In the weather of the “stormy north” he saw a tonic for his own soul; the inclemency of the climate harmonised with the turbulence of his own emotions. “The tempest’s howl, it soothes my soul /My griefs it seem to join”.

    For Robert Louis Stevenson, the Edinburgh-born writer famous for Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, winter brought comfort in those small pockets of fireside warmth that managed to fend off the harsh weather:

    When all the snowy hill

    And the bare woods are still;

    When snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,

    And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,

    Lo, by the hearth, the laughter of the logs –

    More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!

    More recently, author Robert Macfarlane, in his fascinating recent book Landmarks, records the language we use to describe the cold. He digs up some of the more obscure words people have used to describe winter: in Shetland, a bitter cold is atteri, Gurl is a howl of the winds in Scots, while to pinnish is to shrink from the effect of the cold.

    However, the challenges of winter are not only those of severe weather, but also of deprivation and scarcity. Samuel Johnson, on his tour of Scotland in 1773 with infamous Scottish diarist and biographer James Boswell, observed that “the winter of the Hebrides consists of little more than rain and wind”, hardly the description of an exceedingly cruel climate. Despite this, he perceived that “the dark months are here a time of great distress…winter comes with its cold and its scarcity upon families very slenderly provided.”

    Of course, the year’s transition into winter inevitably leads people to think of the passing of time and the fading of lives. The inaugural Glasgow Poet Laureate Edwin Morgan wrote in his poem “Winter” of how “the voices fade” as the world around decays. However, even in the icy white, when all around has lost its colour, he sees hope in poetry: “Even / dearest blue’s not there, though poets would find it”.


    For all that winter is cold, dark and wet, it is somehow essential to our character, to our place as a small island hanging off the western edge of Europe and the northern tilt of the Atlantic. Poet and renowned drinker Norman MacCaig, imagined the cold of winter as something we cannot help but partake of. In his poem “November Night, Edinburgh”, the bitter cold surrounds us and we have no choice but to take it in. As he braces himself, like one might before knocking back a warming glass of whisky, “the night tinkles like ice in glasses. I gulp down winter raw.”

    Need to get out of the cold? Then join us at Boisdale and experience our lovely warm ambience, gorgeous food and fine wines. A sure recipe to banish those winter blues!