Col­umn: Stu­art Ma­conie

CW’s reg­u­lar colum­nist ex­plains how he loves ex­plor­ing the twi­light world. With not a surly vam­pire in sight.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Cre­pus­cu­lar tintinnab­u­la­tion, in­nit.


Like ‘tintinnab­u­la­tion’ (the ring­ing of bells) and ‘plan­gent’ (res­o­nant and mourn­ful) it’s both beau­ti­ful in its own right and per­fectly fit­ted for what it means. In the case of cre­pus­cu­lar, that means ‘per­tain­ing to twi­light’. Gloomy, but just this side of down­right creepy, which of course it has an echo of. There was once was a very cool Bel­gian record la­bel called Les Disque De Cre­pus­cule – Twi­light Records – which put out aptly penum­bral mu­sic by Joy Divi­sion, Wim Wen­ders and Cabaret Voltaire.

Twi­light is tech­ni­cally that pe­riod of the day be­tween day­light and dark­ness. Dawn there­fore is strictly speak­ing twi­light, as well as dusk. But I al­ways think of it as that slightly melan­cholic part of the evening when the sun has set but enough dif­fused light is spray­ing about to make for an at­mo­spheric half hour.

I’ve spent time in Ari­zona and Texas and I was never com­fort­able with the sud­den ar­rival of dark. Over there, night falls like a stone, and it’s dis­ori­ent­ing for any­one used to gen­tle English dusks. One minute you’re tend­ing the bar­be­cue, next minute you’re fall­ing over things and scrab­bling for a torch.

I know now that the rea­son for this is that twi­light gets shorter the nearer you get to the equa­tor. I know this, but I can’t ex­plain it to you with­out do­ing a lot of stuff with or­anges and can­dles that I don’t fully grasp. Just take my word for it. As­tronomers iden­tify three kinds of twi­light: civil (enough light to see, but lights are needed to drive a car and street­lights are on), nau­ti­cal (when the dis­tant line of a sea hori­zon stops be­ing vis­i­ble against the sky) and as­tro­nom­i­cal (all glow gone from sky – stargaz­ing can be­gin).

I love the English twi­light, as do gen­er­a­tions of artists, mu­si­cians and es­pe­cially writ­ers. Gray’s El­egy in a Coun­try Church­yard is per­haps the most fa­mous evo­ca­tion of that time of day (“The cur­few tolls the knell of part­ing day, and leaves the world to dark­ness and to me”) but ev­ery­one from Keats to Stephanie Meyer has had a go. I haven’t read the lat­ter’s books but I know from the ex­pe­ri­ence of writ­ing this that if you Google for a def­i­ni­tion of ‘twi­light’ you get a whole lot of stuff about Robert Pat­tin­son and vam­pires be­fore you get to as­tro­nom­i­cal sun­set ta­bles.

Au­tumn is the best time for twi­light walk­ing I think. Long sum­mer evenings have their joys, as do, in their own way, the sharp, icy, vel­vet night­falls of win­ter. But Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber’s quiet dusks are per­fect for a stroll full of sound, shadow and at­mos­phere. I’m lucky enough to live a few paces from a huge area of wood­land and this month I’ve fallen into a plea­sur­able rou­tine. Tea fin­ished, I head out into the ‘gloam­ing’, to use the lovely Scots ex­pres­sion, and weave through trees and up grassy slopes by the last of the light. It’s beau­ti­ful and mys­te­ri­ous and ever so slightly spooky, sound­tracked by the rus­tle of leaves, the crack of twigs and the caw of crows. Ac­tu­ally, this is the only time I lis­ten to mu­sic on walks, know­ing that I don’t need to be aware of traf­fic or such. If you fancy it your­self, I can put to­gether a great, eclec­tic playlist for you that I guar­an­tee will not be over-fa­mil­iar and all on your favourite stream­ing ser­vice: Gen­tle Gi­ant’s Edge Of Twi­light, Howard Skemp­ton’s Lento, Tan­ger­ine Dream’s Se­quent C, Mor­ton Feld­man’s Three Voices. And maybe when back by the fire, a dip into Wil­fred Owen’s dark, sad An­them for Doomed Youth: “And each slow dusk, a draw­ing down of blinds.”

Hear Stu­art on BBC 6 Mu­sic, 1pm to 4pm Mon­day to Fri­day. Rad­cliffe and Ma­conie,

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