At the beginning of autumn we’d gone on a thoroughly enjoyable Ranger-led walk at dusk through some woodland. We’d spotted bats swooping and tracked them with some handheld detectors the Ranger had given us; we’d heard owls and (a little alarmingly when you can barely see) some bees somewhere nearby in a tree.
The most fascinating part had been trying to attract moths with a special brew of alcohol, sugar and fruit painted onto fence posts. When we’d returned at the end of the walk, the posts were covered in earwigs, spiders and a couple of millipedes. No moths, but perhaps they’d left the party early. Lightweights.
Last week I’d decanted some blackcurrant brandy I’d been steeping for Christmas and the heady smell of the macerated fruit reminded me of the Ranger’s moth attractor. The nights are dark early now, so I decided to mash up the leftover alcoholic blackcurrants and sugar and see what we could attract to an Insect Fence Party one evening.
The minxes helped me sieve the leftover fruit into a jam jar. As the blackcurrants had been steeping with sugar in the brandy for 2 months, you can imagine how colourful it was! It made 3 or 4 tablespoons of thick liquid and we agreed that because it would undoubtedly stain any fence post bright red-purple forever and ever, we’d only paint the fences in our own garden with it.
We waited till dark (ie straight after tea) then sloshed the purple insect attractor over a few fence posts with old paintbrushes. We giggling at the thought of what might await us on our return, then headed off to the nearby woods for an hour or so, wellies on and wrapped up warmly.
It was quite a dry spell, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see so many tractors out in the nearby field, harvesting trailer-loads of potatoes by brilliant spotlight. Still, they made a very eerie sight in the darkness, lit up like Christmas trees, because the trees muffled a lot of the sound until we were almost on top of them. It wasn’t just tractors: there were lots of unlit cars parked by the path between the woods and the field, and a portaloo. Probably tractor drivers. We purposefully had only taken one emergency torch, so were a bit startled at almost stumbling over the unexpected cars!
Part of the point of the walk was to let the kids experience almost complete darkness for longer than a few minutes. We’ve been out on lots of night walks over the years, but till now the girls have always taken a torch each. This time we walked hand in hand, and Jon and I tried to describe to the girls how to walk safely when you can barely see. They learned to lift their feet a little higher than usual over the rough track and how to ‘feel’ underfoot whether it was still track or squidgy off-track. Jon coached them in looking up to check they were still heading in the right direction, then looking down about 6ft in front to check for footing, then back up again. I described how to look at something in the dark by looking just to the side of it. We all saw how much we rely on colour, and how most colours disappear when you’ve only starlight and a quarter-moon to see by.
Yes: the kids thought we’d gone completely mad.
As they got a bit braver, I showed them how easy it still was to be seen in the dark, by displaying a silhouette or by moving even a little. Maxi proved to her sisters that standing stock still meant you could ‘hide’ even when your seeker was just 2 feet away and looking right at your widely grinning face. We talked about why everyone feels a little scared in the dark. Ah well, these might all be useful skills in the coming Zombie Apocalypse… (!)
After a while we heard an owl hooting. Midi the Owl Expert declared it a male tawny owl. She reminded us what a female tawny owl sounded like. When a female finally answered him I think we scared both away by cheering!
Eventually Jon relented and let the kids have the Emergency Torch. We had a good look at all the fungi that had grown in the day since we’d last been past those particular trees. Torchlight shone through fungi gills is a sight indeed, but our little camera couldn’t pick that up. In fact, as it was a dark walk over 2 hours we took very few photos at all. So I added a rogue photo of an aurora show I saw from the same bit of woodland last month to illustrate this post a little!
When Maxi started to succeed in spooking her sisters with tales of fairy rings and elves, it was time to turn the torch off again, and head back home to see whether we’d attracted any insects with our brew. On the way we stopped often and gazed at the stars, trying to spot some new constellations. Sharp-eyed Mini even spotted 4 satellites but no meteors, alas.
And the insects? Alas they’d either all had their fill and gone home early or blackcurrant just wasn’t to their taste. Perhaps we’ll try again in a day or 2, far earlier in the evening.
Why not go for a short walk in your local woods and see how different they feel and smell and sound when the sun's below the horizon?
About the Author
About Me & Mine
Hello! I’m Jay, married to Jon, living in North East Scotland with our 3 daughters: Maxi (10), Midi (8) and Mini Minx (6).
Favourite place in the world:
It’s hard to choose between the stretch of Moray Firth coast between Findhorn and Cullen, and Westray (a northerly Orkney island). Both have an amazing diversity of beautiful coastlines in a small space (empty, clean, sandy beaches; crystal-clear rockpools; crags, cliffs and stacks), fascinating wildlife, friendly people and endlessly interesting weather. Bar visits to friends and relatives, we’ve taken all our holidays in Scotland, north of where we live, for many years. We’ve still barely scratched the surface of this beautiful country.
Favourite things to do outdoors:
Rock-pooling and scrambling on local beaches; camping; walking in the gentler local hills; foraging for fruit and jam-making ingredients; and growing our own fruit and vegetables against the combined deterring efforts of our cat and the weather.