Dawn of Optimism: A Winter Solstice Experience
24 Dec 2023

Photographer James Warman headed to the mysterious Mitchell's Fold in Shropshire to capture sunrise for the Winter Solstice - the shortest day and longest night of the year.

It has been a long held intention of mine to witness the sunrise on the winter solstice at Mitchell’s Fold.

Well this year it seemed the planets aligned and I found myself with the time to spare to fulfil my ambition.

Friday, December 22nd marked the winter solstice, ushering in the longest night and the shortest period between sunrise and sunset for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. This celestial occurrence occurs when the North Pole is tilted farthest away from the sun, causing the sun to appear at its lowest point in the noon sky, casting the longest shadows of the year.

Finding the stones

For millennia, civilisations have celebrated the winter solstice, linking it to the sun's rebirth, the promise of longer days, and turning point in the year. Ancient festivities such as Yule in Norse traditions and Saturnalia in Roman customs honoured this astronomical event. While Stonehenge is aligned with the winter solstice sunrise, its modern association leans more towards the summer solstice, marking the longest day.

Mitchell’s Fold, (Shropshire’s mini Stonehenge) is situated between Minsterley and Bishops Castle. Despite its smaller size, it attracts visitors keen on marking both the winter and summer solstice. So, armed with my camera, I joined a group of like-minded individuals, capturing the essence of this astronomical event in a place of historical significance.

A group at the fold

The forecast predicted overcast weather, so I wasn’t expecting the golden hues of sunlight marking the dawn of a new day. But that didn’t put me off, or the small group of people I found gathered at the stones. 

Some simply came, took a selfie next to the stones and then moved on, but others stayed longer, taking in the atmosphere. One local couple (they lived a mile from the stones) said they’d be coming to mark the winter solstice for 20 years, but admitted they’d only ever seen two clear sunrises in all that time. 

The biggest stone

Not out off by this we stood within the stone circle, discussed the site's history, archaeology, and natural surroundings as the sky gradually grew lighter before we exchanged festive wishes and parted ways.

Having witnessed numerous sunrises and sunsets as a photographer, I find solace in sunrises. There's an inherent optimism in experiencing the dawn of a new day, often involving an early rise and a journey in darkness to capture the event. Reflecting on this special winter solstice at Mitchell’s Fold, I am grateful for the opportunity and encourage others to embrace this unique experience. Perhaps our paths will cross at Mitchell’s Fold next summer solstice!