December signals the start of winter. Snow falls, wildfowl fill the waterways and the light sits low, creating multi-hued sunsets over frosty hills, farmland and mountains.
We’ve come across some spectacular photography while putting together the December issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine, from majestic churches and chugging trains to whisky tours and Scottish grouse. Celebrate the month ahead with a few of our favourite images.
Stunning winter light illuminating the snow-covered slopes of Brentor on the western edge of Dartmoor ©Alamy
Built 335 metres above sea level on the remains of an ancient volcano in Devon is St Michael de Rupe (St Michael of the Rock).
The views across the surrounding Dartmoor countryside from the summit of Brentor are breathtaking, but perhaps what’s most captivating about this small church is its ability to command attention from both land and sea.
Whitby, North Yorkshire
Winter dawn breaking over the River Eske in Whitby on the Yorkshire coast ©Alamy
Whitby’s pretty quayside and welcoming shops make it worth a winter visit; elegant Beggar’s Bridge arches over the River Esk in Glaisdale and the surrounding national park is ideal for a seasonal walk.
River Stour, Essex-Suffolk border
River Stour running through Dedham Vale on the Essex-Suffolk border ©Getty
A dawn walk in the depths of winter offers so much beauty and mystery. You see the countryside in a completely new light, such as here along the River Stour in Dedham Vale on the Essex-Suffolk border, which is famously green and lush in summer. Creeping frost transforms the sullen and slumbering vegetation while extraordinary peach and plum tints exploding across the sky reflect in the still water. Magical.
Lammas Eco Village, Pembrokeshire
Winter Solstice, Lammas Eco Village ©Drew Buckley
The longest of nights: the winter solstice is often described as the shortest day of the year. By default, this makes it the longest night, and an occasion worth celebrating. Ancient cultures saw it as a time of rebirth, welcoming back the light – a view maintained by many to this day. Here at Lammas Eco Village in Pembrokeshire, drummers, pipers and dancers gather together around a fire on the solstice to “honour the turning point in the Sacred Dance of our Earth Mother”.
Winter red grouse
Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) adult male in snow covered heather ©Alamy
Native gamebird the red grouse is widespread on heathery moors, particularly in the North York Moors. Discover more winter wildlife spectacles.
Conifers at Christmas
Scottish glen in winter ©Getty
Christmas Eve, and all around the country the centrepiece for celebrations will most likely be a conifer, festooned with fairy lights, surrounded by presents.
In the minds of many, that affection for conifers doesn’t extend beyond the festive season. In recent decades conifer forestry has often been mired in controversy, thanks to insensitively placed commercial plantings. Many see densely spaced geometrical plantations in much-loved upland landscapes as an abomination. Worse still, confrontations between conservationists, landowners and politicians over commercial forests covering large areas of Flow Country in the far-north of Scotland, which involved draining bogs that are critically important habitats for nesting wading birds, endangered wildflowers and rare insects, gave conifer forestry a bad name.
Britain’s most spectacular autumn arboreta
Whisky making, island of Islay
Mark checks the hue of a liquor; the longer a whisky spends in the barrel, the darker its colour ©Mark Unsworth
The story of single malt Scots whisky is an intoxicating tale – a heady mix of myths and legends, swirling beneath a dense veil of Scotch mist. One thing is certain: some of the most distinctive whiskies in Scotland emanate from the west-coast island of Islay, home to eight (soon to be nine) of Scotland’s 98 active distilleries.
How are oysters are used in whisky production?
Chapel Stile, Cumbria
Holy Trinity Church is built on the northern flank of the dramatic Great Langdale valley in the Lake District National Park; pause beneath its stained-glass tapestry then head for the glory of the fells ©Getty
Perched at the mouth of Great Langdale in the midst of the Lake District is Chapel Stile, a small community of blue-grey stone buildings, raised from the slate quarries that surround it.
On a rocky shelf overlooking the village is Holy Trinity Church, completed in 1858 on a site that has seen Christian worship for centuries. Like much of the village, the neo-Gothic-style building is made of local slate, giving the place a distinctly North-Wales flavour.
Glen Finnan – looking north ©Jake Graham
Seek refuge from the cold inside one of Scotland’s most majestic churches, then venture into the Highlands on a winter walk past the wizards’ railway to a lonely mountain pass.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
North Yorkshire Moors Railway ©John Hunt
Icy rails and blustery snow won’t stop the North Yorkshire Moors Railway’s Santa Special from winding its merry way to Levisham station, with the man himself on-board.
The UK’s best festive days out.
Main image ©John Hunt