20 Nov 2012

Illusory Urban Autumns

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Autumn is my least favourite season; this year, every year. Yes, I know most people rave about the colours, but  as I aways associate them with dying leaves and foliage, I find it impossible to look beyond my default setting that autumn equals the dying season. A day like today doesn’t help, of course: pouring, barely light all day and not much to look at except a fat pigeon trying to source some scraps of food among the sodden leaves littered round the garden.

In many ways I actually prefer the winter, because at least once you reach the New Year, however cold it is, the nights do begin to lighten and there’s always spring to look forward to in the not too distant future.

The ghostly spires of a city autumn

But, before you start ringing the Samaritans on my behalf, there is one aspect of autumn that I have always looked forward to and that is spending some part of the season in the city.Everybody tries to escape the city in summer, with good cause, but autumn is different. Even early autumn, with its characteristic, sharp, bright days, is best enjoyed in the city. And as the days shorten and the light becomes more hazy, urban landscapes take on their own unique, murky beauty.

On a recent stay in London, I was struck by the ghostly allure of St Pancras Station looming out of the cold, raw air. On the same trip, I made sure I spent Sunday browsing the East End’s many markets; the damp day providing an ideal excuse to warm up with some delicious street food and too many cups of intense expresso. There is something about markets in cold weather that makes street shopping more rewarding than in the middle of summer. Maybe I’ve just read too many Victorian novels, but I still thrill to the Dickensian stalls of roasted chestnuts in the narrow, cobbled lanes.

I will even go so far to contend that cities can provide a better outdoor experience in the autumn than can the countryside. I appreciate that may sound totally incongruous, but the diminishing daylight can make it difficult for a full day out in the wilds and mud and killer leaves in rural roads often endanger autumn bike rides. Most of our cities boast attractive parks and it is perfectly possible to devise extensive walks and rides for all ages and levels of ability. You don’t have to look very far to see the amazing variety of wildlife that manages to survive in our urban areas and, of course, you’re never too far away from a welcoming cafe.

So, although I’ll never love the autumn, over the years I’ve learned to live with it and, sometimes, I can just about recognise something of its distinctive beauty: although for me that lies in the eerie outlines of urban spires and rooftops, rather than the dying foliage of  hills and vales.

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