I adore the preparation that comes with the notion of ‘gathering in’; stockpiling ever-stranger chutneys (“That’ll be lovely with some leftover turkey”), madly panic-buying real beeswax candles in fizzing excitement of surrounding them in an entirely unoriginal festive tableaux among collected pine cones (solidly tapped on the doorstep to encourage any resident bugs to move along) and freshly-cut holly from the garden.
As the days shorten, I feel my internal rhythms begin to settle into a comfortable, familiar pattern that suits me far better than popular ideals of getting the most out of the few sunny days we’re bestowed by heading for the beach. UK beaches in summer fill me with dread, and not only owing to bikini paranoia. I can’t bear crowds, I’m terrified by the mere thought of swimming in the sea and find it really hard to consider it ‘cute’ when boisterous children kick sand over my picnic.
Warmer months also bring mosquitos; my most hated creature in the entire world. Years of experimentation have resulted only in a plethora of rashes from both chemical and natural repellents, alcoholic poisoning from ingesting vast quantities of gin and tonic (any excuse, eh?) and long, hot screaming nights of utter frustration at why the nasty little bastards seem so keen on me.
Autumn and the delicious slide into winter brings relief, calm and renewal of the long-held belief that I should move to a far northern land where winter conditions prevail in a near-perpetual state of hushed serenity.
My sensibilities towards colour change in winter – with usual predilections for a muted palette of greys and creams, and textural cravings towards bark, smooth silks and crisp linen turning toward a want for deep jewel tones, wools, velvets and chunks of dense, carpet-like moss which, luckily, grows in abundance in my north-facing garden.
Winter means open fires for a truly all-round sensory experience. From getting your hands on the bare components, laying down the kindling and selecting the choicest logs from the woodpile, right through to watching the cat luxuriate contentedly in the warmth and glow, listening to the crackle and hiss, the fragrance of wood smoke (often attempted, though never equalled by perfumers), can also be smelled and tasted as the mellow scent wreathes around the room, lingering as a whisper of itself the morning after.
The chilled white wines of summer are replaced with bottles of red; heavy with aromas of dusty velvet curtains, tobacco and warm leather, and chosen according to a scale of importance ranging from expert tasting notes to the whimsy of the picture on the bottle (with the latter usually winning out).
The woollens come down from the attic to be satisfyingly de-bobbled and folded with reverence bordering on the holy. I buy cashmere year-round and never pay full price for it, seeking out gems on auction sites and in summer sales – with the added bonus that many shops are air-conditioned, providing respite from both the heat and the mozzies as I peruse the offerings and day dream of winter.
Thus, in celebration of the approach of my no. 1 season, I give you a few of my favourite things to buy for yourself or to give as gifts. All of these lovely things are guaranteed to turn you into a winter lover just like me.
Bronte blankets, homeware and fashion
British-made, all wool blankets, homeware and fashion textiles since 1837. Eco-friendly and fully recyclable products. I have several of their blankets. They're warm, practical and I love how visiting friends always end up snuggled up on the sofa with them.
Gold & Black Candles
100% natural beeswax candles, handmade in Dorset. Ethical, small-batch makers using recyclable packaging and guaranteeing no nasty ingredients such as palm oil. Bees need all the help they can get, and these guys are definitely doing their bit.
Buy it in the summer, preferably in a heatwave to obtain the best possible price! eBay is a great source, but prices are rising as more people cotton onto the fabulous qualities of pure cashmere knitwear. Also look out for good quality silk and cashmere mix pieces. Follow the care instructions to ensure your cashmere looks great for years to come.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
There's not much better on a cold winter's night than curling up with a wild tale. The Essex Serpent, a story of a fantastical creature, terrorising residents living along the shores of the Blackwater Estuary in Victorian times is just the thing for anyone with a love of gothic literature.
The aptly named Serpent's Tail is an imprint of independent publishers, Profile Books, so ordering from them (or, indeed, buying from your local independent bookseller) is one way to ensure the longevity of small bookshops and publishers.
Cheeseworks of Cheltenham
All this talk of wine brings me oh-so neatly to the cheese to go with it!
Cheeseworks are a family-run business offering all the cheese you could ever want - both from their beautiful shop in the heart of Cheltenham as well as by post. How convenient!
You can build your own cheese hamper or choose from a selection of ready-made hampers, and also buy everything from crackers and cheese boards to ports, wines and beers specially chosen to go with your cheese.
Mine's the Cornish Yarg, thanks!
This fabulous purveyor of quality fabric, homewares and artist prints is a treasure trove of unique and utterly covetable items from all over the world selected for their style and artistry, as well as their ability to withstand years of use and still remain beautiful.
I especially love their furnishing fabrics and cushions (the kilim designs are particularly wonderful), and the selection will leave you with one big problem; which to choose?
Percheron Shiraz Mourvèdre
I don't proclaim to be any kind of expert on wine, but I have a few firm favourites of which this South African beauty is one.
It's just the thing for accompanying hearty winter dishes and also works well with cheese.
Kwoff, the website I've linked to, are a family-run business who, like me, love Tuscany and although this particular wine isn't Tuscan, there's something familiar in the flavour that makes me think of some of those 'super Tuscan' wines.
As Kwoff's own review says, it has a certain smokiness, which definitely gets me thinking of Christmas, open fires and cracking open a great big lump of Pecorino cheese to share with friends and family as the festive season gets going.
It's also reasonably priced for such a decadent-feeling wine at £6.99 a bottle.
Back to Tuscany again, this time for the luxuriously aromatic offerings from Erbario Toscano, a treasure trove of evocative fragrances, beauty and body products and home scents.
My favourite for the winter months is their black pepper ('cuore di pepe nero) perfume and body balm. It's considered a masculine fragrance, but the woody, spicy scent isn't overpowering and works well for women who prefer something with a little more spice than typical feminine floral notes.
You can order online for UK delivery, but I'll be stocking up on gifts at their shop in Lucca on my pre-Christmas trip!
The products are very reasonably priced, with a big 100ml bottle of fragrance at €52.00.
Don't forget your pet!
As a recent convert to living with a cat (I almost wrote 'cat ownership', but everyone knows that doesn't exist), I'm now busily concerned with the process of making sure his every whim is catered for, and he has absolutely everything he needs to be happy.
This 'cat cave' by the aptly-named maker LoveCatCaves on etsy is surely the bees knees for your furry friend's ultimate comfort and, more importantly, privacy. Those secretive little pussy cats do love their small, dark spaces, don't they?