Monday, 5 December 2016

Winter On The Land

Yesterday, we got up early and ran eight miles through the frost across the Chalk. The landscape was devoid of people; they were only evidenced by thin twists of smoke rising vertically from chimneys in the windless air among clusters of old cottages. No dogs barked, no voices echoed out across the fields, no footprints were before us in the ice.

The grass was crisp and crunchy, the air clean and cold, and from the top of the hill the view stretched out for miles across the frozen landscape revealing ancient villages nestling in valley bottoms, their Saxon or Norman churches evident from this distance, and the occasional old manor house further out, garden encircled by rambling stone walls. They looked like figures inside a doll's house from the height of the hill, framed by the washed-pale pink sky.

Here and there on the edge of a field evidence of badgers at work: small, conical indentations in the soil with bits of vegetation, roots mainly, strewn about. Frost is hard times for badgers; the earthworms they need wiggle deep underground to escape the ice and the harder the earth becomes the more difficult it is for the badgers to dig them out. Back at home I put peanuts out for them. In the morning the empty shells back up the story revealed on the night camera, that of hungry badgers and the odd fox devouring the offering during the hours of darkness.

Past the badger holes the path takes us on into a beech wood. Old trees grow from the tops of a bank which marks the place where an ancient trackway crosses the hill. Poppy runs on a little too far ahead, knowing the way, and is scolded when she returns for Not Listening To Dad Calling. She is full of abject apologies as she prostrates herself on the ground. They last for all of five seconds before she's up and off again, scampering across the leaves.

Running through the woods the ground is softer; the trees have prevented the ice from taking hold here. The scientific explanation of why this is so washes over me as we sink a little into the leaf litter, knees (mine in particular) grateful for the respite. It doesn't last long- soon we are back out into the open, into winter, which numbs fingers, chills noses and cools cheeks. Our breath pours out like silken threads unravelling onto the air.

Coming down off the Chalk we leave the clear air of the hill and enter the really cold valley bottom. The air seems to constrict around us as we cut through it. We climb again, just a little, and eventually pick up the old hedge, which is all that is left of the ancient wood that once covered the land for miles around here. I feel a strong affinity with this hedge, call it remnant or old survivor. The wood that it belonged to can still be seen; shrinking down the valley bottom it laps timorously at the field margins, reduced and marooned. All the woodland wildlife has left now is small isolated pockets of trees: only the hedge remains as an attempt to connect up the pieces. The hedge is a testament of what was once here, I think of the old forest every time I come this way. The hedge offers a way in to read the story of the landscape. I love it.

As we trot along at a companionable pace admiring the way the light glints silver on the frosty grass we reflect on how beautiful the day is and how fortunate we feel to be out here running together through this winter land, storing up memories.

In a little over an hour after we started we are back at the car, dogs gratifyingly tired, legs suitably aching, pleased with the morning's work, and the day still young enough to contain the promise of other things.

I've had a day off running today, having clocked up seventeen miles in my first week back. Instead I've been up to the Pig Fields to watch the Starlings' murmuring. A five minute drive a little before dusk to witness one of Nature's Miracles for free.

Winter Is Good, eh?

Hope you are all well.



  1. Love your photos, I have birdie envy you are so lucky to get such wonderful visitors xx

  2. I feel envigorated by your wonderful post. Not quite so frosty in my little island so it was lovely to read your beautiful descriptions of the landscape. Sounds like you are both back up to speed. I must go out and look for some murmurings, I never pick the right time of day, maybe tomorrow. Have a great week. B x

  3. One ofnature's miracles indeed.
    I do admire the way you are building up that running.

  4. Oh it sounds wonderful. So crisp and cold and quiet, I can picture it perfectly. One year we had small murmurations that we could see from our front windows, it was absolutely wonderful. Every day at dusk we would all be transfixed. But we haven't seen them again. Maybe one day. I love the moment when they all plunge down into a tree. Hundreds of them would fit into half a dozen trees or so. It was magical. Fantastic photos, especially the woodpecker and that exquisite light. How amazing it is in winter. CJ xx

  5. You're a better man than I am Gunga Din - I wimped out of the frost and ran at the gym again today. I love your bird photos and didn't know that badgers like peanuts; I'll have to try scattering some about. I remember we drove to Somerset to see starlings murmuring a few years ago, only later to find that there was a better show 2 miles up the road at the retail park! xx

  6. gorgeous photos....there's nothing like the gilding of frost. we had a smattering of snow overnight and the way it clung to the bare branches of the trees was utter magnificence. driving to work in the still-dark, the gorgeous up-lighting from my headlights made the roadsides positively glow.

    then it warmed up and melted.

    such is the beautiful impermanence of things, yes? ;)

    well done on your run. i've promised myself, once spring rolls around again, to get myself back into it.


  7. Your run sounds so exhilarating and eight off road miles in an hour is very impressive. Fortunately our badgers have gone into hibernation and the grass is recovering. I will try putting out peanuts next year to deter them from digging for worms. Lots of starlings around this year too. They have been absent the last few years so it is good to see them in the garden getting territorial with the blackbirds. The Sorbus tree is alive at the moment with all sorts of birds getting on with feeding.

  8. Wonderfully beautiful photos today.
    I love reading your writing about the land you live on.

    cheers, parsnip

  9. Excellent post! It sounds invigorating and makes me feel Christmassy!
    Seventeen miles is a fantastic effort!
    Enjoy it all xx

  10. It's a bit foggy today. I think you picked the best time for your run, all sparkly and bright. You're really clocking up the miles now. I hope you're making a graph.x

  11. I rather enjoy a frosty dog walk, I should make the time to run now though instead. Rocky is not an ideal running partner. A splendid idea to feed the badgers peanuts, I have some too. Wow seventeen miles. Go you x

  12. Love following you winter runs, woodpecker is a bird I would love to have in my garden.
    Amanda xx

  13. It sounds glorious. You do write a run exceedingly well :-) I haven't seen a full starling murmuration for years; there's a little cluster of starlings near here but not a big, gobsmacking one. I'm glad you've got one near you. Sam x

  14. Lovely description of your run and the nature and history around you. The ancient woodland has of course shrunk all around here too, its remnants are very precious. I love all the birds on the feeders, the cold weather has certainly brought them in for food here.

  15. I used to run 30 miles per week but now I have retired and have the time I average about 10. The years have taken their tole but I still enjoy it. The great thing about Somerset is the genuine niceness of the people, I enjoy talking to strangers, it is an eye opener after 27 years in London.

  16. I enjoy very much how you describe everything around you on your runs. Almost makes one feel as though they are there. Bravo to your writing skills.

  17. I read this post a week ago and didn't have to comment. Your descriptions were so fantastic that they have stayed with me throughout the week. It felt as if we were there beside you, without having to put in all that effort to run! Sarah x


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.