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.