Yesterday I wrote of walking in a once-in-a-generation icy landscape, and mentioned that I had been transfixed by the sunset at the end of the walk. I’m going to save my words today and just show you the sunset that kept me outside that little bit longer.
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At the start of the year, a week’s worth of sub zero temperatures accompanied by thick freezing fog transformed the Hampshire countryside around R’s parents. One short stroll in this uncanny landscape has to count as one of the most extraordinary walks I have ever taken anywhere.
The rolling contours of Hampshire’s giant industrially farmed fields still stubbled with the remains of last years crops had become a brittle confection, sugar dusted. Hedgerow branches hung furred with ice, which crackled and popped delicately if you touched it with your tongue. As we set off a flock of fieldfares whirled like bonfire ash, gleaning the frozen ground.
Visibility shifted – from ten yards to fifty then back to ten. At times the silent world rolled under my feet as would a treadmill, the landscape ahead not just invisible but wholly absent.
The bold silhouettes of my companions, sharp as cardboard cut-outs, faded to grainy photocopies then neatly dissolved into the white. All landmarks obliterated, the hard crackling ground under my feet became the only certain thing.
An occasional game crop – sunflowers or corn (left standing as fodder for Hampshire’s vast population of doomed pheasants) lent the landscape an almost apocalyptic air, frozen flower heads bent under rimes of frost an inch or more thick. For a moment I could picture refugees pouring through devastated frozen fields should a failing Gulf Stream plunge Britain into another ice age.
Crossing the empty fields felt like crossing a fog bound ocean, landmarks islanded in whiteness and fading in and out like ghosts. A spinney loomed out of the ground like a surfacing leviathan.
At our approach individual trees picked themselves out delicately in a lacy monochrome, sugared and perfect. Passing its edge the spinney now took on the aspect of a snow globe, and we the tiny people in it. A short detour among the trees revealed a world in negative – silver branches against a darker sky. White, silver, platinum, all in finer calibrations than you would ever suspect a human eye could see and way beyond the capabilities of my camera or my prose. Apart from the fieldfares at the beginning of our walk we didn’t see another moving thing, and the hedgerows were uncannily silent.
The fog began to clear, revealing a cheerless wintry sun hung in an opalescent sky. Colour seeped gently back into the landscape. At the end of our walk I paused to admire the sky while my small companion excitedly explained the complex world of Harry Potter. Everyone else seemed in a rush to get into the car, and I can’t blame them, but the sunset had me rooted to the spot.
To see the first set of my cold weather pictures, take a look at the previous blog post Through The Wardrobe. There will be more cold weather pictures soon!
Last week saw the temperatures in the south of England plummet, nights of -15 and days when the mercury didn’t ever get above freezing. I’m from up north where the winters are generally more savage, but even I was surprised by the intense cold – and the beauty it created.
Freezing fog decked the trees and hedgerows with glittering garlands of frost, and in the usually mild and kindly Hampshire landscape that I escaped to this weekend, I felt as if I had stumbled through the wardrobe and into Narnia.
The fields near R’s family home, pocketed in the land’s gentle swell were silent monochrome, their familiar far ridge obliterated by icy fog.
I had found nests of peacock caterpillars and watched drowsy flies dance on the Hogweed flowers in this lane last summer. Now the undergrowth had been frost bitten back to nothing. All except for the umbels of dead Hogweed which had been candied with a thick rime of frost.
It was so cold that I had to keep my camera in my jeans pocket, only removing it quickly to snatch a hasty photo. This picture of ice crystals on a bramble is the most in-focus closeup image I managed in two days.
The hedgerow trees stood ghostly in a sugared landscape, petrified and birdless.
In this gentle southern county of England conditions of such magnificent hostility may only come once in a lifetime, and despite a heavy cold I spent as much time out in it as was polite to my hosts. Walking at night was magical – the flanks of the hills glittering under a full moon when the fog shifted enough to reveal them. I have a single night walk photo that worked and a whole other set from a day walk to share over the next couple of days, these are just a taster. Come visit again!
This morning there was a fairly hard frost in London; I went to stand on the fire escape at the back of our house to admire it and was just in time to see the sun rise over the rooftops. Morning is very atmospheric here in winter – few birds sing and there is an apparent stillness, but concentrate a little and the roar of a vast city can be heard beyond the silent gardens.
I don’t often look back at my old posts but something made me do so today and I was surprised and a little touched to see that I had pretty much looked at and written about a similar scene (almost to the day) of a midwinter dawn last December. Little rituals; the steaming cup held in both hands against the cold, breathing in the sharp frosty air, the lemony dawn sky.
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