I love the beauty of new fallen snow, but I have long since given up dreaming of a white Christmas, although the child within is still excited by the anticipation of it, the heavier the better. Unfortunately Norfolk’s winters have become underachievers and fewer cold snaps mean less frequent snow, but like any unrequited lover, I can only hope and dream.
When mercury does take a rare journey to sub-zero and huge dark moisture laden clouds come bowling over the horizon, the atmosphere changes, expectancy hangs in the air; time almost stops, all are waiting for the first flake to fall. Nature will also anticipate the pending snow and fall deathly silent, no doubt intimidated by the heavy grey sky. Snowfall creates a deep and rare silence, not only is nature hushed into whispers, thick falling snow muffles the modern world and the experience of a solitary walk can feel dreamlike.
The greatest beauty of winter is the mantle of pure white which covers the countryside for those first few hours. If the sun comes out there is an intensity of light rarely exceeded on the brightest day of spring, and on a clear night the snowfields reflect a vivid blue tint. Our townscapes are magically transformed, sadly this beauty is fleeting, and even in the early hours the neat white sheets thrown across our quiet streets become blemished by the inconsiderate footsteps of the milkman.
The artistry of winter weather can shift from the soft splendour of snow to stark frozen magnificence, for very occasionally when the air is still and the conditions just right we are treated to a hoar-frost. When banks of drifting night fog suddenly hit freezing point they quickly condense and freeze into minute ice particles that cover every twig and stem – every roof and car. Waking to a sparkling frosty morning is a scene of breath taking beauty, a beauty of lines and contrasts, of black and white rather than form and colour. These heavy deposits of ice crystal are increasingly rare and when it occurs must be savoured, even as one scrapes the windscreen clear.
A winter walk in snow and frost is exhilarating, for dragging cold fresh air deep into the lungs and blowing out clouds of warmed breath has a rejuvenating quality. It is also a perfect time to watch wildlife, as the frantic search for food gives animals a confidence not normally seen in milder weather. Water rail, habitually concealed deep within reedbeds will suddenly reveal themselves, uninhibited they tread about on the snow flattened reed. Prints of a bounding rabbit and pursuing fox appear overnight, as do deer and badger tracks, their trails telling tales normally hidden and untold.
Winter provides many astonishing wildlife spectacles, the incomprehensible twists and turns of a starling murmuration seemingly collectively choreographed or a blend of wading birds forced off the mudflats in their thousands by a rising tide, meeting at roost and huddling together in a heaving mass. Those of us that love the natural world find her stripped naked in winter and ‘we can but stare upon her beauty and dream’.
Header image: NWT Upton Broad and Marshes by Richard Osbourne