In your mind’s eye what do you see when you think of winter? Grey skies or snow? Dark mornings or twinkly lights? Winter is often the least favourite season, that can’t quite compete with the burst of spring blossom, the warmth of the summer sun or the vibrant copper hues of autumn. A marketing campaign has created a myth that the most depressing days of the year are in January. I do understand why it may be unpopular. Winter can be toe-numbingly cold (especially if like me you have a circulatory condition), wet and blustery. Slipping on ice is no joke. The low winter sun can glare at you when you drive, but the long shadows it casts can be quite graceful. We spend more time indoors increasing our heating bills, especially so as the pandemic wears on. I confess that this winter in lockdown is testing me. The news, distance from loved ones and the immense sense of loss can be overwhelming. But I do still love this season. Winter is incredibly beautiful. Thick blankets of fog create an air of mystery to the familiar, a blanket of snow hushes everything it covers. Chattering ducks slide on landing on a frozen pond, frozen breath creates your own personal little cloud. The evenings are dark enough for twinkly lights to offer a warm glow indoors. At what other time does a hot chocolate taste to good and a blanket feel so soft as it does after a ramble outdoors in the cold air?
It can be hard to motivate yourself and your young ones to go out into the cold. They may prefer to stay inside looking at screens, when there is seemingly little to do outdoors. Nature looks largely asleep but here and there are little pockets of activity and spotting them can be turned into a scavenger hunt. Squirrels are less energetic during colder times but do venture out of their nests to collect food they have cached away. Birds still sing and without leaves to hide behind are easier to spot in the trees, particularly the more colourful species such as robins, blue-tits and finches. If you have space, putting birdseed out will attract them close. The RSPB hosts an annual Big Garden Birdwatch, this year it is on 29-31 January. Most trees will have shed their leaves, but some will cling on to them for longer. Young beech trees hold onto their bright copper leaves throughout the season and are easy to spot. The shape of the trees is clearer during winter. A tree with a twisted trunk often has twisted branches, the lines and turns of branches and twigs repeat as they spread outwards and upwards. Woodland growing trees have a thinner canopy, those in parks and fields with open space have a broader one. The Woodland Trust has a free tree identification App that little ones might enjoy using to identify trees by their bark, cones or Catkins.
Without the distraction of fluttering leaves and picturesque flowers, moss and lichen become more visible. Velveteen green moss appears incredibly vibrant this season, and lichen is a little pop of colour on grey brown plants, fences and brickwork Both are great for inspecting with a magnifying glass and trying close-up photography. Most cameras and phone cameras have a close up function, so an expensive camera isn’t necessary to capture winter’s tiny details.
On very cold days look for nature’s ice sculptures. In country or city, muddy puddles can freeze and create intricate marble patterns. On an icy morning search for different types of frost. Feathery fern or snowflake patterns on window panes, sugar dusting on leaves or tiny crystals that stand to attention. Frost is a stunning candidate for close-up photography. When ice is forecast you can make ice decorations, using Plasticine or clay moulds or a make-shift mould out of an empty yoghurt pot. A quick internet search for “Ice Decorations” returns a multitude of ideas and images. When there isn’t enough snow to sledge or build snow sculptures, or it’s just muddy, look for animal tracks and tick off the ones you can identify.
Derbyshire (and the rest of the UK) has a vast network of footpaths connecting villages, towns and cities. Lockdown is a good opportunity to explore what is local to you. We have found pathways we hadn’t noticed before after checking Ordnance Survey and Footpath Map, and have some new routes around the village. If you spent last lockdown walking, how different does your route look now compared to springtime? In Revisiting the same spots, we have watched the wheel of the year turning. Snowdrops and crocuses will soon push through the earth, and in turn give way to daffodils, new leaves, blossom, the bronzed tones of autumn and then back to bare trees and snowdrops.
The nights may be longer, but right now you don’t have to get up at 4am to see the sunrise. As I sit writing, the sun has set at 4.10pm, and will rise tomorrow at 8.10am. I will watch the sky change from midnight blue to pale, and the sun appear as I drink my first coffee of the day. Then we will throw on our woollies and waterproofs and head out for fresh air and a nature fix. It clears our heads and lifts our mood.
Winters can seem harsh and long but they do end, as do pandemics. The days will become shorter but until then we can enjoy the little things, the cosy nights in and comforting hearty food knowing that seasons will change.
And on a final note, woolly socks and beanie hats just don’t work in summer. So, we’ll enjoy wearing them while we can.
Words and photography by Laura Rowan Instagram @Derbyshire_Lass
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