Seems early to be talking about winter but I was asked to write a small piece on Winter for the National Trusts website to tie in to the BBC TV series The Great British Year. The piece went live HERE but as the web editors so cruelly had their wicked way with it I thought I’d put up the whole little bit here.
Many think of winter as the bleak season, the season of head colds, drizzle and hiding indoors with the heating turned up. I asked my son what he enjoyed about winter as we came home from school in the sunlight of a warm Wiltshire autumn.
The usual topics of Christmas, presents and family came up. He waxed lyrical about the chances of a decent snowfall this year, how we would sledge on the chalk downs around our house and the shape and size of the snowman he would build. All unsurprising things for a ten year old mind, but then he slipped in a comment that made me stop for a second. One of his favourite things about winter, he said, is how the landscape changes around us, how the sunlight and shadows create different patterns on the fields than in the other seasons and how the absence of leaves on trees opens up otherwise unseen vistas. He’s right of course; I was just surprised to hear those thoughts coming from the mouth of a child with the energy of a two-year-old Springer Spaniel.
One of the advantages of my job is that I get to see almost every property across South West England during every season. And, like the parent who doesn’t recognise the daily changes in their offspring, my slight distance from the day-to-day running of a property lets me see things with a fresh set of eyes every time I visit. I get a sense of discovery and excitement as the character of the properties shifts subtly with the changing seasons; views, colours and smells all vary hugely throughout the year.
Nice as spring, summer and autumn are, for me, winter is the best season to be outdoors. A season of contrast seemingly made for black and white photographs; the bleached bones of the earth on view, all ploughed soils and bare-branched woodlands. Foggy drizzle can blanket the earth in its embrace like a soggy duvet, muting all sounds, or powerful storm clouds can race over, swirling high, menacingly dark castles in the sky.
No, for me, winter is a true season. You could sometimes forgive summer, spring and autumn for being one and the same, just with minor differences in temperature and foliage colour. Winter stands apart from the others, proud and defiant, raw in its unique naked glory. Just remember the wellies and waterproofs and the lions roar is lessened, the anger tempered. There’s no such thing as bad weather, as they say in Canada.
My personal winter highlight is standing at the top of Lewesdon Hill in West Dorset, looking out across a patchwork quilt of tiny fields and small farmhouses. A sleepy green and brown earthbound sea, the skyline cut by the silhouette of Pilsdon Pen to the southwest. It’s a view written about by William Crowe in his poem of 1788, now only visible during the winter months when the bare branches of the beech woodland allows whispers of his memories to filter through the woody skeletal fingers on the weak winter sunlight.
“From this proud eminence on all sides round
The unbroken prospect opens to my view,
On all sides large; save only where the head
Of Pillesdon rises, Pillesdon’s lofty Pen:
So called (still rendering to his ancient name
Observance due) that rival height south-west,
Which, like a rampire, bounds the vale beneath.”
Lewesdon Hill, William Crowe.