A Midwinter Walk
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
New Year’s Day: the sky was overcast, grey and heavy with the prospect of rain. Perhaps a little hungover from the previous night’s revelries – our vision still imprinted with falling stars of fireworks; our tongues still tingling from the bubbles that flowed long into the night. It would be tempting to lock oneself up in the warm for the entire day, maybe venturing out just once to gather provisions ahead of returning to work. However, with the prospect of work looming, Sam suggested a New Year's Day walk to make the most of our last day disengaged from the rat-race.
We don’t go far: an hour's walk to the neighbouring village church and back, across the train tracks and along the mud-soaked farm roads that meandered between barren fields and skeletal trees. This winter has been a wet one: an excursion to town for groceries would not be dared without the protection of an umbrella, and countryside walks not attempted without the armour of a waterproof coat.
The mild temperatures may have left us without the sugar-coated frosted trees and clear crystal skies we associate with winter, but there is still such beauty to be found on a midwinter walk, whatever the weather. The church, standing alone in the otherwise desolate Suffolk landscape, offers the prospect of a cosy refuge from the elements with its windows lit up with the twinkling of fairy lights from the Christmas decorations inside. Yet, surrounded by the dense, ominous yews, it also seems the church would be the perfect setting for an M.R. James ghost story: we shiver as though we wander through the graveyard, as though sensing ghosts.
It is too easy – when the nights are long, the days are short, and the weather inclement – to find excuses to not go out in the cold. We think we have saved ourselves the inconvenience of raw cheeks, an endlessly runny nose, and soggy footwear. But the more we create separations between ourselves and the outside world – the seasons, the wildlife, and, yes, the elements – the more damage we inflict on our ability to connect with our surroundings, which has a direct impact on our wellbeing. More than worth a pair of wet socks!
For many of us, the colours of an English midwinter landscape deprived of snow, we think of dull greys and uninspiring browns. But look a little closer and there is a plethora of subtle shades and bright spots of colour to be found among the hedgerows and ploughed fields. Fallen and felled trees, barks rich with water and nutrients, mulch-down into a burnt umber, like a sweet black treacle. Across the coffee-coloured fields, beyond the abandoned russet-stained farm machinery, you’ll see ghostly branches swaying in the winter breeze, etched against a fossil-tinted sky. The colour of the trees shift as the daylight fades, from warm copper to a soft iron-grey, right before our eyes as we walk speedily home, trying to beat the coming twilight.
Since that New Year walk, the weather has grown colder: the first belated frost of the year has dusted the garden with crystals, a precursor perhaps of a colder months that lie ahead? Perhaps the countryside all will soon be blanched by that beast of winter – snow. And even then, amidst the white, a hint of flaxen-yellow grass might burst through the snow drifts, and the hopeful sight of vanilla or peach coloured blossom bringing the promise of spring.
So, no matter the weather this winter, you'll be sure to find us out, seeking moments to enjoy a chilly walk. Yes, staying cosy by a fire feels nice, but it feels all the better on returning home from a long walk in the cold: never has the soft glow of the stove or a warming sip of sloe gin ever felt so good.