Country diary: life out of the freezer

Comins Coch, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion The thaw has set in, and starlings are busy amid the last of the melting snow

Being west of the mountains, we missed the worst of the recent bout of snow – but the gale force easterly wind had a significant impact. Our house, tucked under the shoulder of the hill, is well sheltered from the usual winter winds that roar out of the south-west but the wide, open view of the hills to the east comes at a price.

A sudden ice-laden squall had driven me briefly outside to salvage some tumbling plant pots, when the steel cowl was wrenched from the top of the chimney. It missed me by fewer feet than I would have liked, and bounded off down the frozen garden with a sound reminiscent of a galvanised bucket being dropped down a flight of stone stairs.

Trees remain skeletal against the blue sky
Trees remain skeletal against the blue sky. Photograph: John Gilbey

In the aftermath, as we surveyed the damage to plants and property, the wind dropped almost to nothing, leaving a heavy mist hanging over the inland snow-fields. When the hillsides emerged into muted sunshine a few days later, all but the highest peaks had begun to thaw, leaving lines of white where ramparts of snow had been heaped against hedgerows by the storm.

As the temperature and light intensity grew, birds that had maintained a discreet profile during the strong winds returned to feed. Groups of starlings noisily occupied and explored the newly exposed fields, sunlight bringing out the vivid iridescence of their plumage. Tempted outdoors, I trudged up the hill and looked north towards Snowdonia. The dull murk of previous days had been replaced by banks of cumulus cloud and a brilliantly blue sky, the ice-patched profile of Cadair Idris starkly outlined against it.

The March sunshine accentuates a starling’s iridescent plumage
The March sunshine accentuates a starling’s iridescent plumage. Photograph: John Gilbey

Crossing the watershed and dropping down into the valley of the Rheidol, signs of the freeze were all but gone. From a distance, the groups of trees dotted along the flood plain showed the slight bright mistiness that colours them just before the leaves finally emerge, accentuated by the low angle of the afternoon sunlight. Lodged under a hawthorn hedge, in so protected a position that at first I took it for a lamb, I came across a final patch of snow. Hopefully this tired, slumped remnant of winter will be the last I will see until year’s end.


John Gilbey

The GuardianTramp

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