Spectacular weather this last week. High pressure brings a sharp overnight frost, followed by sun. By late morning it’s been warm enough to sit and contemplate cloudscapes and the beguiling mist that has hovered about the Lyth Valley, sometimes rising and pouring over Scout Scar escarpment and enveloping me in veils of silence, silence because I find myself alone when fog surrounds me. Firm frozen ground thaws into mud during the morning.
A hard overnight frost lingered in frost-pockets during the early morning. Skylark sang and when I reached Scout Scar escarpment I saw billowing mist down in the Lyth Valley. Clouds of drifting mist, rising from the floodwaters, wreathed into the woods and elusive, dispersing and thickening once again. Fascinating to watch, whether it makes interesting photographs is for you to consider.
Landmarks are gone, swallowed whole in mist and low cloud. It is disorientating. We read a landscape, read a route by looking ahead for what is to come, for known features. With only the ground at our feet and a hundred yards around us we focus and think detail. Senses are heightened. The morning is silent and still and sound carries, natural sounds. Nuthatch call in the wood below the escarpment. I hear the ewes of Barrowfield Farm, lost to view.
Skylark and lapwing were displaying on Scout Scar earlier this week. So I hoped to find them once more. A bright and sunny day, with dramatic cloudscapes.
Skylark sang on Scout Scar, chasing each other, seeing rivals off a territory each hoped to claim. Soaring in song.
Three buzzards sighted over the escarpment, I was told. No sign of the lapwing I'd seen displaying three days ago. So, to Cunswick Fell.
Winter seems endless in lockdown. Biting cold followed by rain. Spring comes late to the Cumbrian uplands and how welcome it will be.
Sunday is a day of mist and low cloud, of hazy sun. But there is sun and Scout Scar suddenly pulses with life, seemingly out of nowhere.
A hint of skylark in the air and now they’re all about me, standing proud on a low outcrop of rocks, bursting into song flight.
February 12th. A beautiful sunrise on a cold morning. By 7.15 am it seemed as if the sunrise spectacular was over. Then over an hour later there was a pattern of cumulus cloud and mackerel sky, in gold.
A beautiful day on Scout Scar. Snow gone from the escarpment but visible on the distant fells.
Beads of snow bounce off windowsills, grauples ricochet. Snowflakes light as air float through sunlit branches, all ways. Fat white snowflakes go on quests, avoiding touch-down. The ways of snow, all ways and always.
‘‘ Light icing in white,’ said weatherman Tomasz Shafernaker. Icing in white, naturally. Kew Gardens – 5, -6 , -7 on the night of February 10th. The coldest night for 25 years.
Vardo, north-east Norway. Spring-Equinox 2006
Driving snow struck me full in the face. The snow plough tipped its load into the harbour close by an old, timbered building where a noisy colony of kittiwake prepared to nest on a ledge, their heads white as snow. A raft of eider began its courtship display: King Eider, Steller’s Eider, Common Eider.
'It's about more than exercise, isn't it?' he offered. ' It's of the spirit.'
A panorama of sunlit, snowclad fells encompassed Scout Scar. Light on the horizon.
Yesterday the highlight was rime-ice and detail, the nearer view. Today, the ground was compacted hard in trampled snow and ice. Trees had shed their rime-ice and looked sombre.
Light on the horizon. Later in the morning the pastures of the Lyth Valley were sunlit green.
RIME ICE on trees and flowers
‘Have you seen the cuckoo yet?’ He made me laugh. Ewes huddle about their feeder, pawing the snow to reach grass. ‘Don’t the trees look beautiful.’ We must have met before. He’s local, he loves the place and he’s a looker. Being a looker is about responding to the day, being curious.
Jackdaw called to each other as they flew through the falling snow.
Light snowfall settled on garden trees, making them seem light and airy.
I hoped to photograph fresh-fallen snowflakes, to show their six-point stars, their symmetry. I need, and do not have, a special photo-microscope. From the moment of touch-down something of their geometric structure is lost. But here is snowfall, fresh and light. Perfect conditions for photographing snowflakes.
Snow came overnight from the north-east, patterning the face of the out-take wall approaching Scout Scar. The Howgills lie snow-white and sculptural. Fells to the north and west are lost in mist and low cloud. Mist rises from the Lyth Valley and toward Morecambe Bay the estuary and the sea gleam as the sun casts a soft gold over the sky. The panorama of snow-clad fells is hidden but Scout Scar escarpment lies sunlit under snow, and that is rare.
What birds had I seen today, I was asked by a local couple. They had found a handful of fieldfare on Helsington Barrows. I was returning from the spot but had missed them. We spoke of garden birds, of blackbirds and the January hungry gap. Blackbirds had gorged on their rowan berries back in early autumn, perhaps as early as August. He had seen a blackbird eating twenty rowan berries, then crashing into their windows in intoxicated flight. He must have seen my scepticism and they assured me it is so. Drunken blackbirds?
From behind the Scots Pines the full moon rises radiant on a cold, clear night. Scintillae of light sparkle somewhere in the freezing air, somewhere between the moon and me there are spiculae, ice-particles only my camera can see. Then she appears in a corona of blue. The moon looks down upon us with serene gaze. I am curious of her mysteries.
At midnight, she illuminates stairs to the skylight where I open the window and look out upon her.
Snow-cloud gathered to the east and blotted out the fells. Slowly, gently the snow came in the afternoon. Snowflakes floated in the air, snowflakes so light and airy they rose and fell in a swirl.
Stay at home is the Government's urgent plea as the NHS comes under unprecedented pressure during the pandemic. There are ice warnings so stay at home makes sound sense. Stay at home and find a project. Mine today is weather-watching and to see what I might photograph from home.
One spring, I came upon a young jay that had fallen from the nest. And watched the brood learning to fly. This winter, I often hear a jay in these same trees as I walk to Scout Scar.
A jay visits our gardens. With lockdown 3 here is a challenge.
Photograph the garden jay in good light, all aspects and details of plumage.
Is it the same jay who comes to the garden?
The breeding season is not far off. Will this bird find a mate and raise young here in our gardens?
Find where he spends the night.
New Year's Day and the panorama from Scout Scar is beautiful. And beguiling. The flow of cloud, of light and shadow, makes it difficult to be sure of what you're seeing.
Cloud or fell? The word cloud means both crag, fell and atmosphere - all in the mix.
To the North, sunlight confers a warm glow on the fells. The woods below Scout Scar show in warm colour, with a hatching of shadows to distinguish the crown of individual trees in the canopy. Snow on the distant fells, the ground hard and a keen frost.
At home in sequential lockdowns during 2020, we take much pleasure in the beauty of sunrise and sunset, in moonlight and in rainbows. And we share the joy they bring with our neighbours. Our horizons shrink, our freedoms are curtailed but the natural world has grandeur and splendour and it is there for everyone.
So at sunrise and sundown I'm eager to see what these winter days may bring.
2020 is declared A White Christmas.
On Christmas Eve there’s an icy wind from the North. The muddy track to Scout Scar begins to freeze. By Christmas Day puddles are iced over, the ground is hard but the wind has dropped so no wind-chill factor. And on both days there is sunshine and snow on the fells- hurray!
Christmas Eve: let us go, in wonder, into the realm of the imagination.
The Boreal forest was deep in snow. Rime-ice sunlit on birch trees. Herald of spring, a black-bellied dipper splashed in a stream with ice-fretwork. A male appeared, mated with her and was gone in an instant. Sunlit ice prisms floated in the air, translucent lozenges of ice, scintillating diamond dust.
The Spring Equinox 2006. I was in Arctic Finland and north-eastern Norway.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)