Great Wood is a hanging wood in the shadow of Walla Crag. Sunlight fired the tops but within the wood a deep frost transformed everything. Amongst the hoar-frost bracken, lichened boulders had an ice-pallor. At this season the low sun dazzles, and we walked wary of ice on the track. Great Wood was magic, the vistas of Derwent Water and the snow capped fells spectacular. Up above Walla Crag we were in full sun and could stride out.
Loch Ryan is sea-loch looking out to the Irish Sea. You feel far out, away from it all. As if the world news were illusory. In the afternoon we found hen harriers, two males and two ringtails. As the light faded over the Solway we looked south to the Cumbrian fells, puzzled over the location of twinkling lights and fixed ourselves on the map. Locating yourself, making sense of the geography, can be a challenge. Out there in the Irish Sea the Isle of Man is poised between the Solway and the Duddon Estuary. The bird sanctuary on the Calf of Man is the place to see chough and hen harrier.
A gaggle of light-bellied brent geese feeds on eel grass and algae in the shallows of a sea-loch. Bright bellies shimmer in pools of reflected light. Ripples on the water, ripples of dark and light plumage on the mantle of the goose, pale ripples on the breast. White horses over Loch Ryan, bands and streaks of gloss and gleam where wildfowl feed. Rainbows over the sea-loch, sudden squalls and blustery chill. Reflected in a film of water, redshank seem on stilts and all aglow. Mute swans brilliant in a moment of illumination. Handsome light-bellied brent goose, in Norse Ringgas. Is that how the Vikings named them?
Sunlight on winter woods. The first snowfall transforms the landscape, stirs memory. Flocks of barnacle geese are come to the Solway Firth from Svalbard. One summer in Svalbard, I watched an Arctic fox picking off goslings one by one to feed her cubs, caching them in the snow. The Solway at the onset of winter hosts geese from the North. I love this northern resonance. There’s expectation, a seasonal pattern with weather in the mix. And coincidence. What would the day bring?
Eskrigg Nature Reserve, south west of Lockerbie, is a delight. There’s a pond once used for curling, half-frozen, the ice bearing fallen leaves . There are nuthatch and coal tit, fungi and red squirrels scamper over log piles and disappear amongst pine trees. Afterwards, we head for Caerlaverock and watch the feeding of the wild swans, whooper swans arriving in October from Iceland, to overwinter here.
Cool, fresh air from the north and a sharper, stronger light. The fells are defined and architectural. I can trace walks I know and love. The woods below Scout Scar seem to have coloured overnight- yesterday they were unremarkable. It's a different kind of magic.
I've rarely seen the bramble patches taking on such rich colour. These translucent leaves are often at the spiny heart of a bramble patch, but I can't resist.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)