The display of snowdrops and aconites in the grounds of Ingleborough Hall, Clapham was stunning. The day was a little hazy so photographs across limestone pavement were rather dark. I heard my first skylark of the spring, and saw them - which was a delight. Skylark have not yet returned to Scout Scar, although Sunday morning was cold and blustery so it was hard to hear their tentative first song on arriving in their spring quarters.
Redshank are calling and a flock of lapwing rises from boggy ground by the Catholic Church, a statue of the Virgin draped in lichen. All day orographic cloud sits over Hekla. To the east coast, north of Loch Sgioport where, in wilderness, we yomp through heather and peat hags and rose and ochre sphagnum. On headlands crowberry, and cotton grass blows in the wind. A rusting otter trap above a seaweed inlet. Sunlight intensifies colour on the sea. Stepping- stones crossing tidal inlets will submerge, so watch the tide in this maze of inlets and lochans. Tough terrain, challenging navigation, so a coastal solitude.
Snipe well camouflaged at Leighton Moss, but a helpful birder and his telescope discovered them for us. Handsome as they come into breeding plumage. Teal and tufted duck, marsh harrier beyond the reed beds.
Close and confiding, begging for food, a robin.
Fringing the reed beds were alder trees heavy with catkins and a rose bush with several bedraggled clots of something fibrous that had been drenched, frozen and thawed through winter weather. What were they?
Setting out in bright sun, I was ready for an icy approach to Scout Scar. Snow on Kendal Race Course and mist hid the fells to the north east. Sheep tugged at haylage in the feeder and pawed the frozen ground where it spilled onto snow. The flock was lost in sunlit mist, then the sun gave up on the day and mist prevailed.
There had been rain, then snow, and we could feel the ice beneath a surface layer of snow. When we reached the escarpment only a colour transition marked the cliff edge where snow met mist.
A clear blue sky and a still morning. Beneath the moon, freezing fog had touched down on Scout Scar escarpment and hawthorn were white with rime-ice. Rime-ice so thick the grass was white, the limestone stippled white and last summer's flower-stems rose tall and white, their seed-heads like ice flowers. And mist in the upper reaches of the Lyth Valley was different too. Discrete columns of freezing fog were drifting over the valley. Several years ago I puzzled to see fog advancing until it swirled all about me, my head clear above a sea of freezing fog as temperatures plummeted.
Rime-ice highlights last summer's flowers, adorning them with ice-jewels that sparkle in the sun. The ice-coating forms to windward and renders flower-stems almost translucent. Heather looks lovely under rime-ice. Seed-heads of wood-sage endure and stand proud above snow so how will they fare in rime-ice? I know the wood-sage habitat so I go in search of the rafts of limestone clitter where I hope to find it.
The mist was stubborn. But sun gleamed off snow on the distant fells as I crested the Scout Scar escarpment. Mist lingered in the Lyth Valley, volatile mist which gathered and dispersed all morning. The fells were hidden until a sliver of dark summit rose above the mist. After mid-day the sun began to shrug off cloud and the snow-capped fells floated above the mist and clouds hugged the tops. We could not tell cloud from mountain. Cloud, that wondrous fusion of the elements that played before our eyes on this January day. Cloud is mountain, mountain is cloud.
Mary Queen of Scots , unbowed by age and years of captivity, walks regally toward the block and her execution at Fotheringhay Castle. The camera focuses on the back of her neck! 'In my end is my beginning': the scene frames the tragedy of Mary Stuart at the beginning and end of the film. The queen takes off her outer black to reveal a gown of blood red. ' She wants to be a martyr,' whispers a male voice- in case we miss the symbolism.
Finsthwaite and woodlands rising from the south-west shore of Windermere were under the aegis of Furness Abbey, vital to its wealth and economy. With coppicing, pit-steads for charcoal burning, and iron mines, quarrying, corn-mills and granges. And a bark-peeler's hut.
Great Knott Wood is now managed by the Woodland Trust who tell the story of woodland management, history and natural history.
In the east the sky flushed with the approach of sunrise. Over the course of some half-hour I watched its coming. Rooks flew cawing across my open skylight window as I photographed the dawn. In the distance a plane soared to altitude, its con-trail almost vertical- a question of perspective and the curvature of the earth. The images look angrier than the coming of sunrise which was simply stunning.
Swans and their cygnets at Moss Eccles Tarn. Trees reflected dark in the water, in the stillness. The swans came gliding toward us, elegant and beautiful, until they reached the shore where in gruff snorts they asked to share anything we might be eating.
Our path follows the course of Torver Beck, up-stream to its headwaters at Goat’s Water. Dow Crag and The Old Man of Coniston rise up above the hidden tarn.
A low winter sun illuminates the landscape in a distinctive way, with a different emphasis. Dow Crag and the Old Man are etched in sunlight and shadow, the architecture of the fells revealed.
The way of sheep is written into Lake District landscape. In-bye pastures where lambs are nurtured close to the farm, out-gangs- lanes bordered by drystone walls that lead maturing lambs to independence, outlying barns, sheep-folds, then out onto common grazing and the open fell. The thrill of watching a gathering when they're brought home again! The character of hill farming is written by the way of sheep, a heritage landscape.
Today, we are in for a surprise.
A yelping of distant hounds. But where are they? Somewhere, down in the Lyth Valley, the hounds sing out. They ran amuk about Barrowfield, so rumour tells.
New Year's Day and once again I'm back in the year 1400, immersed in the tale of Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. Sir Gawain destined to meet the green knight at the green chapel and to receive a blow from his axe, always on this day.
To the west, the Lake District fells show clear. The Langdale Pikes, the ridge of The Band running down from Bowfell, Crinkle Crags- a dark grey mountain massif. Vistas to the south, toward Morecambe Bay and the sea, are more mysterious, and transient. Scanning south across the Lyth Valley, green pastures grow pale in the grip of frost over saturated ground, once wetland. Toward the coast, mist flows over the mosses and over the sea. Bright sunlight is quick to melt the frost, but not where shadows fall and by early afternoon the white rime lingers.
Leaving behind the Christmas shoppers, we set out from Moor How bound for Troutbeck and The Tongue. A gaiters and waterproof trousers day, throughout. ' Rain showers,' said the forecast. Timing was accurate and heavier rain did not set in until late in the afternoon.
Beatrix Potter's farmhouse at Troutbeck Park showed brightly through the rain and winter trees took on distinctive character.
At Elterwater we look for the dipper of the place. Langdale Beck flows high and his perching stones are submerged, but on our return there he is.
Colwith Force is resounding in a landscape where the becks are clamorous. The woodland floor is saturated and rich in colour: decaying leaf litter, green mosses and wood sorrel.
Sunlight and shadow play through slender ash trees. They are older than they seem, these Scout Scar ash. It's exposed up on the ridge and water drains away through the limestone clitter where they anchor so they are diminutive, never reaching the majesty of mature ash. Spring foliage comes late and the prevailing south-west wind is quick to strip them bare in autumn. The quality of winter light makes them distinctive against a foil of bright blue and gathering clouds. Perspectives lead you through the trees toward ethereal wisps of ash on the horizon.
'I drive to work through darkness and into such a sunrise.' Her eyes light up as she speaks.
A heavy frost saps colour from the Lyth Valley. The sun is low in the sky and a glimmering light suffuses the landscape, creating sharp shadows. Configurations of ash trees on Scout Scar offer perspectives unseen in summer, something elusive. Oblique light and the frosty air creates a mysterious mood. Frost has hold of heather in the hollows. Sunlight filters through brambles and frost highlights decay.
Jan Wiltshire is a writer and naturalist living in Cumbria. She take photographs.