For three mornings in a row this week, we experienced some of the deepest hoar frosts seen in the UK for years. I was lucky to be working from home for a couple of these days, and slipped out into the garden first thing to capture this finely wrought beauty.
Our young birch tree, standing in the shelter of the shed while it awaits its final home in the garden, was beautifully hung with pinnacles of frost. At the bottom of the garden the leaves of the holly tree were also caged in fantastical ice sculptures.
The more mature trees in our garden looked staggeringly beautiful against the crisp, deep blue skies; the branches of the silver birch cascading like a winter waterfall,
while the beech tree’s frost laden branches reached up towards the sun.
I couldn’t resist wandering down the lanes for a lunchtime walk. On the first day of the frosts, the sun barely made an impression on the hazy whitewashed sky, and the frosts were still virtually untouched in the middle of the day. Later a thick mist would fall.
As I strolled past, the water trough for the grazing animals in a nearby field was frozen solid.
I was rather taken by the regular crystals that had formed on the old metal gate, like iron filings on a magnet.
I reached the valley floor, where the river flowed silently through this eerie white landscape.
That night any trace of mist or cloud disappeared and the following day dawned bright and clear, the sun blazing through the crystal skies onto the fresh frost. By lunchtime, some of the wonderful crystals had begun to melt under its glare, despite the temperatures remaining around -5 degrees C. Wrapped up warm, I retraced my steps of the day before.
The river looked different, its waters dark and inscrutable, while around it the landscape glittered in the sun.
As I climbed back up the hill beneath the trees, I walked through a shower of soft flakes, as the ice continued to thaw on the branches overhead. The trees are not thick here, their bare branches offering little shade in winter, and it felt rather strange to be walking in falling snow with a seemingly cloudless blue sky overhead!
The hedges were thawing too; here they are predominantly hazel, ash, blackthorn and hawthorn, with wild roses, clematis and ivy weaving through their now bare bones. They have been freshly cut in the past week or two into neat boxes, their thick knuckles testament to many years of similar maintenance. The outlines of the ivy leaves and flowers looked wonderful still engraved with frost in the sun.
It was hard to shut this fairytale world outside and return to work.
Later we ventured out into the icy night, wrapped up in thermal layers and armed with reflectors and torches, down the other side of the hill for an informal meeting of the village society committee at the inn. Warmed with gossip, laughter and a glass of wine or ale, we emerged an hour or two later to climb the steep hill home. It still amazes me how complete the darkness is here in the countryside, the night seemed to embrace us in its velvet cloak while overhead the bright eyes of a hundred thousand stars twinkled in its cloudless depths.
As we walked, a long slow trail of liquid light languidly arced across the sky ahead of us, before fragmenting in a shower of gold that melted quickly back into the night. It was the most amazing meteor that I have ever seen; eclipsing the stars around it, yet so leisurely that when it drew a small startled sound from me, King of the Hill had time to raise his eyes and share its progress with me, and for a moment time seemed to stand still.
There is still magic in this world, even where science has unravelled its secrets.