J Peggy Taylor
Christmas Eve is such a busy day, so it is wonderful to find an hour when we can escape to the woods for a brisk Winter’s walk. There’s no white Christmas for us here in northern England this year, but our little video takes you on a short walk in our woods when they were beautifully snowy. To accompany you on your walk is one of my favourite Winter melodies, Gustav Holst’s setting to Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter”, played on the piano by our son, Will. We hope you enjoy our snowy musical montage.
We wish all our visitors a very Merry Christmas.
Very best wishes from
J Peggy Taylor and all of us at Oak Trees Studio
Most of our Christmas decorations have shared many festive seasons with us. Several of them have their own tales that are retold each year as we retrieve them from their packing boxes for their next seasonal display. Some are items that have been hand crafted by our children over the years.
One such item is the willow base on which each year I craft our Christmas wreath of evergreens with holly, ivy, pine and two ‘ears’ of yew. Collecting the greenery is something of a family ritual, but also a welcome excuse for a woodland wander. I love the woods at all times of year and mid-Winter has its own magic.
When complete, we hang our Christmas wreath outdoors on a wall-hook. We used to hang it on the door but modern uPVC doors don’t seem to lend themselves well to ancient earthy rituals like wreath hanging!
J Peggy Taylor
I think there is something immensely ethereal and primeval about sunlight in Winter. Here on latitude 55 degrees north, we experience our ‘shortest day’ of the year on 22 December. On that day the sun rises around 8.30am in the morning and sets around 4.00pm in the afternoon. Since it occurs during our normal waking hours in mid-Winter, we notice and often watch the sun as it rises or sets in spectacular fashion. The above image was taken in mid-January at 8.30am. As the sun rose over the woods to the east of us, the sky filled with flaming colour, silhouetting the trees and the valley horizon … and our washing line and the streetlight. Even these mundane details were drawn into this dramatic, glowing dawn.
It is not at all surprising to me that our ancient ancestors were such keen observers of the ‘movements’ of the sun, nor that fire was of such significance to them, especially during those dark Winter days. A few miles across the moors from us, the town of Allendale hosts a unique fire festival on New Year’s Eve (31st December) called the Tar Barl, when flaming barrels of tar are carried through the town as part of the New Year festivities. In northern Europe fire festivals hark back into ancient times when encouraging the return of the sun after the dark days of Winter was an important task.
Browsing through our photo archives for silhouette images for the WordPress Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge this week, I noticed the images that best fitted the theme also had something else in common – Winter sun.
The old railway cutting is one of our regular paths so we have seen it in all weathers, as we make our way in and out of the woods. I love the way the snow lights up the cutting, emphasising the dark tree trunks on each side. The pale peach light of the setting sun is just visible directly ahead. When we see that pale peach light, we know we may be treated to a beautiful Winter sunset as our path takes us onwards out of the trees.
I showed another image of this location in my last post for Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge Winter theme. Here on the edge of the wood we can look out right across the upper valley and moors. Beyond the drama of the dark foreground silhouettes of the tree and the gatepost, I also like the middle distance silhouettes of the Winter trees. Their leafless branches expose the stark beauty of their structure, like natural sculptures. In Winter the sun sets behind the distant valley here, so this is a favourite view of ours.
This is another one of those slightly strange Winter sun experiences. My son spotted this silhouetted tree pattern against the sun as it struggled to put in an appearance through the cold and heavy grey sky.
J Peggy Taylor
We seem to have spun through January and reached February already in 2014. I am relieved to say in our northern valley, apart from periodic bouts of strong winds and gales, we have not suffered with the extreme weather conditions that are being experienced elsewhere in the UK.
Walking out in our local countryside in mild winter sunshine on both days of this weekend I couldn’t help thinking about the people of Somerset and others who are still suffering flooding – a month on – with the weather forecast again offering them little in the way of respite.
In recent winters we’ve had snow that lasted for weeks but this year on the first weekend in February, muddy paths and busy burns were the only signs of winter weather we encountered. The sunshine was very pleasant and we remarked on it with other walkers we met along the way.
Whilst I would say our winter has been relatively mild, we were still very surprised on Saturday when within a short stretch of a favourite woodland path we spotted Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) in three different stages of growth.
The first example was particularly remarkable as it was not brown and broken as you’d expect in late winter, but green with newly-formed seed pods! We normally see it at that stage in August not February!
A little further on, along the stretch of path where summer finds us spotting curious insect-life, some brown stems of last summer’s Hogweed were still standing proud above the remains of other plants and grasses. I love the way the winter light reflects from their starry seedless heads. These old stalks still have beauty to offer yet.
Across the path in the lea of the towering mature pine trees we saw our third state of Hogweed. These ones were in full autumn glory, their heads sporting a full complement of perfectly formed seeds – again, a beautiful sight with the morning sun catching them as they danced in the light breeze.
As we retraced our steps homeward we stopped by the burn to seek out any signs of early spring flowers. No Dog’s Mercury or Wood Sorrel yet, but the very-small-flower-with-the-very-long-name was looking promising by the waters-edge. I’m talking about Opposite-Leaved Golden Saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium)- which, as you can see, is indeed a very long name for so small a plant. The tiny golden flowers were ready in their buds so I’m sure will appear very soon.
Sunday brought another chance for a sunny walk under azure blue skies. Today’s walk was in a different direction, along the valley side on an old mineral line before dropping into another woodland below. The spring signs I was seeking here were Blackthorn blossom, Gorse, Broom and Primroses. I found two out of four, so wasn’t disappointed.
The Blackthorn buds are filling up but none had burst forth yet. Both Gorse and Broom grow along the old railway line. I thought the Gorse looked particularly beautiful against the amazing blue of the sky.
The birch trees with their white trunks and purple twigs also caught my eye as I walked along.
There was lots of mud in the wood … but no sign of primroses today. Still, there’s plenty of time for them yet.
J Peggy Taylor
There’s nothing quite like a woodland walk in winter. I love the woods at all times of year, but in winter I think woodland has its own special magic.
There’s always plenty to watch out for as we wander along – and I do mean ‘wander’. Wandering allows plenty of time to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the intricacies of the natural world.
Leafless trees stand proud in their stark winter beauty. We notice the different colours of the twigs and branches – some purple, some orange, some green … and some are actually brown. The golden winter sun adds its own glow, and we see pink reflections on a group of white birch trunks cast from the red larch twigs 40 feet above us.
We notice and name the numerous species of conifer trees as we pass along another path. I remind my son how to distinguish between Scots and Corsican Pine by counting the needles in each tuft.
We see the recent winter rain has turned a normally-languid-stream into a torrent, gushing on its busy way through the culvert under the road.
The next path we take is a real woodland path, carpeted with last year’s leaves and punctuated at frequent intervals by another winter woodland favourite of mine … mud! Mud, mud, glorious mud! We squelch through some patches but decide to edge around the larger swamps where the ooze looks to be of a more dubious depth.
When we reach the pond, it looks oddly flat without its reeds, rushes and waterside flowers. We spot a few pond snails but most of the pond’s inhabitants will be resting safely in the silt at the bottom.
We noticed a number of trees with broken limbs as we walked today. The weather has certainly reminded us of its power this winter – wind and water have both caused a fair amount of damage and misery here in the UK. We’ve been lucky and have got off fairly lightly up here in the hills.
Our homeward wander takes us along one of our regular and well-known paths. We watch the squirrels chasing through the undergrowth before darting suddenly up another tree. One sits motionless by an oak tree only a few metres away from us. We watch, the squirrel sits – we move on first.
Again we enjoy the beautiful golden winter sunshine … and more mud! The puddles in the railway cutting are full of blue sky and pink clouds overlaid with dark reflections of the winter trees.
Then, wending our way homeward, we spot a promise of Spring – flowering alder catkins. My son took this quick shot of the catkins against the setting sun – beautiful.