Where’s The Snow in Snowdonia? (Only in it’s name)

We have been back to Wales for a week’s holiday staying in a remote converted chapel belonging to a friend.  It is good to be back for the isolation is complete – no cars, no houses, no roads, no broadband and no television.  Well, there is television but being rather impatient with non-living things (and also quite a number of people that just might fall into that category) I cannot be bothered to work out just which of the several remote controls switch it on.  But best of all – and rather surprisingly considering all the dire warnings we have been given by the weathermen – no snow.


Last winter when we were here, a blizzard struck the day we arrived.  Gradually, as the supply of logs and oil for heating dwindled and the water supply froze resulting in our collecting it from the stream outside, our resolve and sense of fun also started to diminish.  Put it down to advancing years: in my twenties or thirties I would have considered it to be ‘quite a laugh’.  Not so these days – I could cope with the water and lack of central heating but I am not so good when the wood burner isn’t blazing away.  However, we saw Snowdonia last year as few visitors do; a snow covered landscape with more falling so thickly that it was difficult to see, when out walking, where either my partner – or more importantly She-dog – was even though they were just yards ahead of me.


This year it was different, we left home with the (as it turned out, innacurate) knowledge that we were driving into blizzards and we hoped that we would reach our destination before being marooned, despite having to travel over two high passes and up a track steep enough to make a mountain goat think twice before tackling it. This time we came prepared with a vast amount of food and with three times the amount of warm clothing that any two people could wear over an entire winter.  As we reached the town of Shrewsbury the forecast rain began to fall; it would only be a matter of time as we entered Wales and gradually climbed in height that it would change to snow.  The rain grew steadily heavier and the road ever steeper until we reached the first summit and, surprise, there was not a hint of whiteness anywhere.  The second pass, higher still, was similar although the surrounding peaks did have a dusting of snow. We reached our destination with the rain still falling and the temperature ever rising – it was now fifteen degrees warmer than when we had left home in the Cotswolds, further south and many hundreds of feet lower.


The next morning we woke to sunshine, having no guilt about not getting out of bed in darkness at some ridiculously early hour as every other day of our lives.  Looking out of the bedroom window, the surrounding mountains still wore their apology of snow – it was a scene from the end of March or even April.  The calls from concerned Cotswold friends telephoning (we still have one piece of technology that works here) to confirm our safe arrival quickly turned to irritation when they discovered we were fine and they were blanketed in five inches of overnight snowfall.  It was hardly our fault that they had to work twice as hard at looking after our chickens and horses in our absence and, it seems, my suggestion that carrying buckets of unfrozen drinking water out into the fields was a good daily exercise did not help.


Last year She-dog had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday here as well.  Like most dogs, she revels in human company and snow and her days were spent in a mix of snowy walks and long uninterrupted periods of sleep in front of the fire.  This time we are here on our own.  It has been commented on that She-dog has not featured much in recent posts – all that is about to change for she has  gone away on an adventure of her own: if all goes well, in about ten weeks time she will be having puppies once again and, this time, we might just keep one for ourselves.

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The North Wind Doth Blow…..

The other day I recalled one of the nursery rhymes that my mother used to sing to me when I was a small child sitting on her lap. Goodness knows why, after so very many years, but no sooner had I done so than the words became true:
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“The north wind doth blow and we shall have snow and what will the robin do then, poor thing?”
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Well, the answer is puff up its feathers and stand close to the bird feeding table until it gets fed!

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It isn’t just the robin that demands food in these difficult conditions and there has been a constant stream of activity back and forth to the feeders. The tit family are always welcome – we get many different sorts here: blue, great, coal, willow and long-tailed.
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It is often stated that British birds are rather dull compared to the exotica of warmer climes. We do have our share of ‘little brown jobs’ that aren’t too easy to identify but what can be more spectacular than the Greater Spotted Woodpecker? With it’s red cap and rump and black and white markings, it is a beautiful looking bird. We also have its diminutive cousin, the Lesser Spotted, but these tend to stay out of the garden and feed amongst the willows by the river.
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The only other resident British woodpecker, the Green, never comes to the bird table or feeders but it does have a store of food available in the electricty pole by the house. Normally quite shy, most sightings of it are of it flying rapidly away in the typical undulating movement that is common to all of the woodpeckers – a useful identification aid. Country folk (I include myself here) always call the Green Woodpecker by its traditional name of Yaffle.
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Often cited as the commonest Brititsh bird, the Chaffinch is also another colourful bird. Or, at least, the male is. In the photos below the rich salmon pink breast feathers are clearly visible, as are the wing markings, common to both sexes and making the rather dull female easy to identify. Bramblings come to our bird table as well. A less common winter visitor, they are similar to the male Chaffinch; however, the colour is richer and carried by both the sexes.
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The Thrush family are also well represented: here a cock Blackbird waits for food. its yellow bill contrasting with its black plumage (the hens are chocolate brown but still have a yellowish bill). In many birds, the Magpie for example, black becomes iridescent green when seen in certain lights. The Blackbird is jet black and all the more handsome for it.
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Only coming into the garden to raid the shrubs of berries or fruit from trees, the winter visiting Redwings and Fieldfares (close relatives of the Blackbird) feed in large flocks throughout the secret valley. I managed to catch this photo of a Fieldfare eating our apples before it flew off.
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The sheep almost disappeared in the blizzard yesterday. Today the weather is calmer and this crow is taking advantage of searching for food in one of the ewe’s fleeces.
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The snow – which is very unusual around here before Christmas – looks to hang around for a while, with more forecast next week. I cannot remember the last time we had one but, perhaps, a white Christmas may be a reality rather than just a picture on a card. If so, I shall have to write a post quoting Bing Crosby…..

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The English Hurricane: 20 years on

English people constantly talk about weather. It’s in our makeup, our genes – we can’t possibly walk past someone, even a total stranger, without saying something about it. We can’t help it, no matter how much we realise that the person isn’t that interested (or even doesn’t speak English). We rattle on about too much rain, too little rain, too much sun, no sun, cold for the time of year, how warm it is. And to prove the point, this post is about weather and, no, I’m not going to apologise about it. By the way, we had a fantastic sunset in the secret valley a couple of days ago.

I think the reason we may behave like this is because English weather is nearly always gentle. The landscape that makes up England is beautiful and can be dramatic but not in the way of so many other countries. Take the USA, for example. Where’s our Grand Canyon, our towering redwoods, our Rocky Mountains, our Great Plains and our Niagara Falls? We have them in miniature and, perhaps, that is just as well as we are such a small country. And likewise, our weather: we have heatwaves, we have floods, we have blizzards. But they are rarely anything truly spectacular (except to those poor people affected by them, of course). And so when we were told by the weather men in 1987 that reports of a hurricane were completely exaggerated, we believed them totally. And despite the fact that much of the country was hit hard by it when it arrived, my part of the Chiltern Hills where I lived at the time was not much affected, even though it is one of the most wooded parts of the country.

The night in January 1990 was different. This time we had winds, whilst not as severe as three years earlier, which created total havoc with the already weakened root systems of the trees. Great swathes of the magnificent beech woods that are the very heart and soul of the Chilterns were flattened in a couple of hours. (I am reminded by my partner, that as the rest of the world cowered in their beds as the trees came crashing down all around, I woke up to say “a bit windy out there” before falling asleep again). As dawn broke the true damage could be seen.

Fast forward twenty years to 2010 and the woodands are transformed. Those of us that remember the 200 year old beech know that the majority are gone and, in their place, are new trees of mixed species. It will be many years before the magnificence of the woods return but they are healing. This photo below is taken from the same spot as the one above. Some of the biggest old stumps have been left, too difficult to move – time has hardly changed their appearance apart from their ‘roof’ of mosses.


One of the unforeseen benefits of the hurricane is the increased amount of light reaching the woodland floor, for beech trees cast a dense shade where little can grow, other than where the canopy is lightest. Apart from the view to the valley below, which was unseen before, many wild flowers are better now than ever. Roll on April when we can see the blue carpet of tens of thousands of bluebells disappearing into the distance.

Oh! And I nearly forgot to say, the weather today is a mix of sunshine, cold winds, rain and sleet. Don’t forget to tell the next person you meet!

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An Almost White Christmas and a Christmas Robin!

Whilst blizzards have been raging all around us on both sides of the Atlantic, our little bit of snow barely deserves mention ( Cotswold Snow – an apology … ). However, a white Christmas is a rare event in the secret valley so here is the scene that greeted us from our upstairs window on Christmas morning.

Well, it’s almost a white Christmas!

The bird most closely associated with Christmas and featuring on thousands of Christmas cards each year is the Robin. This little chap obligingly sat still on top of our dry stone wall for a photo shot. Although the cold weather has meant that the bird feeders have been especially busy, robins are always friendly and tame, getting under your feet looking for grubs as you dig the garden. Oddly enough, on the European mainland, they are shy, retiring woodland birds.

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Cotswold Snow – an apology…

There have been a number of blogs written about the blizzards and deep snow both here in England and also in America. Not only have there been photos of snowy landscapes but also photos of cars and buildings virtually buried under a deep, white mantle.

I’ve had to rely on a ski trip photo for really deep snow

Mariapfarr, Austria – the nearest I’ve seen to a real gingerbread house!

Even in the Arizona desert, where there is none, they manage to put up the most amazing Christmas tree made from white sprayed tumbleweed – quite magical, it’s the best tree I’ve ever seen. Except I haven’t seen it being stuck in the barely snowy Cotswolds. Virtual travellers like me can visit it via one of my favourite blog writers, Noelle (an apt name, of course and Happy Birthday, which I assume must be about now), Christmas in the Desert.

Our snowfall – just a dusting despite the warnings of up to eight inches forecast

Despite all the weather warnings, we have only had a dusting of snow, an apology for the real thing – it stopped about 15 miles away. We have had ice and lots of it, especially black ice to make us skid off our little country lanes. But the secret valley has looked magical with some wonderful skies and it has made us all feel much more Christmassy. And although we haven’t had much snow, we have had everything else – sleet, freezing fog, freezing rain, bitter winds and a little sunshine.

A winter’s sunset and snow clouds over the secret valley
This morning was especially beautiful. The temperature overnight plunged exceptionally low to -8C or even lower, which for the south of England is cold: our winters tend to be a mix of cooler and warmer with average days rarely falling below -3C and rising to +6C. But as dawn broke, the fog came down and the sun tried hard (and eventually failed) to break through.


Fog, snow and a golden sunrise
When the weather is like it has been today, breaking ice on the horses water trough and refilling it with buckets from the house – for the hosepipes and outdoor water supply have frozen solid – isn’t so much of a chore. And seeing the horses tucking into their haylage and knowing that they are warm and their bellies are full means that we can lounge in front of the wood burning stove without feeling too guilty.

Why does he keep taking all these photos?”

For Christmas Day the winds are turning to the southwest where the influence of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream will bring in mild, grey weather. The cold snap that is already passing brought winds from the east, travelling across the European mainland from Russia, these are always bitter spells. And, if all things happen normally in the New Year, we shall receive the remains of the snow that has fallen across the Eastern Seaboard of the USA, for we seem to get the tail end of their extreme weather about six weeks later. Perhaps there will be a snowy Cotswold blog then.

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