Having been ill, I've not been out hiking for almost four weeks. It's quite depressing, having been charting my increasing progress week by week, to suddenly see it flat-line.
Today I was determined to get out again. As I began to put my boots on, I noticed that it had gone very dark outside. It's the sort of grey that causes the Brits to say, 'Looks like it might snow!' Invariably, in the south, this just means rain. Today, however, as I went to step out of the door, it really did snow.
It's a good job I'd not left the house any earlier, because I probably would have done so in just my thermal top and a T shirt over it. As it was, I went and got my Gortex jacket, and as snowflakes half the size of my hand began to gently float down out of the sky, the ground was very quickly covered in a cm or two of snow.
It's exactly 2km from my house to the first countryside field I enter. During that walk, I'd seen one idiot boy racer high-revving his car and deliberately spinning his wheels, and a businessman flying round the roundabout at breakneck speed, 100% happy and certain that his expensive Land Rover could not possibly slide due merely to snow and ice - because, after all, that's only what cheap cars do!
The countryside was peaceful and free from idiots (with the exception of one, trudging across the fields with a 10kg backpack on). the snow was not thick enough to totally cover the grass, so it was still possible to see where the ruts were, and thus avoid twisting my ankle(s).
Within minutes, I'd seen a deer bounding out of the nearby hedge and skipping across the field. By the time I'd got my phone out, switched it on and typed in my password, the deer was too far away. I was just about to put my phone away when, further ahead, another sprang out. The shot isn't great, but it was the best I could do.
The winter sun began to come out as I walked on. As I skirted a woods, I could hear a buzzard calling. I looked up and could clearly see it at the top of a nearby tree, calling repeatedly. Huddled just two branches below, cowering together, were two pigeons. The buzzard was trying to scare them out of the safety of the tree. I took my phone out again, wanting to video the buzzard, but just as I did so, the pigeons made a dash for it. The buzzard quickly followed them, heading away from me, and in moments I'd lost them from sight. I could only guess at the fate of the pigeons.
The snow quickly melted from the fields under the weak winter sun, as the ground was not cold enough to sustain it. I alternated between removing my hat, and having to pull it tightly over my ears when I turned into the biting wind. I took a photo of me in a snow-less field, and less than ten minutes later, the snow began again. This time, it was not a gentle fluttering of big, fluffy flakes. It was a blizzard, with violent, hard blasts of snow that stung the skin. The fields were quickly covered over once more, as was I. All I could do was put my head down and trudge on. Luckily, I've done this route so many times now, I don't need a map, and I wasn't about to get lost.
This first real winter hike was dramatically different to the hot summer ones I'd enjoyed in previous months, but no less refreshing and exhilarating. My legs ache, having been so under-used for weeks, but that too is a good ache. Nepal looms in March, however, and I need to get ready for those hills!
One time soldier, part-time author, full-time training manager, husband and father.