Still snowing. I head out on my rounds, trudging through the snow. Time to check-up on various folk. The restrictions of Covid mean conversations on the doorstop. The restrictions of snow mean I cannot stay chatting – more snow spirals down from above as I walk. The mounds of snow edging the pavements make crossing from one side to another is an obstacle course. In the square the big lorries have arrived, along with a giant snow-blower. Slowly they fill to the brim with snow. The ploughmen are working hard today, up and down the streets. The drive is blocked again, but a neighbour pops by with his own small snow blower. Ten minutes and it is done. Then the digging of the front path, and, today, steps made in the plough debris for postie. Time for a well-earned cup of tea while toes and nose defrost.
Relentless. White on white, swirling clouds, greying the skies. The foot of snow causes the log pile roof to collapse, covering the path to the logshed. Time to call in reinforcements. We dig and chat, slowly clearing the weight so that the plywood sheet can be lifted out of the way. Then a sit and a catch-up, forming seats from the banks of snow, packed hard under our weight. The tea is a welcome warmth in the icy air. Next the entrance to the drive. Another 5 inches and the plough debris to clear. Round to the front, struggling through the depth of snow round the side of the house. Clear out the path to the front door yet again – I did this yesterday, and the days before. Today the access to the street is blocked – snowplough debris again. We slowly chip away at it, until we can get out on to the road. And the snow still falls. Relentless.
The sideroad and track are no longer passable by car. It is two days since I’ve been up on the hill. The tractor ploughs ahead, between white walls two feet high. In front of the porch the drifts have gathered, three feet tall, scuplted by the wind. I wade through to the door. While I collect what is needed, and pack a bag, the men dig a wider path. All this will need the box on the tractor to take it down to the cars, parked near the main road. The men load and we head back down. A quick unload and reload, and we are off in convoy, back to Ballater. The snow continues to fall. Snow shovels out and my drive is quickly cleared, then a quick wave and off they go. This is community.
Ahead lie only faint marks of passing traffic. All day long the snow has fallen. It whirls in my headlights, a dizzying spin of white. Slowly onwards I go, watching for the turning. The road is a narrow channel between white walls. A flash from the reflector on the fence warns me that I’m here. Slowly swing into the opening, then chug up the hill. I have arrived.
First time in a while to walk alongside the river. The constant cold this month means that it has almost frozen over, only a narrow channel left where the water rushes through. The fresh snow lies on top of the ice, creating the illusion of solid ground. If you listen carefully, you can hear the water shushing beneath. Step gently here.
Time for something completely different. Anster, Fellstone, Kirkham’s Lancashire, Hafod, Sparkenhoe Vintage, Sparkenhoe Blue… the names trip off the tongue like a musical tour of the British Isles. Indeed, it is. In cheese. A zoom cheese tasting, cheese arriving through the post, packaged in wax paper, well cushioned and chilled. Cheese speaks of the geography of Britain, different types from different regions. Anster is creamy and crumbly; Fellstone more mellow in character. Kirkham’s is wonderful, a buttery, smooth, taste that soothes. Hafod is harder and harsher, while Sparkenhoe Vintage tangs on the tongue. The blue is a blue, with that unforgettable taste. We taste and taste, savour the textures, learn the reasons, listen to the tales. An experience to be repeated.
NB for those who are interested, we did an online zoom cheese tasting with Andy Swinscoe from the Courtyard Dairy, near Settle (www.thecourtyarddairy.co.uk). We can thoroughly recommend it.
The dwindling snow follows the descent downwards into Aberdeen today. By the time we reach Kincardine O’Neill the white has almost disappeared, leaving icy shadows under hedges and on the edges of roads. Torphins is clear, while the road as far as Raemoir is clinging on to the cold on its edges. By the time we hit the turning for Echt the fields are showing new growth, as though winter’s chill has been conquered. Here and there in the lea of the fields, frozen puddles belie the green. And the wind outside the car tells the story of more snow yet to come.
Last nights dusting of snow lies over the ice, disguising it. Only the passing of people show what lies beneath. We stick carefully to the grassy edges, picking our way along. Golden afternoon light drapes over the trees, creating a shadowland beneath. Twig and shade merge, and shapes seem to twist and change. A faint rustle betrays the presence of blackbird, guddling in the frozen leaves for its dinner. Above a bluetit perches, singing an alarm at our presence, silhouetted against the pale blue of oncoming dusk.
Dressed for rain, I set off. Raindrops fall into puddles, echoes spreading outwards. I splash my way through the water with silent glee. Down the hill to where the pool stands waiting, trees reflected in their autumn glory. The rain slows to a drip. Then back up along the board walk, peering down at muddied stream. A sudden movement and I stop. Red squirrels scurrying from tree to tree, tails held aloft. A dog barks in the distance and off they go, up the trunk. I climb the dirt path, heading for shelter. A rainbow catches my eye, carpeting the floor.
Outside the kitchen window, an alarm call alerts me to an unexpected presence. Glancing out, the movement catches my eye. It seems I have a new neighbour. Russet brown against white snow. A weasel pops out of a hole formed between snow and wall. A hastily run out and then back in again. Then again. Head pokes out first, trembling. A quick dart to the side, out of sight, under the snow. Then a return, running low, grey mouse in mouth. It shimmers up the snow bank, and then down under the oil tank. At least under there it will be dry, and sheltered from the worst of the elements.
Outside is cold, a monochrome world. Grey skies laden with more snow above. The community has rallied round, paths are being cleared, roads kept open. The bird feeders have almost descended to ground level, the bush in which they hang is so weighted down by the snow. Getting to the feeders requires an athletic feat, plunging thigh deep in snow. Still the birds come, desperate for food in this freezing land.
The snow continues to fall. Over the top of my knees today. I declare play-time and head out, wrapped up warmly. I clear a path to the woodshed, piling the snow in one heap. Then time to be creative. I pat down the snow around the hump, creating a snowman. Then another lump for a head, patted firmly in place, snow inserted to support the neck. A couple of old branches for the arms, some gravel for the smile. Twenty minutes of simple pleasure, before nose and toes grow numb again.
The drive home last night was not pleasant. The snow hit my windscreen, a kaleidoscope of whirling white in the headlights. The snowploughs had been and gone, and the snow seemed to be winning the battle. Not far now. A glow in the sky marks home. Onwards, in a silent swirling world. This morning the car is covered with an icy blanket, and the entrance to the drive has been blocked by the plough. A plea for help, and the cavalry arrives, clearing a path to the road.
The phone-call leads to a dash across the hills, then a rapid drive down into the next valley. The roads are not pleasant, but passable. Onwards to Aberdeen. Playing the waiting game for news, I head down to the sea. The waves are whipping up and over the seafront, and the rain hits with stinging force. Further out, the ships are queueing to come into port, hoping for a safe haven against the coming storm.
I sit on the floor, a rainbow surrounding me. Silk and satin, cotton, tweed, fleece and denim. A feast for the eyes. The differing textures feed my soul, from soft and flowing to rough under my finger tips. Slowly the scattered piles are sorted and organised, trailing threads over the carpet. Gold, silver, red, blue, glittering in the lamplight.