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.
The night’s frost has left a sugar glaze on the car windows. Scrapers out and heating on, skating around on frozen snow. The car slides down the freshly ploughed track, one wheel on the tractor tracks for traction. Then right turn, and foot on the accelerator to get up the hill. A thick line of snow and ice runs down the centre of the road, crunching underneath. The passing places have disappeared under mounds of white. Sharply upwards now on to the main road and I am safely on my way home.
We walk across the field, snow up to the top of our boots. The setting sun paints the scenery pale gold red, glowing in the later afternoon. Mountains are silhouetted against winter blue sky. Between the beech trees, the snow has drifted into fantastical sculptures, curved by the wind.
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.
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 deep snow is crisp under our feet. We crunch through the top layer and sink in, white rising to the top of boots. Across to the beech belt we go. In between the trees, wind has blown the snow into drifts, curving through the avenue. A myriad of animal tracks plough through. Pheasants, hare, roe deer. Across the valley, sun sets behind the mountains, a rainbow glow reflected around us. The bowl of the sky rises above, turning from turquoise to midnight.
The red post box.
The walk takes us down the field, footsteps crunching as we walk. Then along the narrow lane, skating on the ice and snow. A field of tups stare gloomily at us from a field, sodden with snowmelt and sleet. The stream which usually chuckles its way beside the road is frozen solid, with the morning’s snow dusting the surface. Down the hill to the red post box, visible in the quickening gloom. A hint of colour in a white grey landscape. Then reverse steps, slowly climbing, breath damping the scarf wrapped around me. A steady trudge back across crisp white, pausing only to break the ice on a puddle with a satisfying crunch. The warmth of the cottage greets us, while nose and toes defrost.