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.
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.
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.
The loch is frozen, with only a few patches clear for the wildfowl clustered together. From here it looks as though you can walk out to the crannog, although to do would result in an icy bath. Last nights dusting of snow has created a frosted effect, like sprinkles on a cup-cake. I tap it gently with my pole and listen. The sound rings out through the stillness, echoing like fairy chimes, raising a raucous response from the ducks.
Up the hill today ‘the rock of the oak trees’. A steep winding path heads upwards. Patches of snow and ice lay in the open spaces. Elsewhere, the lea of the hill gives shelter from the worst of the ice wind. The winter sunlight shines down, filtered through the bare branches. Last year’s leaves bury the path, a slippery trap for the unwary. Slowly I pick my way along, until the view opens out. The snow dusted foothills loom across the rooftops in the valley. Up above, a bird of prey circles, searching for movement below.
The snow came again last night. Waking, I sense the hush outside, sound absorbed by the white coating. The morning blue light reflects from the ground. I head out to clear the car. The grass is covered with bird prints, from pigeons who hang about under the feeders, to the blackbird that hops along. A rustle comes from the ivy-covered wall, and out pops the robin to say hello.