Posts in Winter
A Forest Adventure

I wonder where our heavy boots, caked with sticky mud, will take us, as we set out on the winding, forest trail in search of a shy snow drop?

The sun will surely warm our icy cheeks through the branches, as we head deeper into the woodland.

Hand in hand, we stumble through puddles and clamber over fallen tree trunks. We climb logs and gather feathers. We spy moss-strewn faerie doors in burrows and run excitedly on, as our dear forest guardian, Robin, hops ahead from branch to branch, leading the way.

Breathing in the cold winter air, we feel it energise our core and carry us deeper into nature, to seek adventure. 

Looking back to our muddy boot prints pressed into the trail behind us, we see that we have  come a long way. Each step tells a new story...where we are heading and where we will end up. 

It's time to pause a moment. We find a welcoming tree stump, sit down and bring out the steaming flask to warm our bodies. As we sip, we giggle and tell tales of the woodland folk who may be watching us from around the forest. We prick our ears and listen for their sound; but all is quiet, except for the sweet chorus of birdsong. 

Time to rise and adventure on some more. Robin appears, nodding, as if certain he's found what we're seeking. We follow his lead, enchanted by his dedication to our little expedition. Getting nearer to a grassy clearing, we run on, butterflies rising up within us, as we await our surprise destination. Eyes sparkle with anticipation. Then, just like that, we see them. Our shy, snowdrops; their heads bowed with grace and dignity.  A soft, glimmer of hope that Spring is growing near. January's gift, amongst the cold, dark days.

We stand together; one small hand holding mine, as we take in this magical sight. When you've got a child's hand in yours, Winter in the forest is filled with the greatest surprises. No matter the weather, being amidst nature is the most special place to play.

Pull on your boots, and have your own woodland adventure. You may just unearth some beautiful surprises of your own this Winter.

By Amelia Goodall

Creative, WinterContributor
Winter Wellbeing

The nights are long, and the days so much shorter. The skies hang grey over our heads with a weak sun doing little to warm us. Winter can take its toll on us both mentally and physically, leaving us feeling unwell in more ways than one. Follow these tips for an easier route to wellness this season…


Your kitchen cupboard can hold the cure to many a bout of cold and flu. Try a combination of turmeric and cinnamon for their fantastic anti-inflammatory qualities. A little cinnamon in your coffee is a tasty way to start the day off right, and turmeric is a traditional staple in Chinese and Indian medicine. Read more here about what remedies your spice-rack holds.


Take advantage of those long nights and do as nature does - rest. The shorter hours of daylight mean our bodies natural rhythm adjusts, don’t fight it if you can help it.


Cook with mushrooms for some immune boosting benefits - white button and shitake especially. These stuffed mushrooms look delicious!


Deep rest and relaxation is a great contributor to wellbeing. Here, Elizabeth guides us into Yogic Sleep for a short restorative period of deep rest that will leave you refreshed - a quick way to incorporate relaxation into your busy week.


Massaging essential oils into your skin can provide a perfect winter pick-me-up. Uplift your spirit with rose, enliven with geranium leaf, relax your muscles with peppermint and use lavender for a calm unwind for bedtime. Take time massaging them into your skin, they’re also a great moisturiser.


Finally, find time to do something that makes you laugh! Important for any season, any month, any day - keep happy, keep well.


Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

The Revival of the Wassail

The ancient English tradition of wassailing has had somewhat a revival of recent and regained popularity. Pulling on your wellies, heading out into the frosty night and singing to apple trees to encourage a bountiful harvest whilst sipping cider has become an annual tradition for lots of country dwellers and January revellers. 

In orchards, allotments, farms and gardens across the country, wassail celebrations will be spreading positive joy ahead of spring. On the chosen day, groups with perhaps painted faces and fancy dress attire gather for a procession down to the fruit trees. Often, a wassail King or Queen will guide the merrymakers by a flaming torch to the oldest tree in the orchard, garden or allotment. Once gathered round, a piece of cider-soaked toast is placed onto the tree (or shot out of the tree with a shotgun a la The Ethicurean) to entice the good spirits to come, thus ensuring a good harvest of apples in the coming season. Then, cider is poured around the roots of the trees in honour of the spirits as pots and pans are clattered to ward off the evil spirits that might be lurking in the branches before serenading the tree. Legend has it that there’s fire involved as it represents the returning sun, so sitting around a bonfire or being led by a fire torch to wake up the sleepy winter soul and inject some magic into the evening is to be expected. The term ‘wassailing’ derives from a much-debated translation of the Old Norse ‘ves heill,’ which ultimately translates to 'be healthy’, ‘be you hale.’ 

Drinking plenty of cider is another way to liven things up.  The ritual centres around a wassail cup, which was traditionally filled with local ale or cider blended with spices and honey and drunk to drown animosity in small communities.  

Traditionally, a wassail takes place on the old twelfth night (17th January), although these days not all wassails are the same and different people hold them on different dates. This tradition dates back to pagan times and apparently has roots in 5th century Kent when the first Saxon Jutes brought a celebratory toast, which was named the wassail. Certainly the practice of wassailing was considered a pagan threat to the Christian church and there was even an edict banning it in 1577. 

However, today, as we start to pay more attention to our environment and crave community in what can be a fast-paced, busy world, the wassail brings us back to nature, the land and our communities to embrace tradition and celebrate in all the midwinter glory. 

 Joele Forrester is a digital journalist living in Bristol, although she always makes time to go back to her Dartmoor roots and enjoy the little things in life. When away from the office, you’ll find her walking in the woods, exploring new places close to home or flicking through independent magazines in coffee shops. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

A Sky Full of Birds

My inner twitcher had wanted to see a murmuration for quite a while. After a bout of flu last winter, me and my partner Suzi drove up to Dumfries & Galloway in search of those beautiful birds. We had been reading up on good locations to spot them and from our research, Gretna seemed to be a good place. So we packed up the car with all our camera gear, overnight bags, and headed north. We stayed in a cute little Airbnb with the most amazing views over the Solway Firth, it was the perfect hideaway for a few days.

On the first day, it was pretty grey and wet, so we didn’t hold out too much hope. There was a stillness on the edge of dusk, as the day gave into night. We drove into Gretna and watched a cute mini murmur, probably of around a hundred birds. And suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a smudge on the horizon. We jumped into the car and followed the fluid black cloud as it moved across the sky, we felt like tornado chasers. And then suddenly we were right underneath it.


 As dusk raced in, smaller groups joined, and the flock grew. We've since learnt that every bird is keeping an eye on the other 7 birds around him or her, so this is how they keep tightly together. It was so fascinating to watch the constant ebb and flow of the murmuration, and the beautiful patterns it made as the birds swirled in the sky.

During the day, we travelled around the area a bit more and we headed to Caerlaverock Wetland Centre for more twitching! No starlings, but many other different types of bird. We saw egrets, whooper swans, geese, teal, widgeons and many more. It was a beautiful crisp winter's day. The sun was lowering, and bright pink streaks began to form in the sky, so we headed to our familiar spot and waited for the birds to arrive. We had mentioned our sighting to a couple of people at the bird reserve, so they turned up to the spot to wait for them too. We were a bit worried as it was getting late and we hadn't seen a sign of any birds, but fortunately, they all suddenly appeared over the other side of the M6 and started their silent dance.

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Sometimes like tea leaves swirling in the pot, then we’d spot a punctuation mark. They created speech bubbles, UFO shapes and love hearts, we were transfixed by these momentary sketches in the sky. We were lucky enough to see these beautiful shapeshifters on three consecutive evenings. Watching the sky full of birds is one of the most amazing sights we've ever witnessed, after the birth of our daughter this year.

We met our friend Leena a couple of days after we got back from our trip, and we chatted about the starlings. In Latvia, where she's from, the first sightings of the starlings signify the start of spring. They leave the UK at the beginning of March and migrate to Northern Europe to breed. It's traditional in Latvia to make a little birdhouse for the starlings, and you hang it in your nearest tree to welcome the weary travellers. We are itching to see them again, and we hope our little daughter will feel the magic too when we go on our next adventure looking for that sky full of birds.

Sarah Mason is a photographer based in Hebden Bridge. Alongside her partner Suzi, she takes pictures and makes films about life, love and connections. Find out more on the Sarah Mason Photography website, or follow on Instagram and Twitter.

12 Days of Christmas

Our Gifting Guide

Join us in celebrating and supporting our small, handmade and sustainable businesses. We’ve hand-picked a selection of creative folk who we know you will love just as much as we do.

Day 1:  Greetings

Festive cards by We are Stardust

Where art and science collide, these hand illustrated festive cards are a perfect seasonal reminder for friends and family. Get 10% off your Christmas order using the code CCCHRISTMAS2018 (offer ends December 2018).

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Day 2: Time out

The Empowered Entrepreneur by Elizabeth Cairns

As the year draws to a close, the The Empowered Entrepreneur, Elizabeth’s first book, complete with botanical illustrations and pictures,  is the perfect antidote for reflection and self-development.

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Day 3: Bringing Nature into the Home

Mini wreaths by Botanical Tales

Add a touch of seasonal creativity with these cute little handmade wreaths. Perfect for Christmas place settings or even a small token of appreciation.

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Day 4: Indulge

Natural and homemade skincare by Kindred + Wild

We love the Lavender and  Chamomile bath salt, ideal  for those who are always on the go - a simple reminder to slow down and enjoy nature’s gifts. Last orders are December 5th. They’re also offering a gift wrap service!


Day 5: Let Light In

Hand Blended Aromatherapy Soy Wax Candles by The Smallest Light

Let some light in over the dark period with this hand-blended festive candle duo. Environmentally friendly candles are the perfect gift for those with consideration for the earth.  Get 10% off using the code ‘community’ (offer ends December 31st), or buy our Yule bundle, which includes a ‘Star of Wonder’ candle.

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Day 6:  Make Do and Mend

A copy of Mending Matters by Katrina Rodaugh

This book is the ultimate gift for those looking to learn how to keep their old clothes and give them a new lease of  life. We’ll be running this as a book giveaway early 2019!


Day 7: Capturing the natural world

Artwork by Deborah Vass

If you like to be cosy during this time of year, why not bring a touch of the outside in with this wonderful oil painting of a scene in Sussex, a print of a wren in winter, or this beautiful painting of a yew bough.


Day 8: Dress Up

Slow, handmade fashion by House of Flint

Think seasonal and practical pieces made of organic cotton and linen. Our favourite is the fold dress made out of Irish linen and available in three autumn / winter inspired colours.

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Day 9:  Catching the moment

Iconic bronzed leaves by Ashleaf London

Time goes too fast but you can preserve the moment with your very own bronzed leaf. Ashleaf London provide a customisable handmade service. Check out their Instagram for some awesome behind the scenes.

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Day 10:  Join the club

Simple and traditional crafts by Snapdragon

Snapdragon is a wonderful membership site which offers craft tutorials and products for the home and garden. There is something for all ages!  Our favourite is this embroidered flower apron to keep our best clothes clean from all of that Christmas baking.


Day 11: Embrace the Elements

Frost inspired pendant by Silver Nutmeg

Keep the winter season close to your heart with a handmade silver sterling hoop pendant beautifully packaged with eco friendly materials.  

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Day 12: Finishing touches

Porcelain tree decorations by Kate Luck Ceramics

Replace plastics with luxurious porcelain ivy, holly, oak, bramble or feather decorations handmade with love. Our favourite is the holly!


Thank you for helping us to support these wonderful small creative businesses!

WinterChelsea Louise Haden
The Power of a New Season, and a Fresh Start

As we dive into the final months of this year, many of your thoughts will be turning to a new year, resolutions, and a new beginning. The New Year is a well-known time for us to plan a fresh start, but is it the most logical? Perhaps not, when we think to the seasons.

With this in mind, spring is the season that becomes our obvious choice for this fresh start, being so full of new life and signifying the re-awakening of nature from its wintry slumber. In the past I have always used this time to make my fresh start, and intentions for the year.

However, this year has been different. The last ten months flew by in a whirlwind with the completion of my degree and my clothing line beginning to take shape. I feel that, quite without realising it, I’ve stumbled past spring, summer and autumn without truly taking a moment to think about whether the path I’m running along is the right one.

Now, winter is beckoning to me and I look to it with delight. It is not demanding the big changes and to-do lists that a conventional fresh start may require, it simply suggests I stop, and take note. This is the season in which nature pauses, so shouldn’t we too? It does not rush to be something new and exhilarating after the boldness of autumn’s colours. Our grey skies are peaceful, the sun hanging low, and commanding no hurry within your day.

It is with this in mind, and a constant reminder through my window, that I begin anew as winter draws near. Questions I’ve been asking myself will now be answered, however long it takes, and my intentions for the coming year refreshed.

This is the season to think, to read, to write, and to slowly implement those little changes that will bring about your goals. But there is no hurry, no deadline. So pause, and breathe, feel the crispness of the air on your skin, and make that your fresh start this season.

Jessica Townsend creates slow and sustainable fashion at House of Flint. Follow her behind-the-scenes on Instagram here.

Winter Gathering 2018
All images courtesy of the very lovely  Annie Spratt , unless otherwise stated.

All images courtesy of the very lovely Annie Spratt, unless otherwise stated.

I can't quite believe it's taken me over three weeks to formulate the words to tell you about the very first Creative Countryside Winter Gathering. What began as a late night musing on Instagram led to 18 of us holed up in the Peak District for the first weekend of the new year. It was rejuvenating, inspiring, incredibly hard work(!), and taught me so much about how I want to build this community from now on.


My sister, Jess, came along as my indispensable co-host, and we arrived mid-afternoon on the Friday at Dalehead Bunkhouse, near Edale, to set up. Darkness steadily rolled in as we decorated with greenery and prepared for the first attendees to arrive. I'd chosen a location nearby a train station (I don't know about you, but arriving by train always feels a bit more stress-free), and after a couple of pick-ups we were settled for the night. 

We began with cider bellini cocktails (which turned out to be a bit more lethal than we'd imagined...) and coupled with a roaring fire, they helped encourage the group of strangers to bond and connect. Before dinner, Mugdha from Kindred & Kind led a herbal tea talk and tasting, and as someone who absolutely hates licquorice, the blend that included it was surprisingly delicious! Jess and I then got on with food preparations, before leading everyone through to feast on creamy mushroom and herb pasta followed by mulled winter fruits and spiced gingerbread.

Conversation flowed in the candlelight and slowly people moved up to bed, or closer to the fire for late night reading. Sleep eluded me that night, but we were up early to make the most of the day.


Just as the sun was rising, Elizabeth led an inspiring meditation with around half the group. I've always struggled with the concept, but her advice that you're supposed to get distracted, that it's coming back to focus that's of most importance, really rang true. The flames of the fire crackled and popped as we were still with our thoughts and Elizabeth's guidance. The second half of the group had left early to explore the hills, and returned just in time for buckwheat pancakes for breakfast.


I managed to escape for half an hour or so to explore with my camera, and it was wonderful to see so many others doing the same, despite the early hour. Creative Countryside's online editor Chelsea then led us over the hills and through the valley on a mindfulness walk. The brief rainstorm lent even more meaning to her words, as were guided to take note of the feel of the mossy wall, acknowledge our senses, and connect with our emotions. A potential stumbling block - a deep boggy pit right next to a stile - was avoided thanks to the characterful farmer who let us walk down his track, albeit with the caveat, "Don't make a habit of it!"


We returned with handfuls of foraged greenery, a few berries, and skeletons of winter grasses, ready to begin our foliage crown workshop, led by Jess. Event bags were handed out, and included craft aprons from Pursuit England, a luxurious green bath potion from Magic Organic Apothecary, lavender firelighters from Rebecca FletcherThe Almanac by Lia Leendertz, and smudge sticks to cleanse the air from Kindred & Wild.

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Eleanor Cheetham

Image: Eleanor Cheetham


Lunch was a warm cumin roasted carrot and lentil salad, with a cashew nut cheese that I'd never made before, which turned out to be incredibly popular! It was followed by two workshops: pouring our own beeswax candles, and learning all about the process from Francey at Tea and Wildflowers, and a very relaxed mini wreath-making session. It was wonderful to watch as some became engrossed in the creative act of wreath design, and our candles took on so much more meaning once we'd added our words to the glass jars - all taken from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. 

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend


Before our Twelfth Night feast, we ventured out into the half-darkness to wassail. After wishing each other wassail (or 'good health') and taking a sip of mulled organic Wyld Wood cider from the antique cider mug, we poured cider onto the roots of an apple tree I'd brought from our orchard at home, adding a cider-soaked piece of toast into its boughs, hoping for a prosperous apple harvest for the year ahead. The ceremony then moved on to a raucous session of banging pots and pans to rid the air of evil (insect) spirits, and we closed by eating an apple from my orchard at home, and I encouraged everyone to plant the core and start their own apple-growing.

Image: Jess Townsend

Image: Jess Townsend

The temperature had dropped and we returned indoors. Our handmade beeswax candles decorated the table, and we feasted on spiced celeriac soup with za'atar, honey-roasted vegetables with quinoa and pesto, and mini apple crumbles. We lingered at the dinner table before venturing outside again to do a spot of stargazing. Shooting stars flashed across the sky as we picked out constellations and attempted to take photographs. 

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Our final morning began with a few heading up to Mam Tor to watch the sunrise. The rest of us grabbed a bowl of Nordic spiced porridge and packed up the last of our possessions. A few left early with a long drive ahead, but we stayed awhile in Edale, exploring the village and surrounding fields, and enjoying a hearty pub lunch before saying our goodbyes.

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

Image: Sarah Porteus

I'm not brilliant with texting people back or replying to emails immediately, and I definitely haven't done half the things I've wanted to with the online Creative Countryside community so far, but in a way these real life meet-ups are the antidote to all of that chaos. I met Chelsea for the first time, and Sarah, our folklore editor, too.  So many of the people that attended have been involved in the magazine. And some I'd never really chatted to before. It was a real mix of truly interesting creatives, and I'm so grateful to have had the chance to get to know them more.

WinterEleanor Cheetham
Slow Winter Magic

At this time of year when the grey and moody language of winter sets the tone for the month of January, I find myself in need of a little nurturing for the soul.  Mornings covered in frost, the light glinting on the horizon through a sea of fog and the glow of Christmas past make me long for the tiniest glimmer that spring is on its way.  However, I’ve found that for me the best antidote to a bad case of January blues is to try to embrace what the season may hold and savour winter’s last hurrah.

Heading off into the woods for the weekend, our little family of four did just that.  Off the beaten track in the New Forest is Warborne Farm, a family-run 100 acre farm which boasts a selection of lovingly converted boutique barns.  Perfect for retreats, families, couples and those who need nothing but cosiness, long walks and a chance to while away the hours in the wilderness of the forest.


Arriving after dark, The Grain Loft, our home from home for the weekend was lit up with the glow of a roaring fire within the woodburner.  Warmth, cosiness and the rustic feel of natural materials intermingled with exposed piping and industrial chic set the tone for the décor.  Handmade to perfection - from the sheep fleeces on the beds from the farm’s own flock and light fitting made from the original pulley system used for hauling up hessian sacks of grain for storing, to shutters handmade by Kate’s mum Ann, bedside tables carved from blocks of Douglas Fir from the New Forest and sills once part of an old sunken barge found emerging from the mudflats.  Modern, rustic but luxurious to boot. 

Everything has been created with an ambience of slow living in mind, helping guests to switch off from the hustle and bustle and reclaim time for themselves.  Perhaps one of the most special and unexpected features of our stay in The Grain Loft was a viewing window in the floor of the sitting room, from which we could watch and marvel at our neighbours below – a family of Boer goats.  I cannot tell you how magical it was to being able to witness the sweet scene beneath our feet.  I’ve never felt more like Heidi. 

Dragging ourselves away from goats and mugs of bedtime hot chocolate, the girls’ bedroom proved to be the stuff of little girls’ dreams.  Former stalls in the loft have been converted into a stunning 4 berth dorm complete with beds furnished with hay mattresses made from ox-eye daisies, ladies bedstraw and other wild flowers from the farm’s meadows.  Our bedroom didn’t disappoint either.  Soft sheepskin and downy pillows ensured a night of dreaming we were snuggled up in a chalet deep in the snowy Alps.  It’s these beautiful little touches which make staying at Warborne so magical.  A cavernous copper bath and time spent reading and chatting by the fire with a large glass of wine ensured the perfect digital detox. 

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Waking to a day of planned adventures, the surrounding heathland ensured that we had time to daydream whilst spotting wild ponies, collecting pine cones and getting muddy and rosy-cheeked with our dogs.  There’s also the seaside town of Lymington to explore if you wish to venture out for supplies and take a bracing walk along the sea walls.  However there’s heaps to draw you back to the farm.  Picking your own organic vegetables from the plentiful polytunnels, finding buckets by the front door with treats to feed the farm’s Kune Kune pigs and being able to collect your own eggs for breakfast from the hen house are all highly recommended.  We loved savouring the simple things and enjoying the beauty of midwinter at its best.  No need for screen time, although there are televisions and Wifi in each of the barns should you not be able to resist.  Our little ones spent hours just running about, visiting the farm’s many animals and bouncing off the top of the bales in the hay barn. 

There’s a touch of old fashioned farm living about Warborne Farm.  Our weekend stay gave us much needed time, space and freedom to enjoy a little midwinter magic.  I think that perhaps the most important thing I shall take away with me is just finding a space to be able to let myself switch off and enjoy my wintry surroundings.  It’s those moments I shall savour rather than try to rush the time away until we welcome spring again with open arms.  As Johanna Spyri, the author of Heidi wrote, “Let's enjoy the beautiful things we can see, my dear, and not think about those we cannot.”

WinterRebecca Fletcher
Microadventures: Where the Snow Fell

*This will be my last microadventure style post to celebrate my completion of walking 1000 miles in 2017.

It seemed such a perfect few days to have snow up in the welsh hills. Timely in fact for December although, it was our second covering of the year, only this time much thicker. 

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It reminded me of when I was a small child, my cousins and I would use bin bags as sledges
and use the banks of the woodlands to whoosh down, only to be taken out by a root, or a tree! 

On the first morning, I woke early, there's was an intense glow above my curtains. There had been no tractor sounds or from passing cars.   Something was different.  The anticipation of peaking behind the curtains was a little too much for me, and instead, I dragged them back to expose a shocking white mass of the ol' white stuff.

 "It's snowing!" The household was awake then... 

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My pup was out of the door before me.  Over the next 4 days, we enjoyed sledging,  hill walks, and snowman building.   Oh, and there was a case of a lost and never to be found glove of mine, from a late-night,  escapaedeinto the village to collect supplies (mince pies).

The roads were constantly blanketed, and although the tractors and gritters did their
best to clear it away each night more fell from the sky.

There's something quietly deafening about snow.  You can hear a pin drop. There are no echoes in the valley,  and each crunchy footstep I took got louder and louder and I found myself tiptoeing, hoping not to disturb the jittery Robbins or resting sheep!

Oh how the local communities came together.  And despite what you hear nowadays about the world becoming a frightening place, I know that it's not true.  Offers of food pickups and dropoffs from the 4x4 owners for the elderly don't seem to sell many newspapers... 

 The roads in the small villages were filled with people rather than cars, all snowball fighting, chatting, laughing, and enjoying what nature had to offer us in abundance.One morning, we woke to the most azure blue sky one, could ever ask for - my home looked exactly like it does on those winter travel brochures!   

Now in January, the hills are back to their earthy green palette except in the parts where the sun doesn't reach, remains fragments of that ol' white stuff I love so much.  The rivers are up high threatening to flood like they do each year, and the sludge was thick and not at all pleasing to the eyes. The trees no longer carry their icicle decorations and the snowflakes have turned into rain.  And the winds, how she howls....  

I feel utterly blessed  I got to finish off my 1000 mile challenge at home in the snow. My walking adventures have taken me to some amazing locations but there really is no place like home. 

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WinterChelsea Louise Haden
In Hoary Winter's Night
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On wintry nights when the sky is clear and the air still, Jack Frost creeps across the countryside.  His cold breath and icy finger-tips spread frozen tidings through the atmosphere and across the ground.  Feathery patterns trespass over window panes, forming fern-like arabesques on their cold, smooth surfaces.

While it is easy to imagine these as the unfurling of some winter’s magic by a mischievous figure of fun, the florid patterns that form on our car windows and glass-topped patio tables are caused by a chain reaction of slowly gelling water.  As the spreading frost crystals meet imperfections in the surface such as specks of dirt or scratches, they branch off in new directions forming intricate, wintery patterns that are a joy to discover.



In deepest winter, when the weather is at its most solemn and still, comes the thick, spiny coating of the hoar frost.  Trees are silvered; leaves and grasses powdered.  The countryside takes on a wintery whiteness that is crisper, more defined than the blanketing softness that comes with a fall of snow.

The name “hoar” derives from the old English word “hor” or “har” for white or grey, and describes the appearance given by the mass of tiny ice crystals which scatter light in all directions so that everything coated with them appears white.

For the crystals to form the conditions have to be just right.  If both the air temperature and the dew point (the temperature at which water vapour in air condenses into liquid water) are both below freezing, a process known as sublimation takes place.  The moisture in the atmosphere turns from vapour to a solid (ice) without first passing through a liquid stage.


This is all takes place as we sleep, warmly tucked up under our blankets and with our hot water bottles.  And when we wake on a wintery morning to the chill of the first frost – to find the windows etched with the tracery of window frost or to gaze at the frozen wonderland created by a hoar frost – we experience one of the season’s most defining moments.

WinterHelen Duncan

Here, on the estuary’s forgotten shore,
away from the road’s tarmac gravity,
the dark begins to pool early against
high boulder banks and the dune’s downslope.

Another swarm of dreams is scattering south.
With a luthier’s ear for resonance
and absences, the river channels out
its own meandering echo chambers.

Snow stillness; snow silence. And yet no snow:
“Too cold for it”. Deep cold, more than enough
to snuff the stars into a charred blackness
and scorch this great dark bore hole to the moon.

Everything is drawn of its ghosts

and now the frost begins to populate
this void, creeping from every crack and crevice,
extrapolating brittle feathered forms
so exact
humerus to radius
so intricate
radius to ulna;

each shiny new angle geared for flight yet still grounded come first light of morning.

WinterSimon Smith
In The Defence of Grey Skies

In a world that is in love with days that glow with the warmth of sunlight, the humble grey sky gets a pretty bad rep. What is there to love about the cool and the quiet of a cloudy, rainy day when the sun is hidden away and hibernating? There seems to be a universal consensus that the arrival of grey skies and rainy days ruin the best-laid adventure plans. Who wants to hike in the rain? Who wants to visit the coast when the sun isn’t shining? Well, to that I say, “never underestimate the power of an overcast day.” Some of the best adventures, some of the most memorable and inspiring days in the great outdoors start with a muddy puddle and drizzle dripping from the sky.

When a day is bright and the sky is blue, everything is presented exactly as it is: there is no mystery. On a rainy day, when the oppressive clouds come down from their kingdoms in the sky and perch on the tops of hills, the edges of the world begin to blur and the imagination is encouraged to run free. Instead of the crystal blue clarity of sunshine, a grey-skied day evokes a magical sense of wonder, in which anything and everything could be possible. Just look at the classic fairy-tale tropes: no story full of magic and mystery, myth and adventure begins on a day that is without the tell-tale rumble of thunder or the swirling mists that dance through the forests. A grey day is not simply preferable for a story to begin: it is necessary.


A blue sky presents the landscape as it is, but a grey sky presents a landscape with hidden factors, with layers of interpretation and meaning and reality. The landscape becomes our own and our imagination shapes it. Clouded mountains become sleeping dragons, rainy forests are suddenly home to all manner of mythical creatures, ghostly cloud-shapes haunt landscapes that otherwise would have been unremarkable. “Wuthering Heights” just would not have been the same if Cathy had wandered the moors, getting lost under a bright, shining sun. The grey, rainy weather was essential to creating the evocative, haunting moods captured in the novels by authors like the Brontë sisters and it still remains essential, all these years later.

Grey skies allow us to connect with our inner child. All we have to do is lose our heavy cloak of adulthood and look at the world with wonder, with curiosity, and with an unceasing optimism. Wander through a landscape that is damp with mist and mizzle and don't hide under the brim of umbrellas or hoods. Look ahead and find shapes in the shadows, dance with folklorish creatures, remember that this landscape is charged and energised by the dark, dreariness of the weather. Learn to associate grey with beauty, mystery, imagination, charm and unlearn the disappointed fear we all possess when a grey day rolls around. Grey-skied-days are a magical, in-between space between reality and fantasy. Embrace them.

Words & Images by Katy Who