Welcome February! I have been eagerly awaiting your arrival and thus the arrival of aconites (a month later up here than down in Cambridgeshire), snowdrops and viburnum flowers. To celebrate the new month, we headed off into the depths of the countryside for a walk. The more northerly and inland we drove, the lower the temperature fell and suddenly the roads started to become snowy. In the distance, the hills were thick with snow and glinting the sunlight back to us. Fields full of heavily pregnant sheep, looking rather uncomfortable (the poor loves), were white and small drifts had gathered on the windward side of the hedge.
Finding everything covered in snow, it felt almost like we’d taken the day off and flown somewhere far colder. The paths we walked down held the imprints of those who had gone before us. Those arrow-shaped footprints are courtesy of a moorhen and their improbably-sized feet. Speaking of birds, Gosh! We saw so many of them. Bluetits, bullfinches, chaffinches, coal tits, nuthatches, blackbirds, wrens, robins, coots, moorhens, crows and in the distance we could hear the flight call of a buzzard. One of my favourite birds to see is the nuthatch, as she busies herself with finding food and then hiding it in the nooks and crannies of tree bark. I was also lucky enough to have finally taken my first photo of a wren! They’re so quick that to get a photo is normally almost impossible, and I have been trying for some time. So when this little tiny wren, only about the size of my thumb, was rummaging in the leaves, I took my chance and managed to photograph her before she darted into the undergrowth.
We stopped to soak in some sun on the walk, and within a minute of sitting down we were being watched by two pairs of beady eyes. The blackbird watched us for a while and then approached, completely unafraid, even when we put our hands out to her. She sat with us for a while, flying off when people walked past and then returning moments later to watch us again. She came so close that at one point we thought she’d sit on Mr VP’s boot. The robin was a little more skittish, but hopped under our legs and looked for bugs hiding on the bench. We stayed with them for 20 minutes, enjoying their company and feeling very honoured, as one does when wild animals trust you enough to come close.
What a way to start the month, eh?
Just like that, January was over in a violence of winds and threatened snow. The last day of January was bitterly cold. In fact, it doesn’t look like it’s going to warm up any time soon according to the Met Office. At a loose end, we headed out for a coffee and ended up driving past our favourite beach. So we stopped and got out, though we didn’t last long as the wind was so strong and icy that it gave us both brainfreeze headaches, despite our scarves and Mr VP’s hat. We walked for a while and then headed back to the car. The sand was drifting in the gales and the sea was roiling and angry, with waves and spray buffeting the coastline. I think I’ve said it before, but I’m definitely looking forward to a bit of warmer weather!
It has been snowing on and off all day. One moment it is bright and sunny, with wide blue skies and the next a dark grey pall saps the light and small, angry snowflakes fall quickly. The wind is blowing; enough to make the wind bitter and the snow drift and stick to any upright surface it comes across. It is the tail-end of January so this weather is to be expected and we have been fairly lucky so far, in that we’ve not had any snow until now. I am, however, eagerly anticipating the start of February and the move towards longer (and milder) days to come (though I have definitely enjoyed January!). Mr VP has worked from home today because the snow was threatening to start just after lunch and he didn’t want to get stuck in a snowdrift. So I made cheese scones and parsnip, celery and leek soup and kept him hydrated with cups of tea. To keep us both toasty, I laid the fire with the last of our wood stores and have revelled in the glow and the heat from our stove.
I’ve been attempting to make the most of the days by keeping busy in the house. After receiving a note in our veg box a couple of weeks ago notifying us about the availability of organic Seville and blood oranges, I eagerly ordered some and waited for their arrival. When they arrived I pored over tomes of recipes, trying to decide whether I should do the whole-orange method, the two-day method or whether I should follow Delia’s sage advice and go with her recipe. I went with Delia in the end, as her recipes are always good, and the house now smells like Spain in summer (or a Tropicana factory…). I can’t wait to find out what it is like when finished! I can tell you that I might never get the smell off my hands, though! This January hibernation thing is turning out pretty nicely.
I think, dear readers, that I’m going to declare January a bit of a blog write-off. I keep thinking that I should blog and then the desire to do so seems to dissipate and before long, another week has flown by in the blink of an eye. It’s almost the end of January – how did that happen?! The cold and dark days are, hopefully, getting fewer and farther between, but I am eager to feel the warm sun on my skin again!
Mr VP and I have been spending quite a bit of time in the house in our spare time, mostly because we have had so much to do here and because January days can be very dark and dull (as well as flippin’ cold!). We do try to get out and about regularly, though. We visit our favourite towns and revel in the quietness of them and also make sure that we get some fresh air in our lungs and our hearts beating by spending time out in the countryside or by the sea.
Last weekend was one such day. It was pretty much 10 years to the day since Mr VP and I first visited this beach on one thoroughly freezing January day. On that day back in 2005, we were met on the beach by white breakers, gales and snow, all of which soaked us and froze us. We walked until we could walk no further and we went back to the car. That was the day we ‘discovered’ Northumberland, as we were living up until then in the outskirts of Newcastle. That day sticks in my mind and it only struck me as we were heading home that it was 10 years ago almost exactly that we went for a walk on that beach, with those gales and that snow pelting us.
And when we went there last weekend it was windy and it did snow pretty impressively. We power-walked up the beach, wishing to walk further and maybe to stave off the chill that was blowing off the sea. Yes, that is snow sitting on the sand. It seems surreal, but up against the dunes it had gathered into whispy drifts of white. We walked so far that we came to a completely new bit of the beach and we had it all to ourselves. After stopping for a break and to catch our breath before heading back, the snow arrived and the wind picked up. By the time we reached the car, we were dripping wet, with snow still sitting in our hair and our cheeks both bright red and burning with the cold. It was the first time I’ve come so close to a goldcrest – Britain’s smallest bird, less than 30cm away from us and which almost flew into Mr VP’s face! It was such a lovely if freezing walk, full of familiarity and newness all at once.
After a particularly chilly couple of walks on the beach, with the wind giving us brain-freeze, I knew that a hat was needed. I found a hat and wrist-warmer kit with lovely, soft wool at Woolaballoo in Hexham and began knitting. I usually knit in the round using double-pointed needles, as I find DPNs much easier and more reliable to use (and circular needles give me the heebie-jeebies). However, after chatting with the lady at Woolaballoo, she urged me to try using a circular needle, so off I went.
I did make some adjustments to the pattern – it said it required the plain rib to measure 10cm, but I stopped at 8cm as I felt that was plenty, and the hat is 10cm shorter than recommended because I prefer it a little more snug. I can’t remember what the plain yarn is (it is 100% merino) but the self-patterning yarn is Adriafil’s Knitcol in #51 (Giotto Fancy). I don’t think I would use the circular needle as my needle of choice in the future, but I do understand why some people like it, particularly for larger items. All in all, though, for a first time using a circular needle, I’m really pleased with it.