Mid-winter: the best time of the year…

…bear with me.

Not much gardening going on due to weather and work, but I’m witnessing the slow-but-sure coming of spring as I roam around the village. It’s hopeful, but the cusp of spring can be one of the crappier times of year for walking round these parts.

The twice-daily dog walk (of which I currently do less than 50%, admittedly) provides a good barometer for the changing seasons and its impact on the countryside. While the gentle adjustments in temperature and day length mosey on, there are also sudden and dramatic transformations of the farmland that surrounds our little village.

And so, our usual routes change and become more awkward or more lovely according to the month. Here is my dog-walking calendar:

Late winter (now): the farmers plough their fields, pinning us to the paths at their perimeter – or sometimes through the middle. The weather warms so the ground is soft, and as scores of walkers pound the paths they get slippery, and then claggy, and then seriously boggy.

A footpath through a local ploughed field - not kidding

A footpath through a local ploughed field – not kidding

Spring: the first great dog-walking season. The ground dries out as the flora powers into growth. The twigs and branches soften with foliage and blackthorn hedges hide their spikes with frothy white blossom. All routes are again accessible, the woodland paths no longer boggy, the grasses and stingers not yet encroaching.

Happy dog, happy walker

Happy dog, happy walker

High summer: wonderful in the woods, so long as you can ignore the low level buzzing in constant pursuit. But the lesser-used paths, and all routes around the fields are quickly invaded by grasses, nettles, brambles and cleavers. I repeatedly make the mistake of wearing shorts or cropped trousers, always just before some kind of social event involving exposure of my slashed and stung shins. And it’s a miracle if by autumn I haven’t hit the deck after clamping a rambling weed to the floor with one foot, only to trip up my other foot as it attempts to take the next step.

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Poppy-pocked fields are a highlight of high summer

Autumn: a mixed bag. The paths are still jungles, and hold litres of morning dew to deposit into the trainers I’ve foolishly worn (time to dust off the wellies once more). But the farmers are busy harvesting, freeing acres of space, shortcuts, long cuts, and bramble-free walking.

Winter: the path-covering plants beat their retreat, exposing the routes we’ll come to rely on in the new year. But the fields are still bare too, so the world is our oyster. Of course the slip-sliding gets worse day-by-day, until….

Mid-winter: …when it all freezes hard and you can both (me and the dog) trot over a mud bath and still return home with clean paws. And here, on our hilltop, we are blessed with the most amazing hoar frosts I’ve ever seen. It’s a truly magical sight. We haven’t had one yet this winter – I’m keeping my fingers crossed for this treat before we welcome spring 2015 – but here are some shots from winter 2012.

Incredible hoar frost

Incredible hoar frost

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Chilly dog

Chilly dog

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That’s why cold mid-winter is [one of the] best time[s] of year ;o)

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