Thursday, 24 January 2013

Snow on the hills

We were walking in the snowy hills of Derbyshire yesterday - wonderful.

Nothing unusual about the walk, most of which we’ve done before, but walking it in the snow was something else. At the highest points, much of the snow lay undisturbed apart from a few fox tracks. A foot deep in some places, it made for hard walking but an exhilarating day.

Lower down among scattered farms and houses we were almost walking through a series of Christmas cards, snow still thick on trees and hedgerows, tracks and minor roads not yet turned to dirty mush.

Even though the weather wasn’t brilliant, with grey skies and flurries of snow, the slightly dour and sombre nature of the landscape was particularly attractive, with a depth of character not seen in fine weather.

Those views and the occasional whiff of wood smoke also brought home just how bleak winter must often have seemed in earlier times. Beautiful but bleak and not a little dangerous.

The picture above is a print by Victor Venner. I like the contrast between the mildly comic consternation of the foreground coach travellers with a rather bleak snowy background. Travelling in such weather was a rather more serious affair than today, with our warm, waterproof clothing and mobile phones.  

Many of our ancestors could not afford to travel by coach and if they had to get from village to village in such weather, then it was done on foot, using the same lanes and footpaths we used yesterday. Did they see the beauty of those trees and snowy lanes? I don't know, but I like to think so.

Yet they were obliged to survive winter too, without the luxury of enjoying it as we do when we remember to look. They had to exist on stored food and eked out fuel until the promise of Spring, but even then life was hard because Spring is still a good way from the first harvest.

In the distance we saw hares, almost black against a white background. A hare would have been a most welcome addition to the pot. We’ve almost forgotten about winter food – bread, potatoes, cabbage, leeks, oatmeal and maybe a few eggs or a slice of bacon.

I originally intended this post to be about Cameron and his EU promises, but he can wait. There are better things to dwell on for now. 


Sam Vega said...

I read somewhere that in the 17th Century, mortality rates were higher in the spring than the winter. The spirits lifted, but to no avail if the food had run out. I guess salted and dried meats and grain would last, but people died from vitamin deficiency due to lack of veg.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see the important things looked at - nature, good food and how lucky we are to live in warm houses with no worries about whether Tesco will be open.

I feel like giving up on politics and newspapers altogether, only raises my blood pressure.

Demetrius said...

It was always hard wringing a living out of the land in the hill and high country. We hear a lot about the Highland and Irish Clearances but hardly anything about those from the English uplands in the same period and for the same reasons. It is said that on the Leveson-Gower lands in Yorkshire, one of whom married the Countess of Sutherland and became a Highland Duke, more were lost from them in Yorkshire alone than the Highlands. You can add the Derbyshire and Staffordshire holdings to the figures.

A K Haart said...

Sam - I read that too, probably made worse by the Little Ice Age.

Roger - my thoughts wander in that direction too. I think many people just get on with life and maybe they are right.

Demetrius - when I look at the Derbyshire hill farms, I often wonder how they make it pay. Possibly they don't and it's all about subsidy. Maybe some are a tax loss.

Electro-Kevin said...

I imagine it was salt deficiency that killed most blokes, Vega.

Electro-Kevin said... hte spring that is.