We were up long before dawn, walking out into the darkness. A half-moon sat high in the sky, occasionally shrouded by clouds. For once, the roads were largely empty and the early day peaceful and silent as we set off up the hill. Already the darkness in the east had softened to tones of blue. As we climbed the hill, blue faded slowly into a pale yellow suggestive of coming light.
There were street lamps, we did not walk in darkness, but the surrounding landscape was largely hidden as we started. By the halfway point on the hill, the Severn plain had grown visible, a landscape of greys with the distant hills little more than rumour.
We came off the road, onto the grass, still climbing. In nearby trees, an owl hooted, calling the end to the hunting night just as larks in the grasses began to fly and sing out to the day. We paused to reflect that this would have given Shakespeare a bit of a headache. Larks are so often thought of as summer birds, but they still fly the hill top through the winter, singing their rippling melodies. From nearby a buzzard called and we heard a raven.
There came a point when we suddenly rose high enough to enter the wind. It was an icy blast, coming from the east. At this time of year, the east wind brings us snow, and also migrating swans from Russia. They’ve been slow to arrive at Slimbridge, the wet, southerly winds we’ve been having make their long journey difficult indeed. I thought of them, and wondered if they would be flying in.
By the time we reached the hilltop, light had permeated the vale, bringing greens to the fields, although the hills remained grey and mysterious. We walked to the barrow, but it was too cold in the wind to stay still for long. Turning to face the dawn, we walked back, watching the skyline pink and glow with the coming day.
Coming down the hill, the sound of wings stopped us in our tracks. Not all birds are identifiable in flight, but one kind of wing whistles as it moves, making a distinctive sound that carries far. There, passing over the hill, were two swans, flying from the east towards Slimbridge. From that distance, we could not see their beaks (orange for the resident mute, yellow for the migrating bewicks and whoopers). Given the time of day, the wind direction and the size, I think they were bewicks, with a few miles left to go of their epic journey down from the arctic tundra. It was a remarkable moment, and while I have seen the migratory swans many times before, I have never previously seen them flying in.
It is not quite what we had planned for today, but this morning has been a blessing. We saw a kestrel as we were coming down off the hill. Seagulls were flying up from the Severn to spend the day in the hills, as is their habit. Then, the peal of church bells, no doubt for an early morning service. We walked down to a town no longer lit by streetlights, but waking into action. Cars on the road. Cheery greetings from strangers. The smell of unspeakable things being done to turkeys. It’s not my festival, but it can bring out warmth and conviviality in people, and that’s no bad thing.
Now, to work, and cook, and see what the rest of the day brings.