For three days now the temperature has barely risen above freezing during the day and at night there have been hard frosts. Everything is white – grass, trees, rocks, soil – and the frost forms intricate and beautiful patterns. The sun has shone in the sky but only south and west facing slopes have received enough of its warmth for the frost to melt. The sun is too low in the sky even at midday to shine downwards. Instead the light slants across the land making long dark shadows.
Roaming the meadows and woods for a few hours I marvelled at how the cold and frost had transformed familiar places. The ground, so often muddy and slippery, was frozen hard and my boots crunched through the crisp frost and banged down on the stiff earth. Walking was easier than in the wet, as long as I avoided the ice in the hollows. Rabbits browsed on icy grass out in the fields. Once a pheasant broke the silence, squawking loudly as it crashed up into the air. A flock of fieldfares flew raggedly low over the ground to perch in a lonely birch tree and then flap off again as I approached. Mostly though the land was silent and subdued, held quiet by the frost. In the distance, across the valley, the high Cairngorms hune, pale silhouettes against the dark of the forest. This is winter.