Monday 4 April 2011

Signs of Spring

With strong winds, heavy rain and a slight chance of thunder and lightning forecast I decided a planned overnight in the hills could wait and I’d spend a few hours wandering the local hills and woods instead. Last time I walked this ground there was still much snow and winter held the land tight and hard. Now I expected there to be at least a few signs of spring. At a glance there were none with deciduous trees still bare of leaves and open ground shades of faded brown with no hint of green. From a distance the birches still had that hazy winter sheen that varies from faint violet through purple to, rarely, a quite bright orange, depending on the light. However a close examination of the twigs revealed tiny tips of green on the brown buds, the first tentative push of the new leaves in search of sunlight. And in the ditches and pools and even the puddles on the tracks the frogs had been busy, leaving vast swollen clusters of frogspawn, each globule of jelly with its tiny dark spot that signified new life.

Out of the trees the wind was strong even in the glen, the sky a mobile mass of racing clouds, some white, some dark and heavy with rain. Brief showers fell then passed on with hints of rainbows in their wake. Amidst the wind and the clouds I could see dark shapes wheeling and turning in the air. Soon I heard them. Lapwings, returning with the spring to the wet pastures where they nest. Then came another wilder call, the descending bubbling song of the curlew, always a thrilling sound and another that tells of the changing seasons.

Leaving the glen I climbed a boggy track through heather towards the highest hill in the area, 549 metre Carn na Loine. I had set out with no fixed plan, my intention just to wander and follow my instincts but I had wondered whether I would go this way earlier and the thought must have directed my feet because although I took a roundabout route and approached the hill from the far side I knew I would continue to the summit. Carn na Loine isn’t a distinctive hill, just the highest of a series of rounded heathery bumps, but it is an excellent viewpoint with a sweeping panorama of the Cairngorms and Strathspey. The high mountains to the south were appearing and disappearing in the clouds as squalls blasted over them. Although still snowy, large dark patches were appearing though I doubted there was any thawing today as the wind was bitter on Carn na Loine and I needed hat and gloves and a zipped up jacket. There was no hint of spring up here. On the descent though I put up a mountain hare, which sprang from almost under my feet and raced up the hillside, tripping and somersaulting at one point, though this barely slowed it down. The hare was rather ragged in appearance, a mix of grey, brown and white as its pale winter coat was being shed.

I returned home in the dusk, the air chill and the sky darkening. I had thought there might be a coloured sunset but the clouds were too thick and the day faded away gently into greyness. For the first time I feel the winter is over. There may be more snow and more frosts but the spring has begun.

The photo shows Strathspey and the high Cairngorms.

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