|Snow. I love it. Not the dull grey sprinkle on urban streets that turns to brown in hours, but the deep, blanketing snow of a proper fall. Familiar landscapes are unmade, rendered new and strange and pristine. And so it is, a week before Christmas, that a Saturday comes full of winter promise, uncovering an entrance into another world of stark black and white, drained of colour but brimming with fresh possibilities.
Christmas card perfect, Leckhampton church spire points into a sky of heavy grey nothingness, with lazy flakes of snow fluttering down. My route wends through white lanes, before starting its ascent via The Crippetts. Off the main road the snow is deep and undisturbed, both a guilty pleasure to deface with my passage and a hindrance to movement as the way steadily steepens. Cold though the day is, I soon find myself overheating under fleece and coat.
The Crippetts is a somewhat fitting place to pass in deep snow. It was here that Edward “Bill” Wilson grew up, Chief Scientist on both of Scott’s Antarctic expeditions and one of the men who tragically perished alongside Scott on their return from the Pole.
I emerge onto the hillside above The Crippetts, where a fine view of the quarry-ravaged western slopes of Leckhampton Hill can be had, today blanketed in snow with all the rest. The view extends gloomily towards Cleeve Hill to the north, but visibility is too poor to show details today.
The path climbs up towards the edge of the escarpment, joining the Cotswold Way as it enters Barrow Piece Plantation. This name records no dredged memory of a forgotten barrow, for here is one of the finest of the long barrows of the western Cotswolds. Tree-covered, even with mound mutilated and chamber wrecked, this remains a fine, upstanding monument, every bit deserving of its “long” classification.
Stark, black-limbed trees tower protectively over the white-shrouded mound laid out beneath their feet. There is deep peace here, in this quiet place. The only sound is the crunch of my footfalls breaking the crust of snow. I came here in winter once before, when a bone-deep cold threatened to strip the skin from any hand left ungloved for more than a few moments. Today, despite the snow, the cold is much less, almost an abstraction. How easy it would be to lie down in its warm blanket, nestled here amongst the sentinel trees.
But that way lies the fate of Dr Wilson and I depart, spotting for the first time the ghost of the nearby round barrow, its very slight existence revealed by the snow.
I continue along the Cotswold Way to Crickley Hill. By now the snow has started to fall again and as I sit at a bench in the picnic area for a welcome cup of metallic tea I’m joined by a magpie, appropriately enough on such a monochrome day. I salute and wish him a good afternoon, after which he departs, apparently satisfied that the necessary dues have been paid.
By the time I enter the fort itself, through the entrance in the northeastern rampart, the snow is threatening to turn heavy. Freezing mist reduces visibility and photos start to become splodged. Needless to say, I am alone here today. After a circuit of the rampart, I make my excuses and leave through the woods to the east.
The horribly busy junction at The Air Balloon has less traffic than usual, but the road surface is icy and it becomes a slow ballet of near-death, me gingerly crossing the road while cars skid and slide towards me at three miles an hour.
Safely across and into the trees, the next barrows of the day are before me. Mutilated in the usual way, the largest of the Emma’s Grove round barrows is still an excellent example. I remain surprised that I seem to be only TMAer who has visited. Unfortunately this visit is hampered by snow that has turned heavier still, and I’m nearing my furthest point from home. But I’ve one more site to visit today, and as Macbeth would have it, I’m stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er. Besides which, I never really like to retrace my steps, there’s always something new to see up ahead. Except today, when there’s precious little to see in any direction.
The mile or so from Emma’s Grove to Coberley is not the easiest I’ve ever walked. The paths have been largely untrodden since the snowfall, so I’m forging a way through knee-deep snow by now, while more falls from above for a bit of a top-up. At one gate I manage to fall over, but luckily the snow provides a welcome cushion.
Finally reaching the wrecked long barrow, visibility dwindles still further. I could be alone in the world for all I know. I decide not to enter the field, the barrow is easily seen over the fence and I’m really starting to feel the cold now. Instead I carry on east to the road junction, where turning northwest I’m finally heading for home. Unfortunately I’m also heading directly into the snowfall and a fierce wind. It seems a very long walk home now, three miles of deteriorating weather and unsure footing where snow on the road conceals polished ice beneath.
But what’s to complain about? I’m not stranded in a Polar blizzard, unable to reach the next food depot. Home is close and cosy. I’ve seen some of my local sites made anew, strange and pristine. Entrances uncovered, courtesy of Winter.
Posted by thesweetcheat
19th November 2012ce
Edited 19th November 2012ce
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