The onslaught began gently on Monday. A few heavy flurries combined to lay down a coating of soft hail. Transient, it decayed quickly, condemned to a short life by a conspiracy of temperature and damp ground. The wind began to increase in confidence for the task ahead. Tuesday saw a mottling of snow overnight which disappeared in the face of a bright sky and triumphant sun, sweeping this rash intruder away imperiously.
Wednesday’s child was full of woe as something mighty and dangerous swept through the hours of darkness. Like a charging cavalry, a relentless blast of freezing air, armed with thick sabres of snow, poured its scorn on a sleeping world.
The daylight came, dulled by a sky which was contaminated by its heavy burden of blizzard. Small flakes, but dense, as they conspired to cloud vision. They were like a rash which blocked the sun and sent the temperature plunging downwards like a waterfall.
The sun broke through occasionally, raising hope of an end to this onslaught but the snow clouds quickly closed the curtains and the leaden sky triumphed once more, firing its icy bullets down onto a silent world.
I looked for the Brown Hare I had seen in the last few days in the field opposite my house, basking in sunlight, so still I thought it was a molehill. I found it eventually. A black shadow in the snow was revealed as the head of the hare, with ears lying flat along its back, ensconced in the in a small drift. Occasionally, the ears lifted like a furry umbrella to flick the settled snow away.
I stepped out on Thursday into a monochrome world and a treacherous wind all the way from the other end of the world. The thermometer said -4 but the invisible bear tearing at my face with claws of frozen glass said -11. The nearby farm was periodically obscured by white wind blown chiffon.
Fieldfares, usually at home in the hedgerows and fields, shy of humans, were dashing between the tame hedges of gardens, prepared to tolerate a closer acquaintance with the deadly enemy in their quest for food. Their calls, harsh and guttural, echoed above the blanketing silence of the snow.
The snow creaked and groaned under my footsteps as I left the village and headed into the hinterland. Icicles hung like Damoclean swords from the gutter of a barn, as if a Dionysius was threatening the world with death.
I left the shelter of the last habitation, pitying the Mallards as they huddled on dull yet slippery ice surrounding the last small lead of clear water on their pond, and took on the ferocity of the gale. It tore across the large field and its ferocity was visible, like a Ringwraith, as it stripped snow from the ground and hurled it skywards like a petulant child.
A Carrion Crow huddled down, standing up to the blast, snow whipping past it like a speeding train, until it lifted off and went with the air flow, seeking shelter.
I persevered for a while, my layer of down blocking the worst of the cold but my boots struggling to find purchase in the icy treachery coating the ground. A Jay, its colours vivid against the dazzling whiteness, scrabbled desperately in the snow, trying to locate half remembered acorns from a time of plenty.
I retreated and decided to try my luck at Salhouse Broad.
The wind had increased to gusts of 30 mph and I was glad to find some respite on the path which was sunk below the level of the field to its left. Its giant, ancient oaks stood firm. Their gnarled and riven bark looked like the crevasses of an ice fall on some Himalayan giant.
A Snipe zig-zagged into the sky and disappeared without a word and a hundred yards further on I saw the barred chest of a Sparrowhawk, gleaming like slightly tarnished silver, as it hurtled out of the trees and barrelled across the fen, disappearing stage left. Bouquets of Blackbirds and Robins were scattered by its passage.
Robins bloodstained the snow and ice, appearing in ever increasing numbers, as if they were multiplying by binary fission. I had never known them to be as trusting and accepting of my close presence.
I reached the broad and half of it was coated by a layer of ice.
A raft of Coots, Tufted Duck and a few Pochard braved the choppy conditions.
A Pied Wagtail scurried around on the ice near the quay, a small ball of ice had formed on its leg but didn’t hinder its progress as it continued a never-ending quest for food.
Icicles hung into the open water near the bank, like the crystal pendants of a chandelier and I climbed through the frozen woods.
The scene was Bruegelian, white, bleak, with some trees covered with friezes of snow.
I retreated and wandered through deep drifts where the wind was driving the snow through gaps in the hedges to a crossroads.
Across the fields the stark skeleton of the beached whale that is Spinks Hill glowered black, thrusting its skeleton above the white torpor of the surrounding countryside. The spoor of a rabbit that had passed through earlier were pristine, unfilled by the spindrift that was pricking my face with its glassy needles.
I beat a retreat to the shelter of a hedge and returned to the village. More emboldened Fieldfares flew low along the street, cursing softly under their breath, before disappearing into hedges. Blackbirds, ever wary of their aggressive Viking relatives, followed in their slipstreams. There were no signs of Redwings, the gentler, smaller fellow journeymen of the Fieldfares. It was as if they had been erased by the snow.
A bird, which looked at first like yet another winter thrush, crossed a paddock before splatting against a fence rail. Its red and green plumage, like a ship’s navigation lights, revealed its identity. A Green Woodpecker. Usually they cling to tree trunks and look nothing more than a large patch of moss. Its head was held erect and the bright staring eye surrounded by black moustaches gave its face a gaunt, tortured expression. It flew on, dipping and rising, with its wings beating quickly, closing, then beating quickly. The cackling laugh-like call, which gives it its nickname of “Yaffle”, quickly absorbed by the white baffle all around.
A Siskin, all luminous green and yellow against the dull sky reflecting snow, watched me from a nearby tree. I usually see them in large flocks, high in the canopies of Alder, rushing around like boys out on the town.
I wondered how many creatures, both small and not so small, had had the life squeezed out of them by the icy talons of the swirling dance of competing weather systems which had conspired to send this armour-plated blast of raptor wind over half the hemisphere.
Of course, in a few days this freezing ice maiden in her icy lace gown would become just another memory, just like those that didn’t survive her terrible excesses.