It's that time of year again when the post-holiday reality of winter has set in and the ostensibly lengthening daylight seems to take one step forward and two steps back. In this part of the world sun is in short supply, and every week seems to bring gales and downpours. When it's not storming it's just miserably mizzling, hiding the sun for days on end.
It's a real struggle to keep the faith, especially when the ground is too sodden to spend much time working in my own garden. Last weekend I tiptoed around slicing newly germinated weed seedlings from the clay mud. I might as well have been making bricks.
One antidote I turn to every year is a long walk with the purposeful intention to hunt for beauty and emerging signs of spring. Yesterday I rambled (well, squelchily slid) a few miles around a nearby forest. Aptly named Moor Wood, it is a little patch of clearly acidic soil hosting many of the plants I so strongly associate with Scotland. Bracken and brambles, heather and rhododendrons, ferns and lichens galore. I suspect these patches had been planted as game cover for a large estate many years ago. As if on cue, I flushed a woodcock from the undergrowth.
Nearer the villages were more definitive signs of spring, such as this day-glo patch of tiny Cyclamen coum growing along the (muddy) path.
Snowdrops are beginning to bloom, narcissus are budded up, and I saw the year's first blooming native primrose, Primula vulgaris.
So despite the mucky days of late winter there is hope to be found. And even if I don't love the mud, I did come across someone who seemed perfectly happy, ankle-deep and loving it.