Wednesday, 1 December 2010


The view from our front door: The Old Bronte Cinema.

We had become used to the meteorological micro-climate that exists in Poole. This is a posh way of saying: no matter what was happening in the rest of Dorset, it rarely snowed. When it did it rarely settled and, if by some outside chance it did settle, it was usually gone again within a few hours. So the snowfall we are experiencing here in the Pennines is more than a novelty for us, especially as we live high enough up on the Brow to get a view right across this part of the Worth Valley to see the rest of the village stretched out before us-and thence to the moors beyond. It is strange to have the dark stone buildings, the green of the fields and the near black of the winter heather all levelled out to a pure white. It distorts the usual perspective and, to use that well worn phrase, it is another world.
So the Mudhoppers become Snowhoppers or more precisely due to the great need for caution with flagstones underfoot, Snow Waddlers-that awkward gait which involves placing the foot down squarely with each step, a method of walking which makes the buttock muscles grumble after a mile or so of this unaccustomed movement. But it is this mile or so which will get us through the village to Penistone Hill, our destination which no amount of muscle grumbling will deny us. On the way we pass many local kids who are dragging their sledges to any slope of their choice-all of them running about on the slippery stuff with no thought of mishap.Worse, they get away with it! Not tempted to follow suit, we stick to our waddling.
"The north wind shall blow, And we shall have snow..." as the rhyme goes. As hard as it may be for the Robin, poor thing, the Kestrel has probably got to work harder-what with all that hovering burning up thousands of calories before it gets some nosh. The hunter whose territory is on this part of the hill is  suspended in the air above us, more visible against the grey sky than at any other time of the year. The voles which it loves to munch on must be more elusive to with the predator so clearly evident. As we follow what we hope is the path leading across the hill, the snow making this well trodden path invisible, there is a sound in the distance which is difficult to place. To try to describe it: like the far off rumour of a storm approaching or-to give it a more mechanical reason for existence-a piece of heavy plant chugging some miles away, its sound borne on the wind. But then comes the realisation that the source of this whisper is not only closer to, it is all around us. The sharp northerly wind is blowing through the frozen heather and wavy hair-grass which is giving rise to a low mournful drone. It is little wonder that the moors can be an eerie landscape for travellers after dark, it is spooky enough in the daylight.
The view from Penistone Hill today is snow and yet more snow. In the village this hides all but in the further distance it accentuates some features: the occasional old farm building, an odd tree, a house built in an isolated spot-whereas all of these would normally blend in to their surroundings, now they stand out so starkly that you wonder about not having noticed them before. Below us is Lower Laithe Reservoir, the water level high after the rainstorms of a fortnight ago. Reflecting the cloud cover it appears like a huge sheet of ice, an illusion broken when a gust of wind sends ripples across the surface.
Everything around us is reinforcing that sense of unreality which comes with the snow: it causes inconveniences to everyday living, though this is largely due to the modern way of life when so much depends upon a system where everything has to be kept moving. So much so that to many people the only time that snow would be welcome is Christmas Day-and then they feel cheated if it does not happen. But to the rest of us snow is fun-not least because it makes everything slow down or stop, the air becomes fresher to the taste and the background noise level drops like a stone. For us Snowhoppers, we have left the central heating and kettle behind knowing that we can go back to them to warm up after. For now, we would not swap Penistone Hill and its surroundings in this bitterly cold wind for anything.