The Wonder of Winter
Winter. Just saying the word makes my teeth chatter. In fact, my fingers are already turning blue as I think about scraping the ice from my car windscreen. But despite the biting temperatures and long, dark nights of this cold season, winter does have a certain appeal. And let’s not forget, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.
This quote from Alfred Wainwright’s book A Coast to Coast Walk doesn’t just apply to those adventurers about to embark on an expedition with a pair of binoculars and a compass, it applies to everyone in every circumstance. Dressing appropriately is the key to enjoying the next few months, whatever weather comes our way.
Personally, I quite enjoy pulling on my fur-lined boots, wrapping myself in a woolly scarf and buttoning up my big, winter coat. There’s something satisfying about seeing your breath in the frosty air but still feeling snug from head to toe. Equally satisfying is that first glimpse of snow, that pure white blanket that transforms the landscape into a magical wonderland (at least until the postman turns up in his size nines). It makes me want to run outside and gather snowballs or marvel at the gradual formation of a snowman as I push a mound of snow around the garden, carrot at the ready.
That said, I can’t remember the last time I saw a proper dump of snow. A heavy frost, yes. A flurry of flakes, yes. But a proper carpet of the white stuff? Sadly not. I’m aware it’s nostalgia that has me yearning for this rare winter treat: those precious childhood memories of snowball fights with my sister and sledge rides in the park. My mum made sure I was always dressed appropriately on such occasions. The only skin exposed was my face and that wore the biggest smile you’ve ever seen – even as I hurtled towards a bush at what felt like 50mph!
As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to romanticise snow to the point where even a light dusting of powder now has me giddy with excitement and reaching for my coat. Unfortunately, my dachshund doesn’t share my enthusiasm. I don’t suppose snow has the same appeal when you’re only a few inches from the floor.
Over the years, I’ve learned to accept that if I want to see snow, I’m going to have to travel. In the meantime, I’m more than happy to embrace everything Ayrshire has to offer, whatever the weather. The beaches, for example. Beach walks are just as rewarding in winter as they are in summer, perhaps more so. They’re quieter for a start. But it’s the seasonal differences that bring a new kind of appreciation to a traditional summer pastime. Aside from the obvious clothing contrast where flip-flops are swapped for boots, shorts are exchanged for trousers and T-shirts are traded for jumpers and coats, it’s the transient changes to the beach itself that alert our senses to winter’s presence. Treading a path over frost-encrusted sand, for instance, feels strange to the point of bizarre! And more than once I’ve had to navigate my way over sheet ice as ribbons of water are frozen on the beach. Not forgetting the salty taste of the sea air and the roar of crashing waves – all enjoyed from beneath layers of warm clothing.
Away from the beach, Ayrshire’s countryside provides ample opportunity to pull on your bobble hat, shove your hands in your mittens and go and explore. Sprawling fields look picture-perfect when covered in frost and highlighted by an early morning sun. Frozen ponds and glistening white branches appear equally captivating, so too rolling mist and a winter rainbow. The glimpse of a robin completes the perfect seasonal scene. You’re unlikely to spy a reindeer but a stag isn’t out of the question. Or a donkey.
Returning home after a long walk outside in the cold can be just as gratifying as the walk itself. Imagine kicking off your boots, hanging up your coat and being greeted by the smell of a log-burner, the feel of a cosy blanket and the taste of homemade soup. You just can’t beat a bowl of steaming hot soup after a wintery walk. It’s a seasonal treat that’s packed full of goodness, the variations of which are endless. Thankfully, all kinds of weird and wonderful concoctions are beginning to appear on menus, providing spoons full of inspiration for your own homemade creations. Bearing in mind the rising cost of fuel, the warmth from a bowl of soup is like wearing an extra layer.
Of course, soup isn’t the only warming beverage associated with this time of year. Thank winter for mulled wine! I can smell the cinnamon just thinking about it. For some reason, I always associate it with Christmas markets, the unmistakable smell of Glühwein enticing me from other, less attractive, seasonal offerings: a limp Bratwürst to name just one. For some reason, it tastes better when you drink it outside, gloved hands cupped around a ceramic mug, sweet steam soothing a cold, red nose. I’ve made it at home more than once (well, not made it exactly, just poured it from a bottle and heated it up) and ended up grabbing my coat and taking it outside, gazing up at the stars as the liquid traces a fiery path down my throat. Add a cinnamon stick and a twist of orange peel and you’ve got the taste of winter right there in one decorative mug.
Of course, I have been known to enjoy this particular beverage indoors too. Unlike other seasons, winter always promises excellent television viewing. I’m not talking about those annual shows that clog up the TV schedule every Saturday and Sunday evening for months on end. No, I’m referring to those brilliant British dramas that keep us guessing from one episode to the next. Those cleverly-written crime series with an unexpected twist that entertain us during the long winter nights. If there’s one thing the UK can boast, it’s talented script writers and equally talented actors and this season guarantees both in abundance. And what’s the betting Martin Compston will appear in at least one new series? Yes, a cosy fire, my favourite slippers, a steaming mug and the TV remote – I’m looking forward to it already.
But before I get comfy under my new fleecy blanket, I will admit to proving Alfred Wainwright’s statement one hundred percent correct. A beer jacket definitely falls within the unsuitable clothing category. In my defence, I was only walking from the pub to the taxi and not from one coast to another. Even so, I really am old enough to know better. Still, it was nothing a mug of mulled wine couldn’t put right.