Winter light this far north is a mean light that shows little of itself. I asked my friend in Alaska if she had seen the Northern Lights on New Year’s Eve. They were a dazzling show of pulsating coloured light where we were. We compared latitude. Which was the first time I realised that bits of Scotland are further north than Alaska.
But now there is progress in the season, and the birds noticed first. They had been quiet all through the depths of winter darkness. Then, three weeks ago they began to sing a predawn morning call a first claim of territory. It’s not quite a dawn chorus, and I know in a few weeks time I will have to close my bedroom window at 4.30 if I want to sleep through the noise.
Often, days are begun with a walk along the River Esk just a short way from where we live. I like to move off the main path and follow the bank of the river. For months now the trees and undergrowth have been a uniform grey or light brown. All colour bleached away, kiln dried by winter wind and cold. Getting out on the bike has been a struggle. Some days there has been winds close to 100 mph, and weeks where it was just too dangerous or plain horrid to venture out.
Recently there has been a string of days without rain. This is unusual for one of the wettest winters on record. The wind has dropped, leaving the roof tiles in peace and the local slatters and roofing companies to get on with making their fortunes. The stillness has bought temperatures this week that have been the lowest of the winter, and now ice is the problem. I have the coast road. Everyone who owns a bike was on it last weekend, biking down to North Berwick and back.
The Met Office have decided to name every significant storm. Girls names are followed by boys name, starting with Abigail. It looked as if we were going to race through the whole alphabet in one winter. Three weeks ago there was a gap in the procession of storms crashing in from the Atlantic. I got out on my bike. There have been the Snowdrops and the first hope of growth and colour. I was near the small village of Bolton, an area of wide and open fields already sown weeks ago for wheat or barley. I heard it but did not register, then something connected. Skylark.
This is their area, the place I take people if I want them to hear Skylarks. Now they feature on almost every ride. Last weekend there were a large flock of Lapwings as we rode near Fala Village. They never look capable of anything as demanding of flying ability as a migration. Wiki calls it a slow irregular wingbeat, but you could visualise a paper bag caught in a stiff breeze. They are heading back to the uplands. In the week just gone, there is a smell of Garlic in the woods as the first Ransoms push up. They are almost hidden, but already their fragrance is there.
There are plans being made for tours of Scotland’s west coast and possibly the islands. It is not quite at the stage of getting out the maps and looking up where you can link together with ferry trips. Esther has a new job. A 4 day week that leaves Friday free for bike adventures over long weekends. The new job comes with one of the best commute rides in the country. It is about 13 miles and climbs 1,200ft from here to HQ in the small village of Humbie.
Monday was the first time it was light enough to try the commute ride. Ice meant that only main roads could be used. The ride began in the blue light of dawn and temperatures of 3’c down here on the coast. By Humbie it was freezing and a beautiful crisp low early spring light. The sun has got some strength now. There can still be snow, but chances are that it will not last now. We have the first long rides and Audax 200k’s penciled in to test the legs and make us get out to train. The new season is here.