A little light snow begins to fall as my train nears London, not much, but enough to change the landscape. A leaden-grey sky merges with dead-looking trees, a few with white-covered branches. Some fields between Reading and Paddington have a little dusting, making Canada geese glow in the reflected light. Straight furrows are painted white and exotic looking male Pheasants seem unperturbed by the rushing alien monster only yards away. In the city the snow vanishes, but the bitter cold chills to the bone. It was better to be on the train.
From King’s Cross on the East Coast line, like magic the whiteness reappears, but now its frost. Welwyn Garden City speaks of Sir John Betjeman; the rhythm of the train reminds me of his nostalgic lines, his wicked smile and his wonderful statue at St Pancras Station. We plough on past flat, damp, green fields, where the white stuff has not visited. There’s little evidence of wildlife save for crows and hundreds of Woodpigeons and Starlings lining the monotonous telephone wires. A few nervous-looking deer venture out from the shelter of an occasional wood to raid winter crops. I know there’s other life out there, but we’re moving too fast. A hovering Kestrel is gone in the blink of an eye and silver birches, with dark brunet branches become all the rage. Winter willows and poplars punctuate the hedge-free landscape of over-improved fields; it’s so different from the diversity of Wales.
I arrive in time for the annual Christmas carol service for the Wildlife Trusts in a mediaeval sandstone village church. The second reading is ‘Christmas’ by John Betjeman; it brings a great lump to my throat and fills my whole being with pride.
The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day