From the vaults: Hooching around (02/03/2011)

It’s a Iolo Williams word: Hooching; so it really needs to be imagined with a Welsh lilt, rather than the enunciation of my native black country, which is generally one of skepticism tinged with mild exasperation. Today has been a day for – if I have understood the meaning correctly – hooching around: wandering, meandering without much of a pre-conceived plan.

We set off in that particular cold which all walkers will recognise; a cold which defies all reason: not particularly low on the thermometer reading; no layer of ice covering pools or surface water; a light breeze, nothing more, so negligible windchill. But there is a cold, a certain peculiar cold with the ability to penetrate down through the layers and seep its way into the bones. At least it helped to clarify our thinking on the first part of the route – a couple of steep uphill pulls with the twin objectives of generating a little heat from the core and, possibly more importantly, getting them under our belts while we were reasonably fresh.
An hour into the walk and we both agreed that just a couple of weeks away from the hills – walking mostly on level or gently undulating ground – had had a noticeable effect on fitness; all a bit depressing really. Still, at least we were warm by now; apart from finger ends which remained obstinately raw for a while longer.

Walking in what amounted to a cloverleaf pattern we re-crossed a few parts of the route. It’s something we do from time to time and one of the things it highlights is the extent to which some of the mixed flocks of woodland birds move around, changing their groupings as they go; not just from day to day but within the course of a few hours. Coming around a sharp bend in the path we happened upon a cluster of long-tailed tits and nuthatches, working the same few branches in apparent harmony. That particular combination was one we hadn’t come across before.

It’s a time of change at ground level too. The woodland snowdrops, which seem able to colonise the most unpromising of spots, are showing signs of fading, and are being replaced by the many varieties and colours of crocus. They, in turn, will give way to the bluebells which will bring great tracts of the hills to life throughout April and May, when the temptation is often to sit and reflect rather than press on with the exploration.
The enduring image of the day, though, was probably a raven, sat at the apex of a derelict, ivy-laden outbuilding and making his presence very much known. The bird, the decaying structure in the process of being reclaimed by the land, the unkempt and uncultivated vegetation all around: it could scarcely have been more wild and, unlike Mr Trump, we saw that as something to be appreciated rather than manicured.

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