Be ready for the weather (whatever it happens to be)…

For the weekend, and the few days leading up to it, the weather forecasts had been so vague as to be just about meaningless. A frontal system moving across from the west might/might not reach us; colder air from the north could extend this far south, but on the other hand…

Maybe both would make it all the way and meet above our heads in some post-biblical apocalypse. Alternatively it might just be grey skies and some drizzle – that’s always a sound bet in the midlands, in January.

Canal & Kinver.18.01.15_01 18 15_0002So, in the absence of any guidance from the meteorologists, we layered up for just about every eventuality and set off with no particular plan, other than that we’d start with the canal and feed any ducks we happened to meet. There were loads of them, and they cleaned us out of food in no time; to those who missed out, we can only apologise.

Setting off along the towpath, the weather was pretty benign, although with that extra couple of degrees more bite that you often seem to get near water. We were going to be out for no more than about three hours, so this would do just fine – it might even be possible to shed a layer as we warmed up.

Canal & Kinver.18.01.15_01 18 15_0014A spur of the moment decision led to us leaving the canalside walk and heading off towards the most accessible piece of higher ground – Kinver Edge.

‘High’ is a relative term, and even by the humble standards of our local hills the height of the ridge is modest (the trig point is at 538 feet), although there are a couple of steepish, if relatively short, pulls to be negotiated on the way to the crest of the ridge.

If we were going to discard a layer, this would have been the time; but it would inevitably mean stopping again to put it all back on, so we put up with briefly being a bit too warm. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be lasting for very long.

Kinver Edge is the southernmost point of the Staffordshire Way, and the place where it meets the merged Worcestershire Way and North Worcestershire path. It was also, for us, just about the point of no return in terms of this particular walk and therefore – inevitably – the place where the weather suddenly changed for the worse.

Canal & Kinver.18.01.15_01 18 15_0017What little was left of the day’s sun was quickly consumed by grey cloud and the wind, from which we had previously been sheltered, carried the first warning shots of a sleet storm. The temperature dropped several degrees.

This all seemed to happen in the time it took to cover a few paces and a quick glance in the direction from which the storm was gathering suggested it was only going to get worse. It did, with a vengeance: sky almost black; daylight virtually extinguished; rain and sleet horizontal in a biting wind, even penetrating the cover of the woods. And then it was gone…

Just as if a switch had been thrown, the weak sun was visible again, the rain and sleet eased, and the wind subsided – no wonder the forecasters hedge their bets. Any thoughts of being too warm were gone for good though.

Eventually we rejoined the canal towpath and finished the walk in near darkness; our eyes adjusting to the gathering gloom as the dusk thickened.

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Surprisingly, two weeks into January, a number of gorse bushes were already coming into flower

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Fifty shades and more…

I don’t know how many subtle variations of grey are scientifically achievable, but fifty is barely a start where nature is concerned – the greyscale palette available to the natural world seems to be just about limitless. Yesterday (Sunday 4th January) we had the rather eerie experience of a walk almost completely rendered in monochrome and seemingly viewed from behind a veil; I even conducted a little experiment to prove the point…

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The two pictures above and below are from the same image: the only difference is that the upper one has had the black and white ‘effect’ applied in a simple photo editor (iPhoto); in all other respects they are identical. There is some colour visible in the lower shot, but you need to be looking hard to spot it.

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The sun, albeit briefly, suggested that it might break through the clouds and mist, which had merged into a single seamless shroud. In the end it turned out to be just a suggestion, nothing more, and a short-lived one at that.

The land to the west of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal serves partly as catchment for the run-off from the slightly higher ground beyond. Eventually the water drains into the Smestow Brook, a tributary of The Stour, which in its turn joins The Severn at Stourport. Strange to think that the water which makes it as far as Stourport will, a few days later, pass beneath the suspension bridge and out into the Bristol Channel – meeting salmon and trout making an altogether longer journey in the opposite direction.

Drainage and soak away can be a slow process following periods of sustained rain, and pools will lie outwith the natural watercourses for sometimes weeks on end. Below are two slightly different shots of an area where water would not usually be found, but expanses of temporary swamp are not particularly unusual, frequently persist and often get colonised by herons, wildfowl, kingfishers even, before they eventually dissipate.

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Yesterday, with the temperature barely getting above zero, the ground bone-hard from a deep overnight frost, and the slack water frozen to a slurry, there seemed to be little prospect of this scene changing anytime soon; that said, today is already noticeably milder.

With the sun having apparently given up without ever making an impression, the mist, particularly where it hung above the surface of the water, began to thicken again – the near distance becoming increasingly indistinct and anything beyond fading completely from sight.

The familiar looking shape in the middle of a tangle of twigs did turn out to be a kingfisher. Unfortunately a closer shot was never an option as the boat (below) was already approaching its perch and it was gone within a few seconds.

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A heavily frosted spider’s web remained attached to one of the few patches of greenery we saw during the entire walk. A passing insect, had there been any, could have strolled across it without jeopardy.

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This shot of the boats in the distance was taken just before the mist began to close in again. The mixture of smoke from the log-burners on the boats and mist rising from the surface of the water was considerably more atmospheric when seen in the flesh.
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Throughout this walk I was wearing an item of clothing I’d never anticipated walking in – a Montane Prism jacket. It’s a lightweight insulated jacket – pertex shell with 40g primaloft fill – and was only ever envisaged as a throw-over for rest and food stops on colder days. As it was so cold, and because we would be following a canal towpath with only a couple of shortish gradients, I decided to risk it as an alternative to softshell/windproof layering.
The trial was worthwhile: I was comfortably warm from the outset but without ever overheating. Any spells of sustained climbing, or even the sun breaking through the clouds, and I would have expected to quickly become too warm. On the other hand, a few hundred miles further north and a couple of thousand feet higher and it might be a viable option on a cold, dry day.
The Prism seems to come in a limited range of colours; mine is a single shade of grey.