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‘Arctic Britain’: isn’t it beautiful?

January 10, 2010

Well, not being used to such a prolonged spell of sub-zero temperatures, the headlines are full of doom and ire about ‘Arctic Britain’ and how gritting lorries are getting stuck in the snow, the country is about to run out of salt, gas reserves are minimal, pavements are a deathtrap of icy rubble etc etc. (How the Canadians must be laughing at us, if any of you have noticed, eh?!) And indeed, our school run is a challenge, the first two miles being untreated rural road covered in a thick layer of sheet ice. (We seem to be one of the only counties in Britain whose schools are still open – typical!) We’ve had no central heating for a week or so, as our oil supplier is snowed in in the Borders, so it fairly bracing in most of the castle: you know it’s cold when you open the fridge door and get a waft of warmer air. With outside temperatures here dropping to minus 13 or lower at night, my reindeer skin rug from Cairn Gorm is coming in more useful than I could have imagined!

But we have wood-burning stoves and an Aga, and are fit and healthy. I sympathise with the elderly and people with pushchairs trying to negotiate the treacherous pavements, and offer lifts when I can. I’m concerned for our tenants up the glen, particularly for one elderly widowed shepherd whom we haven’t managed to get to since before Christmas (owing to a family crisis coinciding with the first heavy snowfall). He told me rather apologetically that he is spending a lot of time in bed as it’s the only place where he can really keep warm. What he didn’t tell me on the phone – our clerk of works found it out when he managed to get his jeep up to the shepherd’s cottage last week – was that his pipes had frozen solid and that he had been melting down snow for water. That’s now been sorted out, and with our Landie fixed after a breakdown we intend to go up tomorrow with a belated Christmas present and a good dish of stew and so on.

We’ve seen wildlife from mice to deer struggling in the deep snow, and have found a blackbird frozen stiff under a bush. But what nobody is saying in the media is how beautiful it all is. Is that very frivolous? As long as we all look out for each other, is it somehow wrong to be enjoying this freeze? Consider: once the Christmas decorations have come down, January is usually the most miserable month of the year. Dark, dreich and cold, and still three months until spring. Instead, we have snowmen, icicles, blue skies, sun glittering on the white fields, hills like white eiderdowns turning pink in the afternoon sun. (Yes, I do know how lucky we are to be living in rural Scotland.) It won’t last for much longer; so I’m enjoying it as much as I can while it lasts. When I was a child, the lochan on the edge of the village froze solid one winter and almost the whole village turned out to play and socialise on it, like a seventeenth-century frost fair. I hope that this winter will give my children similarly magical memories.

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