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Winter, taking flight

February 24, 2015

The weather this month is giving us the mixed messages typical of early Spring; or, as it is better named in these parts, the ‘dreich end’ of Winter.

Our little early cherry blossom and the first crocuses are blooming already,,24.2.15-1

but the days of bright sun melting frosted fields, and the growing confidence of birdsong in the woods, can turn in a moment to biting gales and snow showers.

A Turner-esque sky heralds an approaching shower of snow.

A Turner-esque sky heralds an approaching shower of snow.

Ruffled by the continual freeze, thaw and re-freeze of the water, the pair of mute swans who usually nest on the lochan by the castle have not yet settled down there. Most days there is one swan; some days the mate returns; one mild morning I heard the unmistakeable beating of great wings and saw that a third had arrived. This caused much puffing up of feathers from the established pair, who patrolled the water like galleons in full sail while the new arrival stood uncertainly on the bank. As it turned out, after the display they all settled down beside each other on the grass for a while. Was he, as seems likely, their offspring who was raised here last year with two siblings? If so, he was just paying a flying visit to mum and dad: next morning he was nowhere to be seen.,24.2.15-2

The parent swans thinking about leaving too.

Yesterday the cob and pen also left, if only until the next thaw. We humans enjoyed a very snowy day at the weekend, when our boys were at last able to build snowmen and have snowball fights for almost the first time this winter, and the castle looked dour but picturesque in the snowfall.

Snow picks out the angles of the castle's 15th Century towers and turrets.

Snow picks out the angles of the castle’s 15th Century towers and turrets.

For the swans, however, a layer of snow over the newly re-frozen lochan was enough to drive them away to search for open water somewhere else. Funnily enough, as I was thinking of them one evening, I noticed a cloud formation in the sunset which looked, to my eyes, uncannily like a great bird taking flight. I hope that the swans will return to our water soon, as Spring grows more certain.,24.2.15-5

You might enjoy A snowy spring or A glory of swans.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. February 25, 2015 3:49 am

    Wonderful pictures.

    I just have to ask, is it freezing cold in the castle in the winter? I was just wondering if the inside matched the look of the outside picture. It must be a nightmare to heat.

  2. boyd permalink
    February 25, 2015 5:09 am

    funny. i was wondering the same thing as Deb. Given the -30C incentive heat is always on my mind. how do you heat that space

    • February 26, 2015 1:07 pm

      Haha, Deb and Boyd, you wouldn’t believe how often we get asked that! It can certainly be a challenge to heat this place.

      To answer ‘is it freezing’, I would say no, it’s mostly OK now. We got the roof insulated over the summer, which has made an enormous difference. (You’d have thought that someone would have thought to do it over the past 400 years!) Now we no longer have icy air dropping on our heads in bed at night. As to ‘how do we heat it’, the answer is we got a new boiler put in a few years back which burns waste oil, and (now that we have a fairly reliable version) does a pretty good job in keeping parts of the castle warm. We don’t heat the towers, which are mostly empty anyway and have no plumbing.

      It’s all relative, I suppose. I am always amazed to see photos of people in tee shirts in their homes in a northern midwinter. It’s winter: turn the heating down and put some more layers on! I always wear plenty of layers of wool and just grab another one if it gets chilly – though I don’t much enjoy it when I have to wear mittens in the house, and I hate it when there’s a westerly gale blowing through the chinks in the walls and my feet get cold in the kitchen. But we have a wood stove in our family ‘den’, and mostly it’s nowhere near as spartan as people assume.

      If you want a taste of what it was like in the bad old days, you might get a laugh from

  3. hmunro permalink
    February 25, 2015 6:30 pm

    This post is sheer poetry! May your days soon grow warmer, and the birdsong more confident, and may you soon be posting photos of cherry blossoms in full bloom. xx

    • February 26, 2015 1:11 pm

      Thanks – though I think you lot on the frozen tundra are the ones in real need of warm days and birdsong! May it come soon. xx

  4. February 26, 2015 7:44 am

    Lovely to see that cherry blossom! I am sure it has had a bit of a shaking recently. What mixed weather we are having, but the crocuses are defiantly coming up around here too, and the birds are singing regardless of the wind. So good to hear!

    • February 26, 2015 1:13 pm

      It’s lovely to hear the birds adding another note or phrase to their song every week, isn’t it? This cherry blossomed at New Year, and manages somehow to keep going until Easter, through everything that the weather throws at us. You can imagine how fond I am of it!

  5. christinelaennec permalink
    February 26, 2015 10:35 am

    What a beautiful post. There are around 23 swans, of different generations, sheltering on the pond in the park near us in Glasgow. I have been fascinated to see how they tolerate one another, and will be curious to know when they feel it is time to go their separate ways to establish their territories and rear families. The sunset cloud is very special. Almost like a pink angel!

    • February 26, 2015 1:17 pm

      How lovely to have all those swans to watch. I’d love to understand more about their family bonds. One of our half-grown cygnets was killed last year by flying into a fence, and the family seemed greatly affected. When the parents returned this year, I saw one of them land in the field and stop for a while at the exact spot where the body had come to rest. Who can say what a swan’s memory is.

      The cloud – ah yes. Strange, isn’t it, that a mere conjunction of water vapour and light can have such a numinous presence!

  6. March 1, 2015 3:23 pm

    Swans seem so magical (we have few here – yours are real ones who do not live sheltered lives). It seems creatures have more family connections than previously thought (Humans are far too quick to think themselves special and dismiss possibilities in animals and birds? Maybe creatures are just smart enough to keep their mouths shut and thoughts to themselves? insert a few giggles here) How touching about the adult swan landing an searching a memory.
    Insulation makes a huge difference. We had a “rustic” cabin on one of our farms for weekends – Mom finally put her foot down during one icy winter saying if the water in the left in the kettle overnight had ice on it, something was going to have to change. For a while that meant dad got up to get the wood burning stove going early. Insulation came shortly. We grew up with “if you’re cold, put some clothes on.”
    Spring is coming – each front is bring nights less cold. Oddly a left over impatient in a sheltered spot in the yard is blooming today. Stay warm!

    • March 5, 2015 11:16 pm

      Brrr, I’m glad to say it has never been cold enough here for the kettle to freeze up. That’s pretty hardcore!
      I saw my first honey bee today, clambering about rather blearily, so that was an encouraging sign of the changing season.

      • March 6, 2015 4:24 pm

        We desperately try to keep something blooming during the winter for those brave honey bees that venture out. Some native bushes manage – and since they are the hardy nothing bothers them plants, we are happy to have them in the yard. Finally some sun although freezing. But the redbuds, pear trees and early bloomers are saying enough – winter move over!

  7. March 1, 2015 10:56 pm

    That’s picture of the turrets sprinkled in snow is magical. Wish we had some snow here, but it doesn’t often come west.

    • March 5, 2015 11:22 pm

      Everything takes on a magical aspect under snow, doesn’t it? We don’t get a huge amount of snow here, but we never have a winter with none at all. This year has been quite snowy so far.

      • March 6, 2015 12:21 am

        No snow in the part of south Wales 😦 For me it presents a challenge artistically. It’s quite interesting to try and capture the light on the snow. There are powdery midnight blues, very light acid blues, tinges of pink, glowing yellow, or sometimes it takes on a more grey, washed-out appearance that makes the surroundings look almost like a black &white photo. It just depends on the sky.

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