Interface Images
Landscape by Keith Ratcliffe  
© 2008

A Cold Snap

Our bird bath has been frozen for three weeks now. I say bird bath but that is a rather grand description of the plastic box that I put out to offer our avian visitors a place to drink or wash. Nevertheless it has not thawed out since late November and confirms my belief that we are experiencing a significant cold spell. This is our third winter in Stirling and the November & December of the previous two years were characterised by high winds & heavy rain in stark contrast to 2008. A quick check on the Met Office website seems to confirm the temperature and rainfall aspects but I can’t find wind records.

This spell has been good for walking and that certainly shows in my log – nearly twice as many days out in the latter part of this year compared to previous ones. Here are some of the highlights of this flush of activity.

Lammer Law  - An early start to get round Edinburgh set me up with clear blue skies, long shadows and grouse lifting on the moor tops. It was rounded off with a visit to Smailholm Tower to capture some more atmospheric images.

West Lomond – began with a frosty road walk then a climb up by Knox’s Pulpit where some sheep were delivering a sermon. The summit views were very extensive allowing easy identification of the snowy Cairngorm peaks. It ended with an icy descent down to the Bonnet stone that was well lit by a midday sun that was still low on the horizon.

Kinross – A fresh fall of snow prompted a family trip to Loch Leven for a short walk around part of the newly opened trail round the Loch. There was enough snow for to build a snow man and the memorable features were the frozen reeds and the view from the bird hide across to West Lomond.

West Lomond & Loch Leven

Menstrie Glen
– I had recently been reading about the archaeology of this area in a publication entitled “Well sheltered & watered”. I navigated a sea of frozen tussocks on the featureless top of Big Hunt Hill and from the top the low sun revealed the furrows (rig) of the ancient cultivation and the remnants of the dykes & dwellings. They were as clear as the captured aerial photos taken by the Luftwaffe in 1942 and now used as study material for the book. 

Creag mac Ranaich – A visit to the two Corbetts above Lochearnhead started via the Sustrans cycle way that was very icy and treacherous, luckily there were grass verges as an alternative. There was an interesting contrast between the soft snow in the wide gully leading up to Ranaich then crisp and crunchy ice crust on the flat top of Meall an t’Seallaidh. Another clear day allowed expansive views into the Central Highlands though a stiff breeze made it painful to look in that direction. Mine were the only footsteps on this walk even though the snow had fallen several days ago.
Icy grasses

Reindeer Run – My daughter & I took part in a Fun Run for the RNLI at Stirling University. In a temperature of minus 6 deg C we wore fancy dress & antlers as we slid round the 5K course.

An Ochils round – Starting from Alva this walk took me round The Nebbit and up onto Ben Ever in fine crisp snow. Memories include the clarity of the sky, stunning views to the Highlands, the vertical plumes from Grangemouth & Longgannet Power Station and the ice clad grasses that sparkled in the sun. The final descent into the Glen down a steep icy slope and the subsequent frozen path above the burn provided an interesting sting in the tail. The walk puts me in mind of a recent song by Elbow – “One day like this a year will do me fine”.

Craighorn summit

– More frozen paths after a very hard frost overnight lead me to the frozen bogs of Sphagnum moss & tussocks on the plateau. If the moss is 99% water why does it remain unfrozen when all about is rock hard? – wet boots & feet are the evidence of this conundrum. Highlights of this walk were the white hare that I disturbed who loped off across the waste without sinking in once and a fantastic range of ice shapes caused by several days and nights of freeze & thaw.

North Third – My local walk around this reservoir followed another minus 3 deg C overnight temperature. It is usually muddy underfoot but today the mud was frozen and it was the icy duck boards that were the hazard. I disturbed two deer grazing on the heather, who then crashed into the safety of the woods. Other encounters included a very vocal Jay and a flock of Widgeon that lifted noisily at my approach.

This remarkable range of outings will long remain in the memory as the ‘Cold Snap’ of 2008.

Keith Ratcliffe
December 2008

To see any of the Landscape diary items that you have missed please visit the Archive

Landscape Archive