Wintry wanders through a frozen landscape

AFTER a positively springlike November that contributed to 2022 being the UK’s warmest year on record, December was a very different story.

COLD OUTLOOK: temperatures plummeted in December PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The first two weeks of the month saw the coldest start to meteorological winter since 2010, with high pressure and a cool northerly airflow resulting in a prolonged spell of low temperatures, bringing snow and icy conditions at times.

THIN ICE: winter arrives witha vengeance PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But the plummeting temperatures were accompanied by drier than average days with plenty of sunshine, allowing The Beyonder’s photographers to get out and about to make the most of the frosty mornings and chilly afternoons.

CHILL IN THE AIR: sunlight provides little warmth PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Bare branches and frozen berries provide striking patterns on early morning rambles, while the weak winter sunshine can create dramatic light effects.

ICY SNACK: frozen berries PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

Yes, there’s always fog and mist to contend with, not to mention torrential downpours and muddy footpaths where on some days it seems impossible to find any glimpse of colour to lift the mood.

DELICATE PATTERN: a spider’s web encased in ice PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But on crisper days when the ice forms delicate filigree patterns on spiders’ webs and animals’ breath hangs in the cold air, such rambles can still be a delight.

WATCHFUL EYES: sheep near Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It’s a time of year when the past feels very close at hand in our ancient Chilterns landscape, where small villages sit clustered round their ancient churches as they have done for centuries, spirals of woodsmoke curling into the air as dusk falls and the inviting glow of lamps and lanterns lighting up the cottage windows.

IN TOUCH WITH THE PAST: the Chilterns in winter PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Here, even those hallmarks of our industrial past, the railway bridges and canal towpaths, feel wholly immersed in the natural world, their weathered bricks polished and aged by time and the elements until it feels as if they must have always been here.

WEATHERED BRICKS: the canal at Wendover PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

After two winters of pandemic worries, families were on the move at last, undeterred by the icy conditions and rail strikes from planning long-awaited reunions and travelling a little further afield than they could contemplate in 2020 or 2021.

MUTED COLOURS: a frosted tree outside Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Closer to home, if many winter walks had a slightly monochrome feel, there were always those marvellous days when the skies clear to allow a spectacular splash of colour, as they did back in 2020 when windmill enthusiast Siddharth Upadhya managed to capture the beauty of the magnificent post mill at Brill.

CLEAR SKIES: Brill Windmill in 2020 PICTURE: Siddharth Upadhya

Meanwhile widllife photographers were looking to the trees, the sparse foliage making it easier to pick out our feathered friends, a perfect opportunity for first-time birdwatchers to begin recognising the different shapes and colours.

TAKEAWAY TREAT: a hungry chaffinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

For those wanting to identify birds by the sounds they make, there couldn’t be a better starting point than Mark Avery’s guides to different types of birdsong, worth exploring in plenty of time ahead of the spring, when the dawn chorus starts to grow in volume and variety.

EVERGREEN APPEAL: a mistle thrush at Cliveden PICTURE: Nick Bell

Early in the month, clear skies and the almost perfect alignment of the sun, Earth, moon and Mars allowed from some striking views of the month’s appropriately named “Cold Moon”.

For ancient civilisations, the cycles of the lunar phases helped to track the changing seasons, with different Native American peoples naming the months after features they associated with the northern hemisphere seasons (including howling wolves, which give us January’s Wolf Moon).

COLD MOON: the final full moon of the year PICTURE: Anne Rixon

Wrapped up warm against the elements, a woodland wander on a winter’s evening can make it much easier to imagine how much more familiar early civilisations were with those night skies and glorious constellations.

FESTIVE FEEL: Christmas lights in Chesham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But at this time of year even our towns have a magical festive feel, the sparkle of Christmas lights helping to lift the spirits now that the winter solstice is behind us, and nature lovers can start relishing the way that the days start getting longer from here on.

SHORTEST DAY: a winter solstice sunset captured in 2021 PICTURE: Anne Rixon

For many, this is a difficult time of year, when even nature lovers can struggle with winter depression on those short days when the sun is obscured and the landscape full of greys and browns.

FROZEN TRACKS: leaves crackle underfoot in the woods PICTURE: Gel Murphy

But that’s when those snatched snapshots can provide a welcome foretaste of the excitement of spring, when a ray of sunlight falls perfectly on a leaf or the mist clears to suddenly leave the landscape awash with colour.

DAWN TO DUSK: the sky glows outside Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

For winter ramblers, dusk and dawn are favourite times to brave the elements, not just in the hope of a spectacular sunrise or sunset but because those quiet times are also often the most promising for catching wildlife unawares.

WINTER SHOWER: a cold bath PICTURE: Nick Bell

Even when nature is looking at its lowest ebb and many creatures are dormant or hibernating, the hoot of a tawny owl, whistle of a red kite or bark of a fox or muntjac reminds us that our local wildlife is never too far away, even if we can’t always see it.

SMALL WONDER: the humble blue tit PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Furtive and fast-moving, or sleepy and nocturnal, our stoats and weasels, dormice and badgers are not easy to spot, but tracks in the snow and rustles in the hedgerows may give away their presence – and even our most common garden birds like robins, blackbirds and tits are all individually beautiful.

WINTRY WANDER: a path through the trees PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Come rain, hail or shine, our photographers are out in all weathers capturing the beauty of the Chilterns countryside, and we are enormously grateful for their evocative portraits of our local flora and fauna this December.

FROSTED BERRIES: icy treats for hungry birds PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

A big thank you to all the kind local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month, and throughout 2022. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for the coming year, contact on email or via our Facebook group page.

Rustles of life beneath the ancient branches

IT’S a chilly November night in the heart of the woods, with the star-studded sky casting a ghostly glow through the ancient branches.

Only an hour ago, the place was awash with autumn colour, the last afternoon rays of sunlight lighting up the russets and browns of the fallen leaves.

BROWN CARPET: leaf litter at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Now, although it’s not late, there’s little stirring among the frost-tipped leaves. The dog walkers have long headed home and most creatures with any sense have burrowed down for the night.

AUTUMN CHILL: temperatures drop as the sun fades PICTURE: Andrew Knight

The call of an owl pierces the cold night air and the occasional explosive flurry of a startled pigeon or muntjac is enough to get the heart beating a little faster, but for the most part these dark woods seem deserted.

That’s something of an illusion, of course. It may be quiet, but this is still a refuge for wildlife of which we often catch only tantalising glimpses.

IMPOSING FIGURE: a stag in Windsor Great Park PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

How often have we spotted a weasel or dormouse, for example? The occasional rustle among the leaf litter reveals we are not alone, and the reassuring hoots of the owls are a reminder that food is plentiful if you know where to look for it.

CHANCE ENCOUNTER: otters have been spotted on the Thames PICTURE: Nick Bell

But although a fortunate wild swimmer might bump into an otter in the Thames, or spot a bank vole preening its whiskers, you have to get up with the lark or mooch silently around at dusk to stand a chance of catching a glimpse of our more elusive mammals.

CUTE CUSTOMER: a bank vole PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

On night walks like these, it’s easy to have a sense of time standing still: of past generations sharing the same sounds and emotions as they trudged along the local drovers’ roads and ridgeways on just such a wintry evening in a past century.

FAMILIAR ROAD: time stands still on old footpaths PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Chilterns woodlands reek of history – of charcoal burners and iron age forts, of lurking highwaymen and wartime military camps.

PICTURESQUE: Finch Lane in Amersham PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Amid this picture postcard landscape, Romans built their ancient roads out from London, stagecoaches swept past on their way to Oxford or Amersham, and displaced Polish families lived for years among the trees after the Second World War…

IF TREES COULD TALK: ancient boughs at Burnham Beeches PICTURE: Andrew Knight

If the trees could talk, they could tell countless tales of past generations, of royal parks and medieval manors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, poachers and politicians.

SPLASH OF COLOUR: autumn puddles PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

November is the month of woodsmoke and fireworks, of first frosts and misty mornings, of fading fungi and a fabulous fortnight of burnished golds, yellows and russet hues as nature puts on its own glorious fireworks display before the trees get stripped bare for winter.

IN MEMORIAM: silhouettes at Waddesdon Manor PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

It’s a season of remembrance too: of poppies and memorials, of wreath-laying ceremonies and sombre thoughts of past battles and lost loved ones.

COLD BATH: swirling waters outside Amersham PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

As temperatures fall, this is that bleak, sullen fortnight or so before winter properly sets in that, we learned in 2020 from author and friend Alan Cleaver (better known in the Lake District as @thelonningsguy and for writing about the corpse roads” of Cumbria), Cumbrian farmers identify as “back end”.

WELCOME GUEST: a blue tit seeks out a snack PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The landscape may start feeling somewhat bleak and unwelcoming, but it’s a time when our bird tables come alive with tiny visitors and crisper mornings reveal gloriously intricate spiders’ webs and colourful mosses and lichens carpeting old tree stumps.

PLUSH PLUMAGE: a male bullfinch PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

Some less familiar faces may join the native birds feasting on the hawthorn, holly and juniper berries, while hedgehogs and badgers are seeking out comfortable spots for a wintry snooze – and there might even be a chance to catch sight of a stoat in its winter coat of ermine…a camouflage tactic that offers somewhat less protection now that our winters are becoming less and less snowy.

RAY OF HOPE: sunlight over Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Chilly it may be, but our timeless Chilterns landscape has not lost all its colour yet, tempting us out in our scarves and mittens in the hope of hearing the whistle of a kite or hoot of an owl, watching the wildfowl squabbling at the local quarry or the bats coming out to hunt as darkness falls.

Here, where the buried flints and pots beneath our feet remind us that this landscape has been home to people like us for thousands of years, we can smell the woodsmoke rising from ancient chimneys, watch the silvery Thames slicing through the fields and feel just a little more connected with the natural world around us.

CALL OF THE WILD: a stag bellows at Windsor PICTURE: Lesley Tilson

A big thank you to all the keen local photographers who have allowed us to use their work this month. If you would like to contribute any pictures, favourite moments or seasonal suggestions to our calendar entry for December, contact on email or via our Facebook group page.

Perfect time for a winter’s tale

JANUARY always seems the bleakest, dreariest, greyest month of the year.

But for anyone feeling down in the mouth about the lack of sunshine or suffering a bout of the New Year blues, help is at hand.


The 2019 almanac from the BBC’s Springwatch team provides a timely reminder that spring is around the corner – and in the meantime offers a host of tips of ways to step outside and make the most of the British winter.

The good news begins with a table of daylight hours: true, it’s a little depressing to be reminded that at the start of the year sunrise in London is after 8am and sunset a whisker after 4pm. But flick ahead to the next chapter and you’ve got pretty much an extra hour of daylight to look forward to in February.

For now, you can take advantage of any mud or snow on the ground to look out for the tracks of some of our more surrepticious wildlife, from hedgehogs to mink, weasels to water voles.


The bare tree branches make it easier to spot visiting birds and you can always take part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch, which has been monitoring the drastic decline in our bird population since 1979.

The sharp-eared can listen out for the vocal exchanges between little owls or barking calls of flirtatious squirrels, while more intrepid winter walkers may head to the coastline on the lookout for treasures washed upby winter storms.

The chapters are not a day-by-day guide to the natural calendar, but a series of snippets of seasonal delights, with occasional offbeat and quirky facts thrown in for good measure.


You can find out about an ancient ceremony in Herefordshire to banish evil spirits, for example, or learn some of the score of different regional names for the humble woodlouse, or chiggywig.

Along the way there’s time to recall the horrors of the Big Freeze of 1963 or how the red kite was brought back from extinction to become a familiar sight once more, soaring on the thermals over the Chiltern Hills and elsewhere across the country.

Before you know it, you’ll be in February – the shortest month of the year, with Valentine’s Day a reminder that nature also has an extraordinary array of courtship unfolding during the month.


True, it’s a little early to say spring is on its way – but the almanac provides a perfect way of keeping the winter blues at bay until those welcome longer days arrive.

The Almanac 2019 by Michael Bright and Karen Farrington features a foreword from Chris Packham and is published by BBC Books at £12.99.