Looking back at the last five winters, we’ve had quite a spread of variety. 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 were both characterised by fierce cold, extended periods of snow and bans on shooting wildfowl and waders. By comparison, 2011/2012 was a soggy, mushy affair that never really came to anything, stumbling uncertainly into spring after a few weeks of rain and early nights. Then there was last winter, which had some good cold snaps but which was defined by the stunning dump of snow right at the very tail end. Each of these winters, whether hard, mild or late have all had different impacts on the wildlife and countryside, so it is with some interest that I now keep an eye on the winter of 2013/2014.
Aside from a single transitory powdering of snow on the first day of December, this corner of Galloway has been wallowing in a mild, muddy winter without any real direction. There was a night or two of decent frost, but never the kind of thing where muddy ruts turn into concrete beams which make your stubbed toes throb. Here and there on the high ground I have found dubs and puddles which have a cellophane skin of ice across them in mid afternoon, but none of the bone-aching slash which easterly winds usually bring in December.
Following the serious amount of rain which fell overnight yesterday, Dumfries was flooded by the swollen river Nith, and I went down to visit one of the small tributaries where I watched salmon jumping in October. The misting amber torrent which, in autumn, was garnished with sprays of yellow leaves had become a gargantuan monster which made the air throb. The roar was almost deafening, and the little seat where I sat out to watch leaping cock salmon at my feet was entirely gone; sluiced away by thousands of gallons of aerated fizz.
A constant rumble rang through the stonework of the old bridge which serves as a vaulted ceiling to part of the cataract, and the river downstream had lost all of its delicate detail. The banks were swamped with black or charcoal wreckage where the angular boughs of ash and oak had been bodily ripped from their trunks further upstream, coming to rest in nests like charred cages. The little shingle banks where the dippers duck were lost beneath the rushing mass, and fine threads of root hung vacantly down from the steep cliff edges where the soil had been undermined and carried away into the soupy depths of the Solway.
While it looks like we’re having a mild, mushy winter so far, serious downpours are a close second to heavy snow in terms of spectacle and drama.