On this cold but crisp morning, the sun only managed to penetrate the mist at midday, by which time I was home. Gone were the delicately tinted skies of yesterday, but by the time we were lunching on Jackie’s sublime chicken broth, fluffy white clouds adorned a clear blue sky.
I walked directly through the forest from Upper Drive, turning right when I reached the road through London Minstead, and back up Running Hill.
There was not much point in trying to reuse the paths I had discovered last summer, because there were many freshly fallen trees, or their recently amputated limbs. Consequently,as I sought new ones, I often had to extricate myself from the evergreen holly branches, which seem to have proliferated.
As usual I followed pony tracks. Especially on the steep downhill slopes, when I had no skis, I found that the animals were surer footed than I. There was often a definite possibility that I would lose a Wellington boot to the suction of the mud.
The forest was silent, except for the squelching and crunching of my boots, the snapping of twigs, and the steady pit pat of moisture dripping from the trees. The general dampness of the season had produced emerald green moss and golden orange fungus with incredible richness of colour.
A tall beech tree had holes bored right through its trunk. It seemed to be surviving. Others, seemingly supported by their neighbours, lurched at alarming angles.
As I emerged from the forest and walked through London Minstead, I was aware of different sounds. The cackling of geese and hens, a cock crowing, a wood pigeon crying out for a mate, rooks cawing, and smaller birds chirruping. Until I reached the bottom of Running Hill I had seen nor heard no sign of human life. Then, a sound I recognised from last year, followed by fog lamps glowing in the distance, emanated from Jeremy’s hoover which he could only just squeeze through the railings by the stream opposite Hungerford Cottage. As friendly as ever, the man charged with clearing up the pony droppings, was only too pleased to turn off his engine, wind down his window, and have a chat.
In fact Jeremy was almost the only living creature I encountered this morning. But not quite. Through a gap in the holly bushes ahead of me in the forest I had seen the shadowy movement of possibly three deer. They are probably accustomed to the sight of my camera now, for they seem to enjoy a game of catch us if you can, as they prance fleetingly from view. This last picture had them in it when I pressed the shutter. I swear it did.
We had a brief, entertaining, visit from Jackie’s sister Helen, and niece Rachel early this afternoon. Rachel brought Jackie’s Christmas present and Helen brought some coffee and vanilla shortbread biscuits she had made. Artistic culinary expertise runs in the family.
This evening we dined at Totton’s very friendly Family House Chinese restaurant. The M3 set meal, which we chose, begins with plentiful starters of prawn toast, seaweed, and chunky lean spare ribs; shredded duck is then served with the usual additions, except that there are more pancakes than we are accustomed to; mixed vegetables, chicken and black bean sauce, shredded beef, and special fried rice share the top billing. That is quite enough for two. We both drank T’Sing Tao beer. We were the only diners, although the takeaway trade was, as we have noticed in more than one local restaurant, thriving.