Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Black letters on white paper: poems for a winter afternoon.

Yesterday I drove over to Gamblesby, high up in the Eden Valley, for the monthly North Cumbria Stanza Group workshop.  Clumps of snowdrops flowered along the grass verges, in gardens and under dark trees whose black leafless branches drew sharp lines against the sky.

The roads were clarty, a wonderful dialect word used a lot round here at the moment.  No getting away from the mud this winter.  At Lazonby the road ran alongside the river Eden, flood debris clinging to fences.  On the riverbank were two pairs of oystercatchers in their impeccable black and white plumage.  Optimists making an early start for spring.

Stone walls confined the winding lanes to narrow strips climbing up from the valley.  The Pennines were gathering dark clouds.  I waited while an aristocratic-looking flock of black-faced Suffolk sheep was driven past by a brown collie, assisted by a man on a quad bike.

I was almost at Gamblesby when a pale shape crossed my line of vision.  A barn owl was quartering a small field by the side of the road.  I stopped the car (an excellent hide but not very safe in motion) and, as I watched, the owl swooped, searching for prey, and I could see its gold-spangled back and upper wings.

After the workshop the sun had sunk low in the south west.  The shadows fell deeply from trees and buildings.  As I drove back I noticed there had been a light snowfall on Carrock and High Pike:  snow’s tracing paper with black lines showing through.

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