It is so long since we went for a "proper" walk - this is the first weekend when there has not been snow and ice around. So, come on - wrap up well, coat, wellies, scarf, gloves, woolly hat - the lot because there is a keen North wind blowing straight down from the Arctic.
We'll go down the farm yard and into the pasture - let's get the worst bit over first as that faces due North and yes the wind is jolly cold. Looking up the hillside I must say it looks very wintry in spite of the sunshine. There is not a sign of Spring anywhere. The ground is rock hard and bumpy so it is not even easy walking. Although Tess has her eyes and ears open, there is no sign of a rabbit anywhere.
Soon we are down to the beck. It is still quite full of water and fairly fast-flowing. The banks are brown and dead and as we approach a grey heron takes off lazily, tucks his feet in neatly behind him and lands in the next field. He knows we are no threat.
In the wood there is barely a sign of Spring. Here and there green snowdrop blades push through and several clumps of blue bells are beginning to come up, but they are slow to move. It is sheltered here from the North and there is already a little bit of power in the sun.
Along the beck side the farmer has piled up Nature's winter prunings ready to collect them for a bonfire. The twiggy bits are not thick enough to burn on the wood-burning stove but they will make a jolly old bonfire for a chilly day.
As we set off up the pasture I look back and am pleased to see that the line of alder trees along the beck side are showing red, which means their catkins are beginning to form - always a pleasing sign. In the nearby field I can hear the guns. Tomorrow is the last day of the pheasant shooting season and our two shooting syndicates have joined forces to shoot at both sites. I went this morning to have coffee and cake with Dominic and as I went down the lane past his house I met the shooters changing sites - twenty or so four-track vehicles full of grown men with boys toys - guns. How can they shoot the pheasants, already in their breeding plumage and looking so majestic in the sunlight. The answer is - they can - they all have bubbles of roast pheasant in red wine coming out of the top of their heads. I am pleased to say that although the farmer goes along for the ride, he does not shoot. I waited for all the vehicles to pass and thought how glad I was not to be a pheasant.
By now Tess and I are beginning to tire - it is hard work walking on this uneven rocky surface. We can see the farmhouse in the distance and quicken our pace. I decide to go in through the walled front garden and - joy of joys - a winter aconite has pushed through the mulch of pine needles and has a fat yellow bud. There is a sign of Spring after all.
Back at the bird table three cock pheasant are pecking lazily at the food on the ground - they saunter away and stand under a bush as we pass, ready to resume feeding when we have gone inside. They are such exotic birds in their chestnut coats and green hats.
I had seen evidence that a sparrow hawk had been plucking and eating what looked like a collared dove down by the beck - well they've got to eat and there would be more of a meal in a dove than a blue tit.
Speaking of blue tits, it is Big Garden Bird Watch weekend, so for one hour either today or tomorrow I shall watch the bird table and count the highest number of each species which I see at once. This morning there were sixteen blackbirds - hope they come back in the morning for my survey. One of them has a white wing feather, a white splash on its back and a white streak above its bill. I am surprised it has lived this long as it really stands out in a crowd.
Come back in, take your coat and wellies off and come and sit by the wood burner - I'll make you a cup of tea and you can have a scone. It was nice to have your company on my walk - do come again.