Paul Johnson

A winter’s day walk in the Quantocks

A winter’s day walk in the Quantocks

I shall remember Saturday 20 January 2006. What it was like elsewhere I do not know, but in west Somerset it was the perfect winter’s day. A great surge of happiness ran through me as I set off for my walk in the hills and coombs. It had been sunny the afternoon before but blustery. Now all was still and the sun was majestic in the cerulean sky, summoning his court. And they came! I swear a multitude of things had happened since the day before. In my garden were irises, peeping through the foliage, and japonica had just appeared, and winter jasmine and its coeval, honeysuckle. I found the first snowdrop in the churchyard. Then I spotted a whole ancient grave covered in these touching tiny white bells, harbingers of a mass of flowers which in company and succession cover this hallowed ground throughout the late winter and spring, with yellow, white and purple crocuses, aconites, primroses — my favourite flower for its colour and endurance, as it was Disraeli’s — and regiments of varied daffodils. Oh, the daffodil! The sun has brought out the first of these perfect flowers in the garden, a brave, minute spark of pale yellow perfection, catching an imperceptible puff of wind and dancing gravely.

It is wondrous how quickly nature responds to the first gesture of warmth from the long-absent sun. You can almost feel the earth, thawing fast, stir with subterranean energy and begin to heave with growth. In the first big field I cross, a young mare, still in her winter wrappings, is rolling over the ground with joy. At the bottom, by the stream, appears from nowhere and nothing a cloud of gnats, released from months of confinement — or perhaps just born, I do not know — and they, too, whizz about with delight in the sunbeams.

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