The meteorologist warned, “There will be snow, snow, snow,” but she did not mention the Boundaries. The best thing we could have predicted was sleet. Still, when the first flakes started dropping during breakfast, it was no surprise.
As is usually the case when we sit at our kitchen table lit up so that all passing dog walkers can watch them, such as displays at Madame Tussauds, this was not eaten before daylight. We turned the alarm clock off as a brief mid-winter indulgence, waking up at the first sign of light instead. This saves about an hour of the day, depending on how much you need to get done before bed, which is either good or bad.
As I might have said, Hoolet is like a snow globe, a self-contained blizzard bubble, when it’s sunshine or rain elsewhere. The night before we had agreed to walk the hills in the morning, and we were not going to be dissuaded by a measly coating of white.
The clouds were dripping over the hills, dropping spindly columns of snow, but the wind was strong enough to push it down, and it was probably gone before we got to them. We laced up our boots, pulled our hats with earflaps, and zipped them up to our necks as the snow fell softly.
We followed in the footsteps of a four-year-old who, electrified by the possibility of icy fun, had already hurried out with his mother. The sun came out quickly, and the trees started to drip. Following the four-leaf clover prints of a pack of Black Labradors, we crunched down the trail. A few yearlings were guided to exercise on the treadmill at the stables, perhaps to escape the danger of running away on the icy roads.
Just before we passed, the horses in the field had been fed and were nose deep in their buckets, not caring about the melting snow streaming down their backs.
We saw a wall of purple clouds filling the distant horizon and moving fast as we approached the hills after coming out of the forest. It reminded me of a holiday we spent in a cottage on the bay in Lochinver at Easter.
You could see the snow speeding towards you, popcorn popping in the pan as it rushed through the water, blurring your vision, and then it was upon you, standing at the window gazing out at the sea.
We rushed along. The wind was so wild by the time we were on the crest of the hill that I had a hard time holding my equilibrium. Our heads swirled around a few flakes. It was a tricky descent, over paths of frozen scree and rock, and I was trapped in the heather.
The first wave of snow came before we hit the bottom, crashing over us and obscuring the bright day as we were going east.
The snow fell hard even under the protection of the trees. A robin perched on a holly bush appeared out of the darkness. Fluffed up like a pom-pom, as if waiting for us to give it a treat, it flitted from branch to branch.
A gray squirrel scampered, twice its natural size, across our road. We met neighbors who had gone for a walk and were enjoying themselves when we entered Hoolet-jackets and hats crusted white, boots with ice tips-.
Having been living for years in the Northeast, this was their natural environment.
Winter shocks me as it arrives. It may be my favourite season — I come from a Bavarian family called Winter, which may explain that — and yet I forget how easily it could surprise you from one year to the next. It would be possible to get into trouble even in the hills around the village if you slipped or fell.
But to feel the severity of the cold, you do not have to be far from home. Standing alone outside toasting the holiday with friends on Christmas morning felt like being trapped in a walk-in freezer. That’s the issue with a nation like this: compared to the Alps or the Rockies, it looks benign and docile, but when the weather turns, it can be as harsh as the Baltic. And, as the statistics of injuries in mountaineering indicate, they are all too often fatal.
In January, February or March, those who want to cut off the winter heating allowance can spend a few weeks here to see how high the heating bills are.
Sir Walter Scott, who was a short drive from Hoolet, seemed unaffected by the snow that appeared regularly in his diary.
Although he was a compulsive hiker, every week he walked hundreds of miles back to