February fill dyke, be it black or be it white

February is the first month of spring, although you might today be forgiven for thinking that here on the edge of Dartmoor we are still in winter. We have had heavy, persistent rain most of the day, and with the rain it has been cold. But should we expect anything different? There is a mid-16th century saying, “February fill dyke, be it black or be it white” and driving over to pick up one of the children the other side of Chagford, nothing could have been more accurate. There was standing water on the road, and the fields and ditches were wet and full.

The forecast for the week ahead promises snow and bitter north-easterly winds. So we may well get both black and white.

Never mind the weather or the forecast, spring is in our garden: snowdrops under the magnolia and crocuses in flower next to the witch hazel, yellow flowering H.mollis ‘pallida’, at the top of the steps. This year it has scarcely flowered at all. In contrast, the H.mollis ‘brevipetala’ at the far end, against the wall by the pond, has had wonderful rust coloured flowers.

We spent last weekend in the garden, tidying up and starting the spring clean. This weekend, the weather has been too awful although I was out for an hour or so mid-morning, clearing up the small strip at the front of the house, next to the street. When we bought the house, the sale particulars described this as a “small area of garden enclosed by iron railings and with slate paving”. The slate has now gone, replaced by gravel, and among the stone pots and a granite trough too heavy to move, are creeping thymes – and until this morning a lot of weeds, dandelion, wild garlic and grass.

But if our plans for the garden were stymied by the weather, the same cannot be said for the surfing children. Having been brought up in the era of thin wooden boards (which I didn’t have but which I envied) and cold Cornish summer seas, I am continually amazed that they think nothing of surfing throughout the year. Even though they have heavy neoprene wetsuits, gloves and boots, paddling out into a winter sea in fading light is not how I would wish to pass a February afternoon.

Today they were at Saunton, out with about 100 others. It has been quite a month for surfing. Storms the other side of the Atlantic have meant huge seas off the Cornish coast last week. Another of the children, studying at Falmouth, was surfing at Newquay on Wednesday, but, she assured us, not being jet-skied out to the reef two miles off-shore, where the waves were 40 foot and the surf attracting people from all over the world.

I think I prefer the moor, rain or not.

Rain and Wind

Our small corner of England has had an unseasonable amount of rain in the past week. The roads are deeply puddled and for those travelling by rail, the line from Exeter south, along the Channel coast, has been severely disrupted: an onshore wind and heavy seas damaging the sea wall at Dawlish and trains delayed.

Friday morning and Virgin Voyager trains were being towed into Exeter St Davids by heavy duty diesel electric locomotives, two services at a time; Friday evening, and with the rail company believing the weather was improving, one train was hit by a huge wave while standing at a red light outside Dawlish, stranding nearly 200 passengers for three hours. There is still a lot to be said for going outside to get a better idea of what the weather is actually doing. October is usually the month for rain although this year we seem to be getting it later.

But even if we suffer the weather, the delight of living here is that it comes over fast. So this morning was a more typical one for December, bright and a light frost underfoot as I walked Foggy over the Sentry. At 14 he moves slowly, enjoying the opportunity to revisit familiar smells and explore new ones. The sheep have been out of the Outer Sentry for some weeks, from before Bonfire Night, but their presence is still evident, to Foggy’s pleasure. The December sun was not making much difference to the frost and there was mist in the valley, down towards Hayne; looking west, the Moor was bright, new washed.

We won’t get out today and so another weekend will pass without being out on the High Moor but it may be just as well, as the ground will be sodden, the bogs larger and those tracks and paths that are always dry will be that much more crowded. Perhaps next week.

Sunday 4 December 2005