A ringing alarm clock pierced the dark and woke me into a cold, still world. A glance out of the bedroom window confirmed that there was a heavy frost. The world looked pretty - from the twinkling stars down to the twinkling pavements - a winter wonderland that was soon to see me off to Beddington Sewage Farm. With a packed rucksack I ventured out of the back door to retrieve my bike from the garage, freezing to touch, not really all that inviting a prospect. The cold was chilling, but a four mile ride would soon warm me up. There was little traffic to detract me from watching my breath form into a grey vapour before my eyes. Apart from a fox dashing across the road in front of me my journey was uneventful, my eastward procession lit by the barely emerging sun. It all seemed portentous this dawning of the new day, full of hope and pregnant with possibility.
Cycling over Hackbridge bridge and onto Mile Road opened up the farm on either side of me, the fields shockingly white with a severe frost and clouds of steam rising wherever there was a fast running water culvert. In such weather these water courses were the haunt of waders that had fled the frozen settling beds. It was now light enough to bird, but the iron cold was suppressing much happening, save for the odd wail of a Lapwing and 'chack' of a Fieldfare. Above me a small flock of Redwings called, plaintive and lonely, but oh so wild. After locking my bike away and pulling on a pair of frozen Wellington boots, I strode across one of the fields, my progress traced by a dark line drawn into the silver vegetation by my meandering journey. As soon as I came across a free-flowing dyke I was met by an explosion of muttering Snipe, sounding like grumpy old men that had been unwillingly disturbed. A bit further along rose a Green Sandpiper, yodelling up into the crystal air, the bright light making the clear-cut black and white plumage hurt the eyes. A good start.
My toes were cold, my fingers numb. After an hours wandering I dug out the thermos flask from my rucksack and gratefully gulped down a cup of warming coffee. Where the sun had hit the vegetation the thick rime of frost had been removed, revealing the dead winter colours below. A few Tree Sparrows and Greenfinches were poking amongst the burnt caramel blades of grass, squabbling and flitting, unaffected by the cold. A flock of Teal flew overhead towards who knew where - all of the open water here was still frozen.
After a while I started to peel off layers of clothing - first the hat, then the gloves - and began to luxuriate in such a day. Not a cloud in the sky. Not a breath of wind. It even began to feel warm. The grass I now walked through was sopping wet, my welly boots slicked with water resembling a couple of seals. That early newness, of freshly-made frost and ice, was but a fading memory. But, if the weather forecast was to be believed, it would all be back again tomorrow morning. Are there better mornings to be out, to feel blessed and alive?