We moved to Cornwall more than fifteen years ago, just in time for our first winter, and just like our previous home in Berkshire, the ground was frozen solid. A part of the previous winter routine had been intermittently checking the vegetable patch until the soil was soft enough to dig. Cornwall held no surprises in that respect until our third winter, a soft one.
We are close to the north coast and winter weather is dictated by whatever comes in off the Atlantic. The phrase that characterises our first soft winter was “where did all this mud come from?” After being accustomed to crisp and crunchy ground under our boots, soft and sticky, sucking and sliding was an unwelcome surprise.
In a soft winter, gateways become an opening to the centre of the world, because no matter how much mud you dig out, there is more at the bottom and the hole gets ever deeper. That was the winter when, in all innocence, I searched online for anyone local who could deliver hardcore – a startlingly long list of results, but nothing that would help firm up a gateway. Fortunately, the neighbours understood what I meant by hardcore and gave me the number of a local quarry who delivered ten tonnes of scalpings.
We are having another soft winter this year, which is fine because all of those pesky gateways are now packed with stone. Elsewhere in the UK there has been snow, but here, aside from a few morning frosts, the ground is soft and the temperatures are mild, and I was being bitten by midges a month ago. Down in our sheltered sunken garden, the white willow catkins are opening so it looks as if the trees are dusted with snow, and the hazel tree is a mass of its own trailing yellow catkins.
When we first came here, and I mean literally the day we got the keys, we took a stroll out on a chilly January day, and followed the boundary around. One of the first things we encountered was a fence along the top of a shallow cliff and down below lay an unreachable magical, sunken garden, a border of trees to the east and west, a view out to the north, gorse bushes draped with cobwebs and a light mist curling through. We were both smitten with that sunken (OK, strictly it was a terrace, but from atop the cliff it was sunken) garden. We walked on, all the way down to the woodland and stream of our lower boundary, ignored how much work was needed on the fences, and then back up, only to find ourselves in that magical sunken garden, looking up at the spot from where we had so recently looked down.
As it turned out, the sunken garden looked magical on a misty January day, but in the middle of summer it was a humid hell-hole plagued with savage biting insects. However, over the years, we have planted trees, made a few changes, and now it is becoming a pleasant piece of open woodland, shielded from the worst of the weather, and the place where the soft winter comes into its own.
Everything starts just a little sooner down in the sunken garden, including us. The first bits of pruning and trimming are done, new steps giving access down the little cliff will happen this year, the elder is in leaf, the bluebells are up and the buds on the daffodils are just starting to curl down, ready to flower.
I am not a fan of mud, but I do like the feel of our soft winter.
OMP Admin Note: Mark Huntley-James writes science fiction and fantasy on a small farm in Cornwall, where he lives with his partner and a menagerie of cats, poultry and sheep.
He has two urban fantasy novels out on Kindle – “Hell Of A Deal” (http://relinks.me/B01N94VXBC ) and “The Road To Hell” (relinks.me/B07BJLKFSS ) – and is working on a third. His contribution to the One Million Project: Fantasy anthology is While We Were Sleeping.
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