Winter Walks in the Vineyard, by Frances Jones

The bright sunshine urged me out of doors this Sunday morning, and I pulled on boots and a raincoat in readiness for a walk. Long-standing readers of this blog may recall I previously wrote about experiencing nature in the city. Living in the midst of a built-up area, surrounded by blocks of flats and busy roads, I tried to notice beauty everywhere I went and this would make a routine walk much more interesting, as well as raise my spirits. Earlier this year I left London for the Surrey Hills. It’s wonderful to be here, but I still feel the need to see and celebrate nature. I’d argue many of us do. So here’s what I noticed on my winter stroll.

I walked to the edge of town and found a footpath sign pointing the way. The path wove along the backs of houses, climbing gently through thick mud. I was on the north side of the town, with Denbies Vineyard stretched out on my right and wooded slopes in front. The path was bordered on one side by spindly sticks of hedgerow that silhouetted beautifully against the blue sky. Around the bare twigs curled the soft, silky flowers of old man’s beard, still intact despite the battering they must have had from the rain. Further up, the hedge filled out with evergreens and I noted pyracantha, holly, and brambles still with the odd shrivelled berry. The path now edged round a copse of beech trees. A bullfinch flew across my way, pausing just long enough in the uppermost branches of a silver birch for me to notice its colourful plumage. A blackbird hopped from twig to twig on my left-hand side, and the trees were now leaning towards each other, over the path, to create an arboreal ceiling. The trees in the copse had shed many of their leaves and, after the downpour the previous night, the copper carpet glistened in the sunlight. Over the crest of the hill, th

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e path turned into a muddy track that led into the vineyard. Despite not feeling that I’d climbed very high, I had views across to the east, west and north; if I looked due west towards Ranmore I could follow with my eyes the North Downs Way, which came down the hills, around the vineyard, and on across to Box Hill and beyond.

Being outside on this bright winter’s day felt good, and after looking up at the many shapes of the trees covering the hillside to my left, I stomped forward on a path between the vines. The tyres of a tractor had formed troughs in the mud, and these had filled with water, creating a series of similarly shaped puddles that reflected the light. I reached the edge of the vineyard and, as I looked for a way out, was drawn towards a rose that had gone rouge over a wire fence. A stem covered in rose-hips had arched itself over the top wire, and made a beautiful feature of an otherwise purely functional barrier. I hadn’t been feeling very festive, and the bright sunshine and clear sky were almost spring-like, but I was suddenly inspired by what I’d noticed on my walk.  Nature’s festive decorations were out here, bringing splashes of beauty in a mixture of shape and seasonal colour. I wouldn’t be bringing any home, of course, and, like others, I still like to light up my window with fairy lights in December. But getting closer to nature had, again, invigorated my spirits and set me up for the week ahead.

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