Tag Archives: Snow

A Snowy Walk in Wootton Fitzpaine

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With more flooding all around the country this week, here’s a more positive extreme-weather experience from the vaults. . .

We woke to find a white wilderness surrounding our little cottage. Filled with childish glee, we gulped back tea and threw on wellies, eager to be out. There had been snow in London that week, too, but it was nothing to this Narnia-like wonderland that awaited us.

Narnia

Narnia

The news had reported traffic chaos across South England, but in the tiny village of Wootton Fitzpaine in Dorset, just three miles north-east of Lyme Regis, all was still. We pointed our boots uphill and creaked over untouched snow towards Wootton Hill and Charmouth Forest. Snow lay in thick slices on gates and branches, and ours were the only footprints.

As we trudged towards the forest, the snow began to fall again, and we threw a few sly snowballs, reassured that the signs of our desecration would be quickly covered over again. Calling a ceasefire, we noticed some smaller tracks and looked up just in time to see a flash of copper against the white, as a glossy-coated fox disappeared into the trees. We followed him noisily and soon found ourselves floundering in snow that almost overwhelmed our wellies.

Snowy branches

Snowy branches

Locating what we took to be the path through the forest, we found our way barred by boughs weighted to the ground with snow. We clambered over these and deeper into the forest, where the silence was absolute, past columns of tall birch trees, their northerly flanks camouflaged in white while the opposite sides, hidden from the wind, were still bare.

Suddenly, we encountered a second pair of footprints; what looked like a man and a very large dog – perhaps even a bear, we surmised, our imaginations snow-dazzled. Something about these tracks struck us as confident, purposeful, and we followed them deeper into the forest. Here the trail became confused by hundreds of smaller tracks – birds, foxes, deer, and others unidentifiable to our city eyes.

We came across a digger, abandoned in a clearing and looking as though it hadn’t been used in years. Its corners and deep snow harvest provided a fitting ground for Round Two of the snowballing battles.

Rejoining the trail of our man and his bear-dog, as snow began to seep in through a puncture in my welly, we paused to glance at our ordnance survey map, in a bid to discover if we were even vaguely on our intended path.

But the white-out rendered everything strange and unfamiliar. We returned to following the tracks.

Whose footprints?

Whose footprints?

In another clearing, we built a small snowman, before numb hands and rumbling tummies urged us onwards again.

At an apparent dead-end we first began to doubt our guides, as their prints encouraged us to clamber through thick growth. Scratched and muddy, we emerged out of the forest at last and once again on a path of sorts, with fields belonging to farms surrounding us on all fronts. Peering again at our ordnance survey map, we discovered that the only possible route back seemed to take us across some of these fields. Keeping our gloved fingers crossed that any farmers and their dogs would take our trespass kindly, we stumbled on.

After having to retrace our footsteps several times owing to barbed wire, electric fences and unmapped streams, we finally arrived at the top of a hill, on what seemed to be a proper lane. For the first time in over four hours, we heard voices other than our own – children in a nearby field, sledding. Although, as we never saw them, it was hard to be certain.

Slipping in the sludgy remains of driven-over snow, we allowed the steep decline to tug our weary legs back towards home.

Lost in the snow

Lost in the snow

That night, our taxi driver into Lyme Regis cursed the state of the roads. “These lanes are atrocious!” he exclaimed repeatedly, bemoaning the lack of gritters off the main roads. We smiled out of the windows and into the dark hedgerows. The village is also without a post-office, a shop or a pub (and we never quite got up the courage to enter the village hall). A bus does call in Wootton Fitzpaine – but only once a week. Sentimental visitors that we were, the snow seemed just another tool in keeping the place isolated and to ourselves.

Icy Mists on the Bosphorus

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The Blue Mosque

Squeezed into a taxi meant for a smaller group, we crawled through traffic into the heart of Istanbul, European Capital of Culture for 2010. The heater blew hot air into our faces but outside sleety rain soon turned to snow.

When we’d booked our flights we knew we wouldn’t be experiencing Istanbul as most visitors do – basking on roof terraces in balmy heat, gazing across the Bosphorus from the sunny deck of a ferry, fighting with sweaty crowds in the streets of Sultanahmet – but nothing had prepared us for the four solid days of snow, for the feet quickly turning numb inside fleecy winter boots and the Blue Mosque appearing eerily through icy mists and swirling snowflakes.

Restorative apple tea

We quickly adjusted plans, made the most of the impressive tram system wherever possible and learned to factor in extra breaks to sip piping hot apples teas and delicious foamy sahleps (a local drink made from orchid roots but tasting like frothy custard).

Brave flowers at Topkapi Palace

After an icy exploration of the beautiful Topkapi Palace – admiring the valiant flowers of the Tulip Garden, yellow petals bright against the snow – we treated ourselves to an extended lunch in the excellent Rumeli restaurant.  It was quiet there but the service attentive. We nestled into our corner, boots lined up in front of the well-tended fire, and enjoyed delicious manti (Turkish ravioli), and piles of steaming bread.

Afterwards we felt too full and sleepy to battle the elements again, so we sped straight to the sixteenth century Çemberlitas Hamami, where we spent hours of steamy contentment, tipping bowl upon bowl of hot water over ourselves as sturdy Turkish mamas pummelled and scrubbed other customers. Gleaming clean and toasty warm we dreaded facing the cold outside, but found that our rosy glow lasted all the way back to the hotel, even when confronted with cheeky local boys wielding snowballs.

Another perk of being there off-season was that places our guidebooks described as being jam-packed were merely pleasantly lively. At the popular Pano wine bar we got a table with no trouble and were free to enjoy the excellent red wine until closing time.

Improvised sun bed in the Aya Sofia

In the Aya Sofia two huge cats sensibly warmed themselves in front of the floodlights at the altar. We were tempted to follow suit but instead kept ourselves moving, gazing at the stunning domed roof and stained glass windows.

At the wonderful Grand Bazaar the snow blew in through the fifteenth century gates, but the shopkeepers were chirpy and the banter lively. “You are English? Lovely jubbly,” one quipped proudly. Pretty ceramics and coloured lanterns vied with fake labels and tourist tat for space. I asked one shopkeeper if this weather was unusual. “We haven’t had snow for four years!” he replied. “You should come back in the summer.”

I certainly would like to explore that beautiful city again in the sunshine, but it was rather magical seeing Istanbul’s lights twinkling against the backdrop of an ice-blue sky in the snowy hush.

Snowy Istanbul