In my head I am Intrepid Explorer, fearless in the face of whatever Mother Nature slings at me, and resilient to hardship and discomfort. Having enjoyed gruelling years as a Brownie and Girl Guide, (back when it was less of a picnic and more of an unarmed militia), I still like to imagine myself as a romantic frontierswoman, a pioneer.
And so it was that I found myself waist deep in a snowdrift on Thursday morning in the middle of nowhere, with a howling gale sweeping directly off the Urals and into my frozen face as I battled up the hill out of our village to bravely go in search of a haircut.
The day before, after a few icy flurries and snowfall adequate enough for a little sedate tobogganing with Rose, I had wished so hard for a proper, cut-off-from-the-shops kind of snowstorm that I think it might actually have been my magic powers that brought us this spectacular whiteout. All night the storm had moaned steadily through the trees in Bratt Wood, so I jumped out of bed with butterflies in my stomach, and gasped at the awesome sight that met my eyes beyond the bedroom curtains.
I longed to get amongst it. My excuse was to be that I needed a haircut, and I knew that my hairdresser was stranded at home, captive to my needs, and only a mile and a half up the road. So, wrapped in cashmere, with salopettes over my jeans, a fur trapper hat (appropriately Soviet), a long quilted puffer coat, my Aldi neoprene wellies and Danny’s Marmot ski mittens I stepped out into the frozen path of The Beast from the East.
I was more than half an hour into my trek when I began to question my sanity. (I know, that far, right?) It reminded me of the exact same moment when, back in the summer I was less than half way up Snowdon at midnight, and was hit by the realisation that my romantic ideals seldom match grim reality.
Snowdrifts flooded the footpath through the woods but I hauled myself onwards, step by painstaking step, perspiration soaking through the back of my thermal vest and frostbite nibbling my nose. The monochrome landscape was disorienting, wild places usually so familiar when clothed in dappled sunlight and bracken, felt strange and hostile, flattened out and hardened by the blinding winter light. But I was buzzing with adrenaline, my blood coursing with the endorphins of someone determined to avoid being discovered in the thaw, curled up in a hollow, bones picked over by buzzards.
After what felt like hours, it occurred to me that my passage would be easier with the support of a stick, and, as if my Magic Wishing Powers were still evident, there lay across my path a fallen branch of perfect proportions. Like a native tribeswoman (in my head) I deftly broke away the little twigs to make a strong straight staff with which to test the deeper drifts in front of me and before long I had reached the field edge at the top of the woods. As I emerged onto the high field, the full force of the gale pushed me stumbling across the just-visible stubble tops and great gusts of snow crystals blew around me, but my euphoria brought on a temporary madness. From deep within I let out a full-blooded ‘Wooooooo-Hooooooo!!’ I knew, (hoped), no one would hear me above the roar of the wind.
Eventually I staggered, like Amundsen at the South Pole, into the stack yard of the farm where my friend and barnet-tamer Ruth lives. Her astonished face at the window was a welcome sight, and she ushered me in out of the storm where we fell about laughing at my ridiculous folly. “The lengths we’ll go to for a haircut, eh?”
Freshly shorn I ventured once more into The Beast’s Breath and decided to take a different route home. Ruth had warned me that the drifts would be bad across Totterdown Hill, but I felt strangely drawn to them. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by the huge white bulk of them, beautiful silky smooth dunes contrasted with the lumpen boulders of snow left behind by the snow plough in his failed attempt to clear the route.
Two and a half hours after I had left the safety of home, I was back, peeling off the layers of my explorer’s trousseau in front of the fire with a huge sense of achievement at having experienced Winter at it’s terrible worst. My thoughts drifted to the heroic existence of the late Hannah Hauxwell who died last month aged 91. She was made famous in 1972 (the year I was born) when a documentary maker uncovered her extraordinary life in a program called Too Long A Winter. At her remote farm on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales she was particularly cut off from the outside world in the snow, and for many years she eked out an isolated existence there, alone and completely self reliant. She had a uniquely refreshing approach to life, and continues to inspire me on days when things seem bleak.
I often think of Hannah, breaking the ice in the Baldersdale beck so her cows could drink, especially when I am trudging to the top of the garden to feed my hens in the snow and ice. She was made of tough stuff, and I like to think I have just a little bit of her strength in me. Sadly I am too vain to have set off on my adventure without first applying lipstick, but if I grow old with as much zest for life as Hannah possessed I hope to radiate with her same inner beauty one day.