It's a classic British winter's day here. Not one of those snow-bound, sapphire-domed, chocolate box days of last winter - they were an anomaly. But one of the leaden-skied, howling wind, driving-rained days of most of the winters I can ever remember. A day to hunker down somewhere warm and batten down the hatches. Except I had promised to walk a friend's dog.
Even the ubiquitous jackdaws and crows had gone to ground when I went out this afternoon - though Jack, the springer spaniel I was walking, managed to flush a couple of disgruntled male goosanders who had taken refuge in the lee of the river bank. The wind was so strong that it was pushing the water back upstream, and white-topped wavelets scudded along against the flow. The goosanders meanwhile fought against the wind in the other direction, struggling to get away despite their slim, streamlined bodies. I'd tugged my hood way down over my face to keep out the stinging rain, so never saw where they ended up.
It's on days like this that I'm grateful for the existence of gorse - for when gorse is not in flower kissing is not in season. In the past gorse was used for all sorts of utilitarian things - brooms, thatch, fires, dyes. Now it's a plant of scrub and waste places, unremarkable and unremarked. But walking back from Dunblane this morning I passed several scraggy grey-green bushes of the stuff - all illuminating the monochrome day with their golden-yellow, fairy-light flowers. No coconut smell this time of year of course - you need warmth and dry days for that - but still so welcome. A tonic in these, the darkest days of winter.