Winter in the woods


We are out walking in one of my favourite Dorset places, the sky is an arctic blue, the ground is frozen solid and all the puddles are perfectly iced up; just waiting for us to crunch them into tiny crystals.  We walk at a fair pace just to keep warm, chatting away about our consecutive worlds of work and people.  Up here near the Cranborne Chase we are high; so high that we can just make out the Isles of Wight and their dazzling, white chalky cliffs.   There are mobs of winter thrushes and two red kites that are circling over the stubbled fields.  At first the trail is exposed allowing the land to share its sweeping story, but then it splits and we take the path down to Great Peaky Coppice, from here the view is curtailed by a large pine forest; a deep green screen that suddenly steals our light and space.  The mood changes immediately.

Just as we approach the edge of the forest I catch a fleeting glimpse of a goshawk, it’s broad, sinister, bluey grey pointed wings flailed outwards as it disappears at speed through the pine trees.  I ask myself ‘female sparrowhawk or goshawk?’ as they are often mistaken, but the sheer size and the fact that there is, not one but three, piles of pigeon remains on the nearby forest floor signify the latter; the debris of lives once lived torn apart by muscular talons.  Goshawks particularly favour woodlands like this where there are rides and glades for them to patrol.   They are seldom seen, partly due to their remote forest habitats but also because there are only between 280 and 400 breeding pairs in the Britain.  Ferocious hunters that epitomise wildness, they are sadly still persecuted.

Astonished that our paths have crossed, I find it quite remarkable how we get to see wildlife in places like this.  It is like we sense their presence before we see them.  That there is an unseen consciousness that connect us with them; a primitive understanding of our environment that we still possess, something that tells us to look up or in a particular direction.  Whatever invisible force this is, I am truly glad for it as this is a special sighting.

Still chatting, we follow the trail, getting lost and found.  Tree creepers, nuthatch, robins and long tailed tits keep us company as we trudge through the frost amongst lichens and mosses until we eventually reach the arching hazel twigs of Great Peaky Coppice.  The bright, icy sunlight streams in through the trees falling on the intertwined bundles of hazel trunks and the wet muddy ground.  Flocks of bullfinch travel through the tunnel with us.  It’s a fairy tale place that guides us though the woods.

We eventually head out of the coppice and begin to make our way back up the track towards the car to find a cosy pub and a hot drink.  It has been a lovely morning spent in good company and a timely reminder of all there is to love about the winter cold.


photograph of goshawk courtesy of RSPB