To the hills again, to a landscape reduced, revealed and delineated by skeins of bare trees and hedgerows. Here, stillness, calm and the familiar, pleasing crunch of powdery ice beneath a waxed leather boot.
We see animal tracks we would normally have missed: deer hesitate for a moment before leaping over a fence into the next field; something else (fox? badger?) slinks beneath a gate; a heron takes a brief, solitary walk down a lane before flying off.
Pheasants flap and squawk as we pass – they are startled and startling; cattle low in pasture across the valley; horses in blankets snort and paw frozen ground.
In a small, stone pub, a fire crackles and spits. There is draught cider but, sorry, the kitchen is closed: no hot chocolate. We head off and pause elsewhere to sip coffee from a flask we thought to pack, just in case. On the common, children in bright snow suits slide bumpily down the hillside on bright sleds.
The churchyard is empty, save for the dead, laid down and sleeping through another winter. How many is this one? Ten? A hundred? Two hundred?
Dusk begins to settle and dove-grey clouds sink lower in the valley until hilltops disappear. We walk smartly up the valley side, up, up, up to the car. We turn on the headlights and drive home.