Belfast Telegraph

Why chilly January is my favourite month

By Frances Burscough

Most people hate this time of year. The temperature rarely ventures above zero; travelling anywhere is treacherous; roads are slippery, homes are freezing, oil runs out, pipes burst and, after all the expenses of Christmas, money’s so tight that you just have to pile on a few extra layers, throw another log on the fire and brazen it out until the spring. Otherwise, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be long before you got frostbite.

Personally though, I love January. Call me a weirdo, but I’d rather sit wrapped up warm on a bench in a frosty garden enjoying the icy atmosphere than bask in a bikini on a beach towel absorbing the sun of high summer. As the barometer plummets my mood soars and when it actually snows I’m on cloud nine. Who cares that I’m long past middle age, the first moment a snow flake flutters past the window I’m out in the garden dancing with delight like a kid on Christmas day.

For me, first thing in the morning in the depths of winter is when the great outdoors is at its most beautiful. No matter where you are, a touch of frost or a dusting of snow transforms any scene and makes the mundane look almost magical. It’s easy to miss it when you’re rushing off to work or frog-marching the kids into the car, but if you get a chance it’s always rewarding and never a wasted moment to stand for a minute and admire mother nature’s wintry works of art.

And when the ground is hard with ice on a freezing morning you won’t be there on your own for long. Garden birds in particular have worked out over many years of cohabiting with humans that a good way to get fed is by approaching a friendly looking person. Robins are the boldest of them all and during icy conditions when it’s hard to pull up worms, they will literally eat out of your hand if you’re patient. I’ve done it myself many a time and it is one of the most exciting and rewarding wildlife experiences there is, to tame something wild and to claim it as a companion.

There is one drawback however which I feel I ought to point out. In order to do this you really need a ready supply of mealworms, as bread crumbs don’t really cut it any more with our foodie feathered friends. But if you’re not too squeamish to hold a handful of dead maggots then bobs your uncle and Robin’s your new best friend.      

The other thing I love about January is that the very wonderful Winterwatch returns to our screens and I can spend each weekday evening enjoying the antics of fellow naturalists who are just as evangelical as I am about the seasonal joys of winter.

It’s almost like a chat show for animal lovers, but as well as the cosy sofa format it includes reports, bulletins, films, live video and webcam action from across the length and breadth of the British Isles. Add to that the infectious banter and quirky humour of its three presenters — Martin Hughes, Michaela Strachan and (my most enduring TV crush) Chris Packham — and you’ve got the absolute perfect balance of enjoyable and informative entertainment.

This new series has been really special too, because the intrepid team are based in the Cairngorms – the coldest place in the British Isles – and this week they’ve had fresh snow every day and temperatures as low as minus 15.

So yes. I’m as happy as a pig in ... er .. . snow ... whenever it comes on. But my beloved Chris Packham – if he wasn’t perfect enough already – excelled himself in the latest episode, by sharing not just my love of wildlife and winter but of poetry too.

When he stood knee deep in snow on Tuesday’s episode and recited the following lines from Longfellow, I nearly swooned with sheer delight:

“Out of the bosom of the air,

Out of the cloud-folds of garments shaken

Over the woodlands brown and bare,

Over the harvest-fields forsaken,

Silent, and soft, and slow ...

Descends the snow.”

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