December – so still now the wind has dropped, infolding, the world's whole sap is sunk. The roads have turned that curious dry white of cold days, sounds are sharp and thin, and the dew pools brim with water.
Today I walked from Old Lane into the lead-mining fields above Middleton-by-Wirksworth. Here the land is rough with hummocks and dips, and there are warnings to stay on the path as the earth may be unstable.
There are places where the ground has opened up overnight and it's riddled with underground soughs, mines and caverns. (There’s a story of an old man who used to walk from Godfrey Hole to the pub in Wirksworth (about a mile) through underground tunnels). In the summer there are cowslips and orchids, and great crested newts spawn in the pools. Today it was unrelentingly bleak.
Instead of taking the familiar route past the allotments, and over to road to Middleton Moor, I took an unfamiliar track that skirts the edge of the huge redundant limestone quarry, and drops down to Cromford. The track led through copses of silvery ash saplings, past a flock of untidy sheep resting under the hawthorn, through long empty fields bounded by stone walls. Below me the quarry was a barren cavity filled with machinery like calcified ancient animals. I walked for two hours and met nobody.
This evening the sun emerged, only to set soon after, striking the hills with brilliance, filling the house with coppery light – silhouettes of trees against a sky that changed by the minute - brush streaks of blue and rose, the yellow of stretched silk. Until nightfall and the sound of the owl in the orchard.