This has turned out to be one of the coldest Christmas days on record here in South Devon. Living on a boat, this has not escaped my attention. I haven’t been moving too far from the woodburner stove at night. For the second winter in a row I’ve been locked in ice for weeks on end. Around 2a.m. this morning I was woken by a loud bang and the whole boat shuddering strongly. It was around minus 10 Centigrade (~14deg F) and Maria had shifted as the ice thickened and expanded. Maria weighs around 30 tons. I climbed on to deck to check the thickness of the ice. A few hard thumps with an old wooden oar succeeded only in sending gunshot-like sounds ricocheting through the night and splintering the blade of the oar. I gave up and retired to bed. Maria is very stoutly built with oak frames at 11″ spacing, she wasn’t about to be crushed. I just don’t want the ice to get any thicker.
Christmas day was perfect: clear blue skies and crisp white snow underfoot. So after doing the family stuff in the morning I decided to take my son Calum walking in the Teign Valley through Dunsford Wood. It would certainly give us an appetite for Christmas dinner. Dunsford Wood is owned by the National Trust and Managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, with footpaths through the woodland and along the riverbank open to the public. In summer it is a great place to see huge wood ant colonies and the rare High Brown Fritillary butterfly. Year round it’s a great place to walk; light open oak, hazel and ash woodland on one side and on the other the river lazily gliding past (or thundering past, depending on season). As it happened, the river was doing neither along much of the walk on Christmas Day; or if it was drifting past it was doing so beneath a carapace of ice. We were lucky enough spot a couple of dippers (Cinclus cinclus) as we walked ( a first for my son). We watched one for several minutes as it skipped between sheets of ice-covered river, occasionally slipping beneath the surface where it found ice-free water. Unfortunately the sun was already low and the only long lens I had with me was way too slow, so I didn’t bother getting it out. As the sun set and the temperature plumetted we headed back to the landrover hoping that the stove would still be going when we got back to the boat.
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