Shrouded in a deep freeze of frost and ice, the January countryside may appear to be an inhospitable place for wild animals and humans alike. Yet life is everywhere, even on the coldest days.
From sparkling marshes and frozen falls, to brilliant birds and hardy cattle, we’ve come across some spectacular photography while putting together the January 2020 issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine. Celebrate the month ahead with a few of our favourite images.
Celebrate the month ahead with our pick of the best photography from across the British countryside in January.
To birds, feather care is a matter of life or death. It’s why they spend so much time rearranging their feathers until they lie perfectly, frequently after bathing or rolling in earth (particles of dirt clean feathers as efficiently as water). You may also see birds reaching round to pick up waterproof oil from a gland near the base of their tail, then wiping it through their plumage. To deal with wear and tear, most feathers are moulted and replaced every year, sometimes more than once.
Dew forms on a late-autumn spider’s web then freezes in the early hours of the morning to create a diadem more precious than any bejewelled trinket in a royal museum.
Loch An Ais, Scotland
The spectacular peaks of Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh and Cul Beag rise from the glaciated landscape, with Lochan an Ais nestled at their feet.
“I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape – the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn’t show,” wrote artist Andrew Wyeth.
Heart of Wales Line Trail, Wales
The Heart of Wales Line Trail was conceived in a 2015 pub meeting between rail folk and ramblers, and after crowdfunding and a lot of volunteer labour, it was born in 2019. A 141-mile waymarked footpath now connects stations between Craven Arms and Llanelli, allowing you to combine train travel with hiking. “And drinking,” Dave reminds me. “We’ve had a warm welcome in the pubs, it’s all been really good.” The Heart of Wales Brewery, incidentally, can be found at the Neuadd Arms in Llanwrtyd Wells.
Loch Duich, Highland
From Loch Duich and the familiar sight of Eilean Donan Castle all the way to Cape Wrath at the north-west corner of mainland Scotland, this is a land of wonders. Settlements here are small; distances between them are long and can be slow, especially when roads are icy. Winter journeys require careful preparation. If you venture far from the roads, particularly if going up the hills, experience of winter walking is necessary. Alternatively, go with a local guide. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, too. Winter storms are fierce and exhilarating – but you don’t want to be caught in one in the hills.
Sunrise over snow and water
A succession of sub-zero nights transforms the Brecon Beacons National Park into a winter paradise of snowy ridgelines, frosty fields and huddles of bare-branched trees. In the north of the park is Llyn Syfaddan, or Llangorse, one of the largest natural lakes in Wales and an important habitat for winter birds, seen here with the snow-dusted peak of Pen y Fan in the background. Make it to the lake for sunrise on a January morning and you may spot starlings, bitterns, water rails, coots, great crested grebes and kingfishers.
The hairiest Highlanders
Magnificently shaggy Highland cattle, seemingly unperturbed by the frigid days of January, possess a number of cold-coping characteristics, including a pair of long, curved horns: the perfect tool for uncovering food from beneath thick winter snow. They are a hardy breed, a characteristic noted by writer Daniel Defoe in 1724: “These Scots ‘runts’, so they call them, coming out of the cold and barren mountains of the highlands of Scotland, feed so eagerly on the rich pasture in these marshes that they thrive in an unusual manner, and grow monstrously fat.”
Learn more about Britain’s native cattle
Manchester’s iconic canal turns 125
New Year’s Day marks 125 years since the 58km-long Manchester Ship Canal opened to traffic. Construction of this incredible feat of engineering, with its five massive locks, took seven years and cost many workers’ lives. After Queen Victoria opened it in 1894, the waterway allowed ocean-going vessels to navigate directly into the heart of Manchester, turning it into Britain’s third busiest port.
Where are the UK’s most beautiful canal and riverside pubs?
Early 19th-century Cley Windmill, now a B&B, is a poignant landmark in a sweepingly romantic spot, presiding over marshes and the River Glaven in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Find the best walks in the Norfolk Broads
Wide skies and empty shores
The evening sun’s golden kiss sets the vast, empty sands of Holkham Beach aglow. Part of Holkham National Nature Reserve, the dunes are home to rare plants and invertebrates, including one of only two antlion colonies in the UK.
The spectral figure of the Mari Lwyd, or grey mare, is the eerie figurehead of a surprisingly cheerful tradition still observed in Wales today.
Winter’s wild beauty
Seed heads of wild plants have a unique loveliness in the cold months – and they’re a valuable food source for winter wildlife, such as goldfinches.
In winter, some birds disappear from the UK countryside altogether. But where do they go?
Crisp crunchy frost underfoot, bright, sharp air in your lungs: energise body and soul with a bracing walk on a winter’s morning in Petworth Park in the heart of the South Downs National Park, West Sussex.
- Discover the eclectic beauty of the national park with our favourite South Down walks.
Cumbria has one of the highest densities of peregrines in the world, with between 90 and 110 breeding pairs. Non-breeding juveniles migrate for the winter, but established birds remain in their mountain territories. Look out near inland lakes and on the coast for diving peregrines, which can reach speeds of 321kph as they ambush birds below.
A mile or two from the bustle of Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District National Park stands a lonely oak, at its most enchanting after a night of snowfall. In winter, trees like this slow their energy consumption and growth – a dormancy similar to that of hibernating animals. Fuel up on coffee and cake in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere then make for the hills in search of this wonderful winter spectacle.
Winter turns Pistyll Rhaeadr – a deep-cut gorge and crashing falls – to a frozen cathedral of tinkling icicles and petrified pools. “What shall I liken it to? I scarcely know, unless it is to an immense skein of silk agitated and disturbed by tempestuous blasts, or to the long tail of a grey courser at furious speed,” wrote the 19th-century author George Borrow in Wild Wales.
Majesty on the loch
The rugged setting of this picturesque west-coast village 30 miles north of Ullapool contributes to its icy conditions. The mountain peak of Suilven provides the perfect snowy backdrop to the village. Hike up it, or simply marvel at it, then head to the harbourside, where Peet’s Restaurant serves locally produced food with bonus views across the loch.