Country diary: sheltering from a hailstorm took me back in time


Weardale, County Durham: The valley was full of birdsong today, but in the early 20th century, visitors came here for a different kind of music

The early morning sunshine was too good to last. Driven by an icy north wind, dark bellies of cumulonimbus dropped a grey curtain of hail across the fells. Before it arrived, there was just enough time to slip into the steep-sided valley of Stanhope Dene, to find shelter behind a tree.

An ominous hiss grew louder, as ice pellets bounced on last autumn’s bronze carpet of dry beech leaves. A brief, ferocious bombardment, then the clouds parted and the sun broke through. As I left my refuge, so did two woodcocks, rising from almost under my feet; they too had been sitting out the storm, unseen, mottled brown feathers rendering them almost invisible among the woodland debris.

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