Rose Cottage. 64 metres above sea level on the River Wye flood plain half way between Hay-on-Wye and Hereford, via the back roads and a single track lane. Unless you know it, a secret part of rural Herefordshire. Welsh borderland. A landscape of orchards, wet woodland and fields.
We are staying at Rose Cottage over winter – a few miles away from our regular spring, summer, autumn residence (family caravan) on the hills above Clyro, the other side of the Welsh border.
Early December has clear days, blue skies and significant frosts. The cottage faces east and we’re treated to a sequence of sun rises that bleed through the line of bare trees at the far side of the field opposite, stain the frozen hedge and get me outside first thing with camera.
It is warm here, dry and light. We gravitate to the kitchen, work mostly at the table. The kitchen overlooks the orchard and without standing up we can see across to woodland, a glimpse of valley side, a backdrop of sky. The view is as productively distracting as we’d hoped it would be.
Orchard life is absorbing, even in winter. A flock of sheep come and go among the molehills and apple trees. We spy a pair of jays, a great spotted woodpecker on a tree trunk, a treecreeper on the gate post, several resident blackbirds and a thrush. We identify a fieldfare (not seen one before) and discover they are regular visitors to the orchard. Similar in size to a blackbird or thrush, they are pale underneath with a grey head, dark crown, a chestnut back and wings. A flock of fieldfares lands in the orchard one afternoon to forage for grubs and slugs. Despite their number they are difficult to see, camoflauged by wind-flicked dead leaves and meadow grass. Pheasants, squirrels and rabbits forage along the boundary fence between orchard and woodland. Magpies interrupt, and rooks guard the sky where – higher up – buzzards and red kites circle all of us.
At dusk we open the window to listen to the chink chink chink of a blackbird. Sometimes we hear owls, or skeins of geese honking as they follow the river. One evening a strange rasping sound we don’t recognise turns out to be a solitary sheep munching grass in the light coming through the kitchen window. The sky’s completely dark here, there’s no light pollution. On a clear night we stand outside in awe gazing at the stars, planets and the haze of the Milky Way directly overhead.
Halfway through our stay here and there are signs of spring: trees coming in to bud, one shrub already covered in pink blossom and a blue tit visiting the nesting box. Still we hope for snow – or rain – anything to keep us here a little longer.
Photographs by Diane Becker, more on Instagram @dot7seven. Drawings and prints by Mark Clements can also be found on Instagram @markjclements.