Friday, January 8, 2010

Great, Brrritain!

Britain is in the grip of severe weather - so is most of northern Europe and North America too, of course, but it's always worse in Britain because it takes them so much by surprise. "What's this? Snow? In winter?" It always paralyses the country, gritting lorries snowed in in their garages, not enough salt laid in, that sort of thing, though there's always an excuse - famously, British Rail once claimed that the rail network was at a standstill because "It's the wrong sort of snow."

The best year for snow while I lived there was in 1982, not so much for depth as for drifting, which made it really spectacular and enormous fun. We battled along the A40 as far as we could in my little orange Mini before abandoning it by the road and walking the rest of the way to the White Hart for the sacrosanct Sunday lunchtime session, after which we played: riding bareback through the snow, sliding down the carpark driveway at the Penny Farthing on a bale bag stuffed with hay... Good times.

Though it snowed in Fiordland right after I did the Milford Track, I haven't seen much snow here - my last was in Tasmania. I'd spent 10 days in tropical northern Queensland, in the Outback and rainforest at 30+ temperatures, and then flew straight to Tasmania to drive up to Cradle Mountain where there'd been an unseasonal November snowfall. It was very pretty, but I didn't have the shoes for it, so my walk around Dove Lake was a precarious business:

>>> 11am: Cradle Mountain Lodge is tucked into the trees just outside the National Park. It’s long, low and shingled, dim and woody inside and the air is warm and scented by the logs burning in the stone fireplace. I’m delighted to find my cabin has a log-burner too, all set and ready to go, but the pyromaniac within me has to wait. I snaffle the home-made chocolate and macadamia biscuits from the jar and set off for Dove Lake, a short drive away through green-gold buttongrass plains and open woodland.

11.30am: I begin the circuit of the lake, thrilled to find ankle-deep snow on the ground. It makes for wonderful photos of a cloud-shrouded Cradle Mountain towering over the lake’s tannin-dark water – but my smooth-soled shoes are a liability as I slither on the wooden steps and boardwalks. I teeter to the top of Glacier Rock, a huge, ice-scarred boulder on the edge of the lake and join another walker hunching away from a sudden snow flurry. "I was in Cairns yesterday," I tell him, and he laughs heartlessly. I pick my way along the path, taking old-lady’s steps on the slippery bits, collar up against sudden dumps of thawing snow from the trees. It takes me an hour longer than estimated, but the sun is out, the cloud has gone, the mountain and the lake are beautiful, and on a little shingly beach I watch as a bold currawong, a big bird like a crow, snatches an entire sandwich out of a man’s hand. I mince away, pleased to see other people have their problems too.

2.30pm: Near my cabin I spot a wombat trundling along just metres from the boardwalk. I crouch and watch as he works his way right up to me, busily chewing the wiry grass. He is almost as big as my Labrador, but with much shorter legs, and a thick glossy coat which I can’t resist touching. He scuttles away into the bush and I continue down to the spa.

3pm: I’ve tried the steam room and the sauna and now I’m hanging over the edge of the 36° spa pool looking down at the snow-edged stream tumbling over a waterfall beneath the pencil pines. I'm waiting for my massage and wishing I was stressed enough to appreciate it...

[Pub. Sunday Star-Times Magazine 8/7/07]

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