Early spring is when the elevation contrasts of Britain’s mountains are clearest. These weeks I have been wandering through England and in Wales, climbing where possible, seeing what could be found among the valleys and hilltops.
The transition between winter and spring means that the valleys are warm, and the hilltops are still cold, so the zonation between snow-free and snow-covered areas is sharp. Mud and fields transition to occasional bunchgrass tussocks covered by snow, and then areas wholly blanketed under.
These quiet landscapes are beautiful reminders of colder and longer winters in other parts of the world. But unlike these other regions, these hills are largely bereft of animals, who can easily walk downslope to more suitable conditions. I saw no tracks in the snow on any of my explorations.
The snow is going. The winter has been a warm one, and the ice is melting.
So the streams begin to fill, clearing the hills of snow and bringing life to the valleys again.
A few species have begun their spring blooms lower down, bringing some color back to the land.
This willow (Salix sp.) has male flowers with stamens covered in bright yellow pollen.
And this witch-hazel (Hammamelis sp.) has beautiful dark-purple flowers.
Soon both these species will flush their leaves and begin to grow in earnest, relying in part on the snowmelt water coming off the hills. Soon the high places will lose their white cover, and the green will return. Soon the balance will tip, and the contrast between high and low will fade away.