On the first day of the New Year, brave souls in fancy dress head for the sea at Lyme Regis in the now traditional ‘Lyme Lunge’, organised by the local Rotary Club, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.
‘Dip into the balmy waters of Lyme Bay,’ the promotional material states. You can almost hear the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny doing the voiceover. But it’s cold in that there ocean. My brother swims about six strokes and then he’s out, like a flying fish.
Rather him than me.
The crowds watching are wetter than the swimmers. On the first day of 2017, it rains and it rains and it rains. Tonight, the Mummers will be soaked at Symondsbury as they perform their ancient play to welcome the New Year.
On the second day of January, shots ring around the Dorset countryside as the wealthy and bloodthirsty get their post-Christmas fix in fields several miles away. A grey wagtail, which is more colourful than its drab name suggests, is oblivious to the noise. It’s poised on a pile of cow dung, doing what it does best: wagging that distinctive lemon-yellow undertail and generally being cheerful.
On the third day, the ground is firm underfoot and footsteps crackle in the thick hoar frost, which makes everything sparkle like the diamonds in the seven dwarfs’ mine. Blades of glass glisten like star-encrusted scabbards.
I’m up before the sunrise, heading for Dorset’s highest point. The planets, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury, do a little show to light up the sky and then take a bow. The sun begins to rise slowly above a graceful beech tree and the triangular roof of a farm building, which become arty silhouettes in the sun’s path. Actually, I think the building is a pyramid. Why else would it be built on this spot, where the rising sun starts its journey each day above our village?
The next night, I’m in the field with the dog and see what I think is a horse, rather like the sinister one used by the Symondsbury Mummers as part of their act. It’s got spindly, ungainly front legs and it’s moving in a very strange way.
As I get closer and my eyes become accustomed to the gloom, I realise it’s a person. I don’t have my glasses on and it looks like they’re doing tai chi in the dark. Before you dismiss me as being fanciful, stranger things have happened in these parts. I once saw a man fly fishing in a field and another sitting in the lotus position on a rock in the middle of a stream, meditating.
Closer still to the tai chi man and I see it’s my neighbour, with camera and tripod, all set to capture in a photograph the slivery crescent moon and Venus and Mars, which are along for the ride.
And then it’s time to take the Christmas decorations down, before Twelfth Night when the Beaminster Gallery Quire sings in the pub. They bring us the kind of music performed by Thomas Hardy’s family and his fictional characters. Strong tunes and powerful harmonies.
We leave the pub to It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. The church tower is illuminated, the air is crisp and clean.
The village is full of coughs and colds. And soon it will be full of horses and hounds as the local hunt gathers in the square for the annual meet.