And so the year begins

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.

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As the winds roar through the village, fear not, Spring is just around the corner

There’s a woodpecker rat-a-tat-tatting in the copse, pink blossom bursting out from trees on a garden boundary and catkins hanging delicately overhead as a gale gathers speed in a neighbouring valley.

Muddy puddles are open invitations for small children to jump in. Droplets of rainwater gather on five-bar gates, dispersed in a short-shrift shower when someone opens the latch.

It’s still slushy underfoot but there is a change in the air, as snowdrops peep out from grass verges, daffodils bloom in really rather a brazen fashion and the odd, prim primrose pokes out its head  just to test the air.

It will be Shrove Tuesday next week, the last day of feasting before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  There will be Lent lunches in the village hall from now until Easter, although whether there will be anyone in this village who actually fasts is another matter.

The pub will still be hosting Spice and Rice nights once a fortnight and the fish and chip van will be doing a roaring trade in the village square on Tuesdays. The community shop has a special cut-price promotion, with free cups of coffee for anyone who presents their special voucher which was hand-delivered around the village highways and byways by an army of willing volunteers.

On the coast, big skies compete with big seas, clouds create charismatic pictures against a backdrop of sunrises and sunsets. Silhouetted souls stand at the seashore at West Bay while crowds of people walk along the Cobb at Lyme Regis.

This is the place that Thomas Hardy loved, the rolling hinterland performing sensual somersaults for anyone with enough time to stop and stare and the seaside doing what it does, season upon season, year after year.

This is Dorset.

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