Christmas by the River Stour in Suffolk - 26/12/01

From: Laurence James
Category: Other stuff
Date: 26 December 2001


The wind rattles the wood framed windows of the mill. It's Christmas Eve. An eager labrador reminds me it's time to go out with a speculative lick of the hand.

A bright moon hangs in the winter sky, smiling at its reflection in the slate blue stillness of the stour. Walking by the icey water the dogs run loops around me, picking up on invisible odour trails in the crisp, crunchy grass. "Where are the rabbits?" I call, "and all the rats! Catch me a rabbit!" I yell at their upturned tails.

A dew drop at the end of my nose and pins that start pushing in to fingers and toes, and a scratch at an itchy scalp under a hot wool hat. My breath chugs out and hangs behind me in the air like an old steam train lumbering down the track. The railway did used to run down here in truth, from Sudbury right through to Bury St Edmunds, the place of my birth, and I now trace myself back down its forgotten line. Rows of poplar trees and ancient hedgerows are punctuated by the occasional pill-box from the second war. Were the German's really coming down all this way? I guess so, in their day.

A distant horse brays in a moonlit field and my progress continues.

Across the vast meadow the silver birches in the distance seem to be bestowed with a cleaner, sharper outline by the piercing blue half-light, and although the ground is hard my step quickens and I smile. The winter beauty has defrosted my mood and I think ahead to open fires, mulled wine and the warm company of family and friends. My heart is happy as I crunch through the snow like a child. Where is that sledge?

And what of next year? For there's something about this simple unspolit valley with its patient river and gentle slopes that gives me hope for the future. It's as if the countryside draws you in and holds you close, and gives you a sense of belonging. What will that new year hold?

A joyful bark and two wagging dogs bring me back to the track, and I lose my train of thought. And, conscious of my breath rising up in front of my face again, I turn for home. Whatever happens, I decide, it's bound to be very good indeed, I'm sure of it. As sure that this majestic river runs eventually to a wintery sea.

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