Country diary: ice that’s hair today, but gone in an instant


Forest of Ae, Dumfries and Galloway: Hair ice fits its name perfectly, it is coiffed and has a parting, but as morning sunlight creeps across the river it vanishes

Mist is rising from the Water of Ae, turning gold as the dawn light slips across the valley through the forest of birch and pine. Fieldfares clatter down the path at our presence and a goldcrest calls sibilantly through the still air. Under the mist, a dipper stands up to its shins in the flow of clear water, bobbing with the ripples running over the rocks. I want to clamber down the bank and stick my finger in the river but by the bank I stop. A white branch catches my eye. I reach out a fingertip to feel that instead, and it crumbles to my touch like the powdery flakes of fresh snowfall.

Hair ice. Uncommon but a speciality here. It is one of nature’s finest magic tricks: the freezing temperature revealing invisible processes. It needs damp air and a fungus, Exidiopsis effusa, to form. The fungus expels moisture along the radial rays of the wood and when this moisture meets the freezing air, it turns to ice. The wood keeps expelling water that freezes into thin wispy filaments, strands of ice that are almost invisible individually, that form a thick fur together.

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