Country diary: a winter swim, and a bolt of blue


Otley, West Yorkshire: The radiant blaze of cyan down the back of the kingfisher hardly seems to belong to this planet

I walk down to the River Wharfe with a strange, restless feeling I have had since waking up. It is a specific hunger, but for something I can’t pinpoint – like craving a food I’ve never eaten, or wanting to listen to a kind of music that doesn’t exist yet.

During these lockdown months, I have visited this nearby stretch of river for a short walk on most days. There is usually something to see: cormorants, little egrets, grey wagtails, dippers, herons, roving flocks of finches. The landscape is ultra familiar, but these variations in the natural texture make every visit, however brief, a reminder of the dynamism of the living world.

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