FREEZING fog curls in, and the temperature plummets to -2.5 as we motor towards Gussage All Saints.
These village roads are like ice rinks. Pulling on our walking boots, we skate past the war memorial and slip and slide up Harley Lane, past the 14th-century church.
The lane morphs into a track preserved in snow. We stamp on ice puddles. Plastic splinters croak and groan underfoot. Uphill, we bask in front of westward views slicing through the Gussage valley.
There’s an ancient drovers’ track, wide and hedged so animals could graze their way along. It’s so quiet. This is beauty – a silence, a sky that’s blue with no clouds, meadows that stretch and beckon. After a while, we gently ascend, and skirt around Burtt’s Harley wood.
Crossing a meadow with the sun on our backs, we get to Ackling Dyke – a road built by the Romans in the 1st century AD, to link Old Sarum with Badbury Rings. It’s a stonking 40 feet wide, to allow 10 legionaries to march abreast. Our boots crunching on snow sound like hundreds of feet, tramp-tramp-tramping. We wonder if 2,000-year-old ghosts ever come back here.
Starlings squabble frenziedly and white fluffy Old Man’s Beard rears and thrusts up against the blue, blue sky. We hit the road back into Gussage All Saints, a little bridge curving over the Gussage stream. Two large white birds flap past – seagulls, herons, snowy owls? One lands in a tree near Gussage Manor and we excitedly train the binoculars on it. Long beak, long neck, back hunched over as if in a bad mood. Do herons sit in trees?
The 16th century Drovers’ Inn is our new favourite pub. Along with a placid grey cat, we sit in front of a roaring log fire and contemplate the horse brasses, while sinking Thatchers Traditional and Boondoggle.
I’m startled to find Squirrel Salad With Hazelnuts chalked up on the specials board. Thinking it’s a joke, I order it, but the waitress assures me it is “real, actual squirrel”. How was it killed? Shot, says the barman. How does it taste? Like turkey, with a hint of liver.
By now, the cat’s jumped onto our laps for a snooze. There’s nothing for it but to refill our glasses, and wait till the cat decides we can go. Later, we find out it’s not even the pub cat – it belongs to a cat flap-less neighbour across the road, and just enjoys the company it can get in the Drovers. Clever cat. Wouldn’t we all do the same, given half a chance?