When rainclouds are gathering, and you just know that the mischievous wind will find the gaps in your clothing as soon as you step out of the door, it's tempting to use the weather as an excuse to stay on the sofa.
Don't! Embrace the weather as part of the experience and you might find a new perspective on places you thought you were oh-so familiar.
When brief days offer little in the way of energising light, it's more important than ever for our mental and physical health to get outside and experience the beautiful places nearby, like the National Trust's Greys Court, White Horse Hill or Basildon Park. We shouldn't let the weather get in the way. In fact, our Great British unpredictable weather is something to be celebrated. What on earth would we have to talk about without it?
More importantly, different weather can give you a whole new perspective on a place. Imagine your favourite walk in summer, at Basildon Park, for instance. You'd cross the parkland with the humming of insects and lowing of the cows in your ears. You'd feel the swish of your feet through grass and see tree-lines with every shade of green foliage.
How different it is on a snowy day in the dense silence of winter. Every sound is muffled except for the crunch-creaking of snow under your feet. The air is sharp against your face, fizzing with fine snowdust which catches like crystals on your eyelashes. The green wall is gone and unseen views are revealed like magic. Skeleton trees are silhouetted like sculptures against ash-white skies and their shadows stretch long across the ground. Why would you want to miss that intense experience, so different from the one you had on your summer visit?
Even rain can be a blessing if you take a moment to properly experience it. A hike in the rain is great for that "I'm the king of the world!" exhilaration of battling the elements. The very best place for this is White Horse Hill. You can walk across the hill with that wonderful view across six counties and actually watch the progress of an approaching storm. You can see so far that, if it looks like there might be lightning, there's still time to hurry back to your car before it arrives.
But there's a gentler way too. A peaceful potter around a garden to the rhythmic pit-pat of raindrops on your hood is a lovely thing. Greys Court's cosy series of walled gardens is ideal for this. It's comforting in wet weather to feel embraced by enclosure, and you're not wanting to look up at the views and risk a faceful of rain, it's all about the up-close. There's something about having your head cocooned in crackly polyester that really focuses the viewpoint. Maybe it's the lack of peripheral sound or vision, but you start to notice things, little close-up things that normally pass you by. Like the polished shine of wet stones, the vibrant colours of leaves or the gathering of a drip, paused and pregnant before it falls. Yoga types would call it mindfulness, but I see it as just an opportunity to get a different perspective on a place. And after the rain, there's the reflection in puddles and that special, wonderful smell of earth after rain. Not forgetting of course, the delicious feeling of warmth brought by a hot tea in the café afterwards– heaven. The Norwegians have a saying; "There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes." Bring it on and let's get out there.
Great places to visit in winter weather
Obviously if there's any prospect of lightning, avoid exposed places, but wild weather is best experienced in wild places. White Horse Hill is an exhilarating place to be when the wind is buffeting your back and inflating your jacket. The vast view with that huge expanse of sky is great for watching racing clouds and shifting curtains of rain.
Mist or fog
A crisp early morning with a rising watery sun can conjure atmospheric mist on the water at Buscot weir. Take a walk along the river and by the time you get back, the mist is fading out, revealing the colours like magic.
Frost or snow
Frost collects in the dips of the rolling Parkland at Basildon Park. It sculpts the landscape like reverse shading. It's also great for a snow walk because even when the usual landmarks have disappeared in the altered landscape, you're not going to get lost as you can always orient yourself with sightlines through the trees back to the house.
A gentle potter around the walled garden at Greys Court in the rain is a lovely thing. You can shelter in the dense umbrella of the centenarian wisteria if it gets too heavy and warm up in the tea-room afterwards.