December’s lurgy lingers on and work is frustrating, despite the enthusiasm of New Year’s clean slate; it’s time to escape the office and visit the Sanctuary. It is cooler today than yesterday but crisp and clear, bright sunlight too, and it feels good to be out. The streets are quiet and I scoot over quickly, keen to make the most of what will be a short lunchtime visit. The Sanctuary is a magical place; a haven in the middle of the city – largely unknown, it has Narnia-like otherworldly qualities. I am about to be transported.
Opening the padlock quietly, I slide in through the gate; it’s good to arrive unannounced – more chance of seeing things, but a pair of chaffinches clock me and sound the alarm. Not that there is obviously much around to be alarmed. On the water a Canada goose lifts its head briefly before returning to some vigorous preening while, nearer by, a squirrel mutters something at me from overhead. But, gradually, the roll call of Sanctuary residents begin to reveal themselves.
Pigeons uneasy at my presence crash through the branches above, noisy and clumsy, whilst at ankle level, blackbirds flit through the undergrowth. I feel slightly guilty about coming here and disturbing them. Then, from the direction of the tall pine, comes the mewing of the buzzard – I wait hopefully and sure enough there it is, wheeling slowly round. Huge and seemingly out of place, it fills the small patch of pale blue sky between the treetops. I have always assumed that there is a nesting pair here but I can’t actually remember ever seeing two at once; my twitching skills are not up to buzzard sexing and it dawns on me that I might just be seeing the same bird each time. As I watch I wonder if it is calling for its mate, or if it is indeed alone and this is a plaintive and lonely cry out for company, across the city and beyond.
I follow the path between the trees to see if the snowdrops are up; and there they are. Not yet in flower, although a few tight white buds are showing, the ranks of green spikes early harbingers of spring. Next week they will be up and about in swathes, the winter solstice will be almost a month behind us and the days will slowly begin to lengthen again. I carry on, startling a muntjac which jumps up with a kick and disappears into the undergrowth with a single sideways spring. A flash of tail and it has gone. And then a treat – big fat buds of bright yellow winter aconite, not quite open but tumescent with anticipation.
I heard the heron’s raspy call earlier – now I want to see if I can find it. I ease towards the lake, treading softly, but I am spotted and the heron slowly lifts itself from the water’s edge and glides over to the far side of the reedbed. A thrilling glimpse but just that; a brief look and no more. I realise that I have almost completed the circuit of the lake and it is time to return. Everywhere around are the green shoots, encouraged by the mild winter we’ve had. I feel invigorated – the gloom is dissipating and I am revived. The rains have been heavy, and I slither and slip through thick mud towards the gate.