Nature Notes: my last walk of 2020 through Gunby Park

Wildlife, sunshine, frost, mist, and favourite local views

If 2020 has been the year of keeping it local, then my New Year’s Eve walk has reinforced that theme. I have walked through the Gunby parkland hundreds of times over the last few years and at least 200 times this year alone. Although I can’t deny a sense of frustration that I’ve been unable to travel, there are benefits in getting to know a small patch intimately, and Gunby seems to exert a gravitational tug on me that other routes through the local countryside can’t match.

Today, however, just for a bit of variety, I chose a slightly different route through this very familiar countryside. I entered Gunby Park from the east and reversed my usual route until I hit the old railway line. Usually I cross this on the way up from Bratoft, but today I decided to head along the railway line in a south-westerly direction and make use of linking footpaths to Candlesby Park. I then returned through Gunby from the west and headed for home.

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Conditions were good but not perfect for landscape photography, with a crisp, hard frost and pockets of freezing fog but blue and featureless skies. The frosty ground and low winter light helped to accentuate the many earthworks: ancient holloways, cottage platforms and cultivation traces from the old village of Gunby, thought to have been cleared for sheep (or otherwise abandoned) in the 17th century, before the current estate mansion and park added another layer to the area’s history. Although the Lincolnshire Wolds is not as romanticised a landscape as the Scottish Highlands, centuries of sadness, pain, injustice and fading stories fill every hollow and bump in the land.

One of the holloways through the ancient village site. The modern right of way follows broadly the same line on its right-hand bank

Today I experimented with a couple of new compositions in this area. Reversing my usual route helped me to see the landscape in a different way. As expected, though, the light was a bit too hard for my liking on my first pass through Gunby Park, and the sky lacked detail. Although I’m not happy with the image I captured at the small pond near the Poet, I rather like the wider image near the old ash hedge on the edge of the southern field (pictured). The contrast and leading lines make the composition; with better light and sky this could be a lot more effective.

The old railway line is a walk I’m less familiar with, and I always look forward to exploring the surprisingly wild belt of scrubby woodland flanking it to the north. Today vast flocks of redwing and fieldfare were stripping berries from the hedgerows. They were difficult to approach and hence photograph, but I did succeed in capturing an image of a redwing I’m happy with and, later, a fieldfare foraging in a field. Other birds spotted along the old railway line include robins, wrens, a rather handsome bullfinch, and a goldcrest (which, frustratingly, I didn’t manage to get in focus — still, a wonderful sighting).

Between the parklands of Gunby and Candlesby I made use of connecting footpaths through agricultural land, stark and industrial compared to the estate parks and with little cover for wildlife. I did, however, see a treecreeper in a small stand of thorn trees at one point, and a buzzard sitting on a post in the far distance. As I entered Candlesby Park the landscape closed up again in a patchwork of small woods, meadows, and open wood pasture — much better for wildlife. To my delight I saw a very healthy-looking red fox trotting between the trees several hundred metres away.

Finally, I headed back through Gunby Park with my short telephoto lens attached, looking for details this time instead of wide-angle compositions. There’s a footpath that cuts through a belt of trees around the edge of the park towards the Icehouse Pond, and I always find this a good area for dreamy detail pictures. It did not disappoint.

I have always found the Icehouse Pond itself extremely challenging. Although one of the classic Gunby viewpoints that pretty much every visiting photographer wants to capture, I find it hard to see compositions here and never come away with anything I’m completely happy with. The light and sky were, again, less than ideal — perhaps being there two hours later would have made all the difference. However, I found the colours on the frozen pond surface most pleasing.

One day I’ll create an image here that I’m happy with, but it is not this day
Nothing special, but I do like that foreground!

Finally, I attempted a portrait image of a striking dead tree I’ve walked past many times but never successfully photographed. It needs fog, really, to hide the clutter in the background and simplify the composition, but I couldn’t resist the leading line formed by the frosted dead branch on the ground.

So, that’s it for 2020! My last walk of the year has been, in many ways, a microcosm of the year itself: finding meaning in the local and routine, seeing detail and life and beauty where once I’d have seen nothing. Although I hope I can travel to mountains and greater wildness in 2021, it would be a poor year indeed that did not also include many, many walks through the Gunby parkland and time spent listening to the voices of birds.

All images © Alex Roddie. All Rights Reserved. Please don’t reproduce these images without permission.

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By Alex Roddie

Award-winning outdoor and nature writer, editor, author, and photographer.

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