Alex James: Picture perfect as the season turns

Rural Notebook
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Suddenly cold: wet and cold but beautiful. Water everywhere, collecting in puddles, knee-deep in clear pools around farm gates, swelling hidden ditches and exciting quiet rivers into torrents. The meadow at the bottom of the valley was gone. Now there was just a huge flat black mirror. The entire landscape instantly transformed into another world, one unrecognisable from last week and full of different looking plants and animals. Snipe flew up and zigzagged off out of a clump of undergrowth. Not a soul around and, other than startled birds, it was perfectly still, as if it had all been there, unchanged for all eternity. All bold primary colours and simple geometry.

I thought I'd never see anything as pretty again but then the first hard frost arrived under the spell of a perfect full moon and I woke up this morning inside a Christmas card. It was all as festive as a Friday off and I found myself drawn down a muddy farm track with my best shoes on, just drinking it all in. There were a million things happening as usual, a million things to do. No matter how much I do and how much money I spend it will never get to the point where anything is finished or even at rest for a moment here. A farm is a lot of continuous processes and as the place was completely derelict when we bought it we are still playing catch-up.

I was about to meet with the tenant farmer and the land agent to discuss what we would be re-fencing, which tracks to hard-core, ditches to dredge and gates to replace but as my clean shoe broke through a sheet of ice and got covered in mud I realised I was smiling and no matter what happens, in a way the place is perfect and always has been. A ramshackle barn on the first day of Christmas is a sight for sore eyes.

Ready for a roasting

I'm regressing a little bit as a chef. I've designed a spit-roaster for the inglenook fireplace. There probably would have been something similar there 100 years ago, when spit-roast technology peaked. I've sent my modern version off to be manufactured. It's electrifying. Staring at the fire is my favourite thing, apart from eating. The idea of combining the two is almost too much excitement for a pipe-and-slippers man like myself.

A fungi old game

I still keep checking the field where the puffballs grow in hope but it doesn't look like they're going to sprout this year. There are a lot of much weirder looking toadstools in the exact spot where the puffballs normally are. I've never seen anything like them. Amazing that no one knows how to cultivate even a puffball, let alone these monsters. They either grow or they don't. We're still a bunch of stone-age hunter-gatherers, really, when it comes to mushrooms.