We ran across the Moor early on Friday. The sun had risen. It was light but it was a dull, resentful light. The pewter sky was reflected in the rhynes and flooded meadows. Some days the flood plain shimmers in a series of glittering pools and lakes, like silver and pearls. Today the landscape was lead and steel. The sky was endless and the wind nagged and tugged. Rain needled my face.
The birds were quiet, hiding from the wind. It seemed like a bleak and empty place. But ahead on the road there was a streak of fire. A stoat (mustela erminea) stopped and sat up, staring. During the BBC's Winterwatch last week there were stories and pictures of ermine, winter-white stoats, out of place in the warmer southern counties. They stand out in our landscape of mud and no one seems to know why they have broken their camouflage so completely. This animal, however, was brilliantly chestnut with a long, black-tipped tail. There was time to note its creamy bib, large dark eyes, neat ears and pointy chin before it hurried away towards the ditch. It flowed between the stems like a thick, furred snake.