In the ‘back to reality’ period after Christmas and the New Year, the wintery months ahead can seem to loom over us as something to be endured, before the coming of spring and the welcome return of light and warmth.

It can be an uplifting time to take a walk, to open our minds to the landscape, and be reassured that nature is quietly paving the way for that much awaited season.

Lighting up the corner of the Chimney Meadows car park is a hazel tree full of hundreds of the dangling, crinkly yellow-green catkins of the male flower. Soon, the tiny crimson female flower bud will appear and wind will spread the catkins’ pollen to other hazel trees.

Walking down the lane towards Chimney, you can catch a glimpse of a barn owl silently quartering on a cold and frosty morning, or a handsome stonechat perched on a low, bare branch, and relish the remains of winter. Soon the sheep will leave these pastures, their grazing job done. Hares will crouch, box and chase, and cowslips will emerge. These delicate yellow flowers, also known as Ladies Fingers and Bunch of Keys, were apparently once as common as buttercups, and have associations with folklore, literature and medicinal use.

Continue towards the quiet hamlet where the remains of an extensive Anglo Saxon burial ground were found. Amongst the brambles look out for the tell-tale white rump patch and black tail of a bullfinch. Follow its flight path and you may be treated with a view of the garish pink breast of the male bird.

Take a left down the track where a flurry of redwings and fieldfares has feasted upon the glut of red hawthorn berries. Catch sight of small flocks of seemingly cheerful goldfinches partying from tree to tree. The first brimstones appear in the early spring, their butter colour thought to have led to the name ‘butterfly’. Further into the year, in the last of the light on mild evenings, pipistrelle bats make their way to a banquet of insects.

Notice, on your right, an example of the traditional country craft of hedge laying. Once used as a method of stock-proofing using natural resources, the practice encourages new growth. The art is fascinatingly idiosyncratic to location, with numerous regional variations in the finer detail of the technique existing.

Where the hedgerow ends a tussocky pasture opens up providing a habitat for beetles, mice and voles. It is no surprise that it’s here the buzzard patrols and the kestrel hovers - even the yellow-eyed, day flying short eared owl has been known to call by.

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Beyond the cattle grid, it’s decision time. Turn left onto the boardwalk to the bird hides, passing the small mammal habitat piles and the hay meadow, rich with wild flowers in the summer months. Alternatively, continue ahead to access the Thames Path. Downstream leads to Newbridge, passing the small church at Shifford on the opposite bank, while upstream will take you beyond Ten Foot Bridge to the charmingly named Tadpole Bridge. Or cross the lock cut bridge to walk through the island hay meadows to the ford at Duxford; moody, dark and dangerous after heavy rainfall, but idyllically sparkly on a perfect summer’s day.

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Throughout the year, by the river, spot the gawky-looking cormorant, bursting up from under the water and with a few noisy wing beats somehow becoming airborne. The Jurassic-like form of the grey heron stands motionless on the bank and, if you’re lucky, you may see the prize sighting of the striking blue flash of the kingfisher. Vow to return in the summer when the riverside vegetation teams with the turquoise of banded demoiselles and terns twist and turn acrobatically over the water.

Lucy Garrod is Assistant Reserves Officer for Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust