Wildlife & Nature

Solstice greetings

If someone had told me I’d be glad to see two or three days of fog, I wouldn’t have believed them. But after what feels like months (certainly weeks) of rain and wind, this stillness is blissful. The air is drenched and cold, the moisture clinging to your face and hands. The tops of trees recede spectre-like into cloud, and droplets are falling from the branches with a soft, regular patter. From far below comes the rhythmic sound of waves washing the shore. It’s lovely to stand and listen.

Yesterday morning, as I was putting out food for the birds, I was convinced I could hear a long-eared owl. A short, low ‘hoo!’ like someone blowing over a bottle-top, repeated several times at short intervals. What else could it be? Colin and I stood there for a few minutes, willing it to call again. But a different sound, higher-pitched, came instead: sea-eagle, Colin said. We gazed upwards into the fog, unseeing, wondering just how far away it was. I love how nature can transport you into another world.

And then this morning everything was sparkling with frost.  The full moon was gleaming pale silver against a pink sky, casting tree-shadows across the road.   As we drove into Oban, the surface of Loch Feochan had a skim of ice, and in the deep wooded hollows every branch was powdered white with hoar frost.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, and I’ll be very glad to see it. The lengthening days will be very welcome, even if the difference is mostly in my mind for the first couple of weeks! We don’t really see much increase in the daylight until the end of January. But the hazel catkins are sitting green and tight on the trees, waiting for the January sunshine to bring them out, and snowdrops everywhere are stirring in the ground.

These last few months have been busy for me in terms of writing. If you’re interested in exploration and adventure, you might like to look at a couple of blog posts over at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, about Sir Fitzroy Maclean and Captain Fred Burnaby. I’m also writing a series of blog posts for a hotel that’s due to open in Edinburgh next year – 100 Princes Street – with a theme of Scotland’s explorers.

And I have other news too… I’ve received an advance copy of ‘Britain’s Birds – a Treasury of Fact, Fiction and Folklore’, which will be published in March next year. I’m absolutely thrilled. It was such a joy to write, and it’s wonderful to hold a physical copy (it has a very tactile cover, too!) Joanna Lisowiec is the illustrator, and her work is brilliant.  ‘Britain’s Birds’ is available to pre-order via bookshops.

This year I’ve also written a children’s book, ‘James Croll and his Adventures in Climate and Time’. James Croll was a little-known Scottish scientist who worked out the cause of the Earth’s ice ages. His life story is exciting and inspirational, and the book was published by RSGS to coincide with the bicentenary of his birth. I had a great time working with the book’s illustrator, Dylan Gibson, who has really grasped the essence and energy of James Croll in his images.

I’m planning lots more blog posts here on The Hazel Tree.  Meanwhile, thank you so much for your comments and emails over the past year. It’s always lovely to hear from you, and to know how much heartfelt interest there is in this lovely part of the world. As Christmas approaches and the year draws to a close, I (along with Colin, and Purdey and Clyde) would like to send you the very warmest wishes for wellbeing and happiness.



  • Marie Macpherson

    Happy Winter Solstice, Jo. And huge congratulations on all your publications. You have been busy. Re the new hotel I always thought the empty dept stores should be redeveloped as hotels. Sadly many of the original facades were replaced by1960s brutalist fronts eg Boots, BHS, C&A, Littlewoods M&S. Please let me know if there’s a launch at ROSL! Warmest wishes, Marie

    • Jo Woolf

      Thank you, Marie, and my very warmest wishes to you too! I don’t think I’ve been more glad to see the winter solstice! I think these dark days get to us all when we’re already challenged by other stuff. You’re right about the hotels, I’d never really looked properly at Princes Street – above the ground floor shop facades anyway! It’s good that the ROSL building is upholding its spirit of exploration. I believe the launch will be sometime in June – I will keep you updated! Meanwhile all the very best, Jo

  • Janice Boyes

    Dear Jo, I am always made happy by the arrival of your posts in my in-box. With so little connection with Real people during this time of Covid, to read your post and see the lovely photos, lifts my spirits. Between You and Time Team on You Tube, my husband and I are happy learning about the history and Natural history of Great Britain, especially Scotland. Bless you and may you and yours have a wonderful Christmas/Yule season. Janice

    • Jo Woolf

      Dear Janice, that’s so lovely and I’m really touched and honoured that you and your husband find my posts so enjoyable. Thank you very much! It’s a joy to be able to share these places and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that they make people happy! I’ve got plenty more in the pipeline – working on one at present! – and meanwhile I wish you and your family a joyful and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

  • Ashley

    My! You have been busy! I will certainly check those links. (Have you read Ross Barnet’s “The Missing Lynx”?) Seasons greetings and happy winter solstice!

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