I was standing in the Yateley Gravel Pit car park on Saturday morning a half hour before the scheduled start to our walk. The snow was getting heavier and heavier and was already settling. The wind was strong from the east and it was bitter. Visibility on the A30 was poor.
I was receiving several texts and emails from our regular walkers to say they wouldn't be coming, and who could blame them? Conditions were awful. Then something strange happened - people started arriving! Soon the car park filled and others who had taken my advice to park in nearby roads came walking down the lane to join us.
So at 10:00 twenty of us set off across the common. We passed the memorial stone to the “faithful friend Roy” dated 1913 and on to Strouds Pond. The tracks here are very muddy but I had previously found a path around the mud but the snow now obscured it. Luckily I had placed marker sticks against some trees and that showed us the way and we got through with dry feet. We climbed a ridge and viewed several sites where heathland restoration work has been undertaken.
We then passed Gas Main pond, a recognised prime site for dragonflies later in the year, and on to Wyndhams and Hospital Pond. Wyndham and Stroud are local family names. We descended alongside the stream through the Royal Oak valley and onto Swan Lakes. Here on the causeway between the lakes we found Angus and Marilyn, who despite the awful conditions served up some very welcome tea and cakes. Many swans took a deep interest in the proceedings. Again we avoided the worst of the mud and were greeted by the sight of wild violets peeking through the snow.
At this stage I had four possible alternative endings to the walk prepared depending on ground and weather conditions. As the snow had now eased we crossed into the Darby Green playing fields. Now we had a choice of walking through the water filled paths or crossing a rather dubious log bridge that I had been adding to in the previous days. We crossed the bridge without mishap and talked about highwaymen and the tin church that used to be there, before heading back onto the common and on past the site of the first wild fire of the year and back to our starting point.
We had travelled just under six miles, we had seen four ponds, two lakes, a river and a stream and had encountered snow, wind and mud along the way but I think we all enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to lead a group who walked with such tremendous spirit and good humour. Many thanks to them all for keeping me company on a most inhospitable day.