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Let it snow

Seize the season and go walking in a winter wonderland Memory plays funny games. Mine tells me that a finger of Fudge was once enough, that my grandmother gave me for birthdays and that Last of the Summer Wine' used to be funny. I also seem to remember winters when there was so much snow that school was called off and streets magically cleared of traffic to become a carnival of sledges and snowballs, pink cheeks and frozen fingers.


Did any of all of this really happen? Were snowy days really great outdoor experiences, or was I snuggled up by a radiator watching John Noakes and Shep? Then I open the car door, and a blast of cold air hits me like a truth drug. I know instantly that a full-on winter's day really was exhilarating fun, and a thousand memories flood back of ghastly bobble hats, hot squash, red noses and soggy gloves. As the Fast Show's' resident hoodie would say, "Isn't winter brilliant?" So I'm snow chasing. I've watched the forecast and studiously ignored Met Office warnings to stay off the roads, all in a bid to relive my childhood love affair with winter. My goal is a tramp through frost, snow and ice, and a steady drive delivered me to the handsome town of Rothbury, just outside Northumberland National Park for a walk with friend and walking guide Jon Monks.


We've not planned anything ambitious, we're not tackling the Eiger or planning to camp out in an igloo. We simply want to leave our Vibram footprints in virgin snow, feel the prickly sting of the chill on our faces and savour a hot coffee in the lee of an icy wind. And it seems we're the only ones with the idea that this is fun. There's still no one around as we cross the unwelcoming waters of the River Coquet and start our climb up through Rothbury to the hillside terraces that overlook the town and river valley. Jon jokes that if we had an altimeter we could measure the rise in house prices as the contours climb (the hillside below is called Beggars Rigg!).


We're dressed like Michelin men, as wide as we are tall, yet still not as warm as the curly-coated cattle and heavily fleeced sheep that eye us suspiciously through clouds of condensed breath. With a fresh carpet of snow, their grazing pastures have transformed into barren, wild landscapes, and the outline of the Cheviots on the horizon reinforces this impression of a polar expedition. From Carriageway Drive we peer down into Coquetdale at pre-Enclosure agricultural strips, while the playtime cries of children echo up from the valley floor, as if carried on the plumes of chimney smoke. South over the river Jon points out Sharp's Folly, a 1720's monument built by Reverend Sharp to give work to unemployed stone masons and to indulge his own passion for astronomy. The further from town we walk, the more flawless the snow, and it's with the glee of a vandal I stamp boot prints into the white icing.


Familiar features like walls, fences and tracks begin to disappear as we leave Physic Lane and head on to moorland, sticking to the snow rather than the ice-filled ruts. I wonder whether Coquetdale has ever looked so pretty. Tom (our photographer) scampers up a slope to crawl below a ledge where icicles have Stars in Their Eyes'. "To-night, Matthew, I'm going to be a stalactite." It's the perfect hideaway for a felon fleeing the hue and cry, and it's surprisingly warm out of the wind. It reminds me of the childhood dens I'd make with friends, somewhere to store our 'interesting' rocks and fossils, alongside a fletcher's store of sticks and feathers that we never managed to turn into arrows.


It would make a great spot for a coffee stop, but bowing to photographic pressure, Jon and I instead pose on a cairn of scattered rocks, exposed to a monumental view over the neighbouring hills and an express wind from Siberia. It's an awesome panorama but not one for leisurely appreciation today. Winter walks work if you keep moving, so we are soon striding out into the protection of a wood, where the wind can't reach us and the silence is broken only by the crunch of our footsteps on the ice-crusted snow. I swiftly overheat, removing gloves and unzipping my jacket for a delicious slice of chill. A giant peanut feeder for the local red squirrels hangs in a tree, and we linger a few minutes in the hope of catching a glimpse of Mr S Nutkin, but no such luck. Instead, it's a steady zig-zag down to town, where normal life continues despite the snow.


The schools are open, the traffic flows and the woolly hats are fashionable beanies. Some things, it seems, do change. But the sting in my cheeks, the exhilaration in my bones . yup, there's still nothing like a walk in the snow to energise the senses. So keep an eye on the forecast, keep your boots, hat and gloves by the door, and when the weather is frightful, and the fire looks so delightful, let it snow. Just get out and go for a sense-tingling memory-filled walk of how great winter can be. Jon Monks runs Shepherds Walks, which offers guided day walks and walking holidays. www.shepherdswalks.co.uk