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Country diary: flash of a kingfisher pierces the dull fog

Derek Niemann
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Bio/Alamy Stock Photo</span>
Photograph: Bio/Alamy Stock Photo

More fog from Bedfordshire here, and even the jewels are murky. Another train running on empty through the countryside, windows without faces, carriage after carriage lit for no one. Nobody to cast a passing glance towards a lone figure in the thick fog, looking up from beside the track.

In these conditions on the common, the railway line was my north and south, a fixed compass over ground with few bearings. I had lost an hour half-playing at being lost, enjoying the befuddlement of trees and bushes that came and went in the mist, my self-inflicted isolation shared with the invisible company and chatter of winter thrushes as they crisscrossed above. But I always kept an over-the-shoulder awareness of the wires along the track, as if I were freefalling with a strung-out bungee for safety.

I had enough solid map memory to strike out east for the river, knowing that it traced a wiggly parallel to the railway. I wellied down into a cattle-poached ditch, rose through wet grass spattered with goose droppings, then caught sight of the water at the exact moment the river express tooted its warning. I turned to greet the sound.

How would the medieval commoners have seen and defined the shape that pierced the fog? I saw a dart, a pencil tip, a jet fighter, a 21st-century image with wings as propeller-like blurs on either side of a short fuselage. Shooting along the river at eye level, it didn’t bear the hallmarks of a bird in flight, for it did not seem to flap. This was speed personified. Once I even dreamed myself as a kingfisher, not flying but zooming.

The bird came close enough and I saw it side-on for an instant. On a sunless day, there was no possibility of heady elation from brilliant blue. The kingfisher flashed a body of indeterminate grey, then sped past, disappearing into the murk.

The adrenaline rush subsided, and I pressed on downstream to a broad bend where a family trio of swans were loafing. One of the adults feigned industry by making a dilatory dabble in the water for food. The young bird wore the dirty colours of roadside slush long after snowfall. Its parents were virgin gloss – dazzling white standing out in a matt world.