Veiled in the morning cloud of winter the linear woodland hugs the line of the old railway, steep bankings dressed with iron hard twigs rise to meet the steel grey sky. Not too long ago commuters rumbled their way through this cutting, journeying to their next destination on diesel trains. Now the straight tracks are gone, replaced by a meandering beck which itself is shadowed by a well trodden path that leads through serried ranks of slumbering bushes and boggy corners.
Perhaps back then the birds took ownership too. Maybe in the regular silences between passenger trips the tits, robins and blackbirds laid claim by song to the thick air in this narrow valley. Certainly today they own the place with the passion of homecoming exiles. Fifty seven years ago the landscape was greased and oiled by passing engines, no doubt the layers of limestone chipping were pockmarked with diesel stains and the vegetation kept at bay by teams of track walkers.
Now a different kind of management oversees the life of the place in an attempt to conserve what has become an enriching tapestry of mini habitats and wildlife environments following the death of the railway in this quiet Lancashire backwater. Piles of cut limbs dot the borders of the path, welcome homes for beetles and their invertebrate kin. Invisible boundaries are maintained, keeping birch scrub separate from dry heath and ivy strewn woodland floor from mossy mires.
Up above in the unseen world of brighter daylight a patchwork of dank fields and suburbia clothes the landscape hemming in this narrow, semi-subterranean realm with monocultures and tidiness. This ribbon of biodiversity is on the cusp of awakening from the hibernations of a sharp winter, a change heralded by hearty birdsong echoing through the occasional tunnels that bridged the cutting.
Early February and already the dimmer switch has been turned up a notch or two. The angular black branches are beginning to stir from their sleep as winter green moss gave way to tiny jewels of a new shade. Imbolc green, the hue of emerging light studs the slender twigs of hawthorn, wild rose, honeysuckle and willow. Random red berries punctuate the shadowlands, undiscovered packed lunches that the hungry thrushes have missed. Rosehip, haw and guelder rose will soon drop their last offerings from the previous autumn as gifts to the slugs and bugs that wait in the rich humous below.