Tarns froze solid. Snow drove in quickly and the world did, indeed, turn an icing-sugar-white. It was going to be a long, cold, hard winter. They were thankful for their thick coats of wool.
Pavlova woke one morning to hear beautiful music. She tiptoed out, wondering where and what it was. A pale sun glistened from a clear sky and the air was crisp, but she could not walk too far because of the huge snow drifts. Peeping around the nearest cluster of rocks, she saw a new winter sight. Water dripping from the rocks had frozen into long icicles that shimmered in the sunshine. By tapping them gently with their hooves, Pattie and Buttie were making them chime the most sonorous tunes. Pavlova went to fetch Christopher and, enraptured, they stayed and listened.
Uncle Broccoli was waiting for a break in the weather. He was of the opinion that they should treck to his barn and stay there for a few weeks, to see out the worst of the weather. Not only would it be easier to keep warm but it would also make a change for them. He was restless. He had always been very active and found it frustrating that he couldn’t get about much in this sort of weather. When put to the vote, though, not everyone wanted to come. Well that did not matter. There would be enough at both places to keep warm. He took note of those that wished to come along, and watched the weather.
There was arguing, meantime, as to who should go, and whether it was safe enough to travel anywhere at all. When a break in the weather finally came, just Aunty Marmalade, Christopher and Pavlova were brave enough to go.
They took up single file behind Broccoli and trudged silently on. They did not dare put a foot off the path that Broccoli was setting, for fear of falling into the snow drifts. Past frozen banks and waterfalls of silver, they trundled on. The glare of snow was broken only by the occasional glimpse of tallest evergreen. They knew it wasn’t a long journey, but Aunty Marmalade was beginning to get very cold. She was just about to call out and ask him how much further it was, when she heard Broccoli gasp as he disappeared from their sight. At the final slope, the slight thaw had made the hill dangerously slippery. As Pavlova, Christopher and Marmalade pushed forward to see what had happened to Broccoli, they found their feet going from under them, too. Sliding and spinning helplessly, they arrived in a huddle at the bottom.
“Anyone hurt?” called Broccoli.
They weren’t sure. Cold and bedraggled, certainly. Aunty Marmalade rubbed her head and decided she was ok. Christopher and Pavlova laughed when they realised that their exhilarating slide had brought them right to the entrance of Uncle Broccoli’s Barn.
They were all glad they had come, now. Broccoli’s Barn was warm and crammed full of goodies. Broccoli declared that he’d merely stowed things away when ever there had been an opportunity. They noticed that the bales of hay which lined the walls were arranged to form shelves and storage spaces. From one such nook, Broccoli produced a bag of crystallised ginger.
“This’ll warm us up,” he chortled. “Not too much in your mouth at one time, though, because it’s very hot on the tongue.”
Over the next few weeks, from time to time, when prompted, he told them of his youth. In a time before the Reservoir had even been formed, he had been born where Housestead Fort once stood, near Hadrian’s Wall. His flock had always wondered if the soldiers were ever coming back. They’d been gone a long time and the flock considered it their duty to be on guard meanwhile.
Broccoli had been drafted into the patrol unit at a very early age. He had loved every minute of it. Every morning they’d marched a three mile route, scouring the landscape for any sign of trouble. Mid morning came communications practice, where they split into small parties and went to several calling posts among the hills. Here, they relayed calls to all positions and waited for all posts to reply. They had also taken turns at being sentries on Hadrian’s Wall itself.
Broccoli had been promoted to the Information Team as an Officer. Here, he had learnt to navigate his way across the whole of the Lake District. His mother had been very proud of him.
As well as listening to each other’s stories, they played games and held quizzes. The time passed very quickly. If the weather was half decent, they had brisk walks around the barn. One evening, as they chewed Kendal Mintcake, they decided to hold a poetry competition. The theme was ‘winter’ and the winner would get the last of the crystallised ginger and a packet of mince pies. They had just half an hour to compose, and then they had to recite.
The half an hour whizzed by. Pavlova stood up and took a deep breath.
“Winter is filled with snow
It needs our hearts to glow
To keep us all warm
Throughout every storm
That’s all we need to know,”
she recited and sat down. A round of applause sounded.
“Well rhymed,” said Aunty Marmalade.
Christopher was more nervous. He didn’t think he had quite the same command of language. Still, it was only a bit of fun, so he started:
“Trot, dance, and dance and trot
Prance through the mountains while the weather is hot.
Keep to your barns when the weather is not
As you can’t dance and trot if the weather isn’t hot.”
The rhythm made them laugh and Christopher, too, got a warm round of applause.
Broccoli cleared his throat and began:
“Marching through the winter
Will take us through to Spring
Although we cannot sprint there
We certainly can wing
Our way to winter heaven
By marching, marching through
To take us on to February
March and April too.”
Another round of applause sounded.
Marmalade stood and began:
“Winter so white
It’s ever so light,”
then she stopped.
“I think I’m beginning to miss the other sheep,” she said.
The others thought that this was a strange poem, but didn’t like to say so. They looked up at Marmalade again. She looked sad, which was unusual. She had always been slightly round and her wool had tinges of orange, like streaks of marmalade, which gave warmth and a jolliness to her appearance.
“Do you think it’s time we went back to the flock?” Marmalade asked.
It finally dawned on the other three that Aunty Marmalade had abandoned her poem and was asking a serious question.
If truth be known, they were all beginning to miss the others, even though they were having such a superb time here at the Barn. Pavlova also noted that the supplies of food were running low. Uncle Broccoli said that, with the weather being so much better, as well, perhaps this was their cue to travel back to the Reservoir.
They shared the prize food equally amongst them all, and tidied up. They’d make an early start back tomorrow.It was a lot easier than the outward journey had been. They could amble along without fear of slipping. The snow had receded so much that blades of coarse grass could be seen here and there. They could chat as they walked. It didn’t seem to be five minutes before they were back, greeting their friends and catching up on all the news and gossip. Christopher and Pavlova announced their important news: they were soon going to be parents.