There was no frost, but the ground was still hard from the previous very cold days and nights. The sky was a dull winters grey, and a bitter wind stirred the upper branches of the trees.
The kestrels sat atop of a tall tree near the path. They both surveyed their territory, seeking out the slightest movement that indicated possible prey.
At first the dogs did not trouble them.
Oblivious to the watchers above them, the dogs, noses hard to the ground, followed the scents and trails, breaking off occasionally, distracted by a noise.
The smallest kestrel, the male, tired of the irritation below, took off and to a background of warning calls from the goldfinches and tits that were feeding close by, found another tree to perch in.
The female, unfazed by the goings on remained where she was. I cursed my decision not to bring my camera, so had to use my phone camera instead.
My first attempt was scuppered, as Gabby the Romanian rescue, decided to set off after something small and rustling. She was on a short lead, so taken unawares, my hand was jerked sideways and then downwards just as I took the photo.
I tried again. It was the best I was going to get as, soon after taking it, the female took off and glided down the valley to join the male.
Further on we saw evidence of either a peregrine or sparrow hawk kill, with just the feathery remains of a pigeon lying scattered on the ground and in the bushes.
The Dale was withdrawn, the grasses sparse with the trees shed of leaves, holding out skeletal branches. it was hunkered down for winter. Waiting for the first stirrings of Spring, but that was far away, many cold days and nights, frost and snow to be endured first.
The main path, well trodden by walkers, their dogs and the occasional cattle that escape from the tedium of the fields above and venture down where of course the grass, if not greener is perhaps sweeter, is criss crossed with smaller, narrower paths and trails, hidden in summer but now laid bare for all to see.
As we walked back to the top of the Dale it narrowed and the trees closed in. The smell of fox was strong, the dogs clearly excited by the smells begged to be let off, but there were things to do, phone calls to make. It was time to go home.