Home late this afternoon after a pre-Christmas drinks party at a village a few miles from here.
Along the narrow winding lanes of the Rea Valley we head towards home. The Long Mountain rises to the west and the craggy Stiperstones are a black shape in the east. Tiny lights twinkle in ones and twos through darkness on the hillsides. A day of sunshine has given way to yet more rain - the windscreen wipers slap slowly and rhythmically.
The final part of our journey takes us back up Long Mountain, up Marton Hill. A lane which twists and turns, has sharp bends and is deeply incised, bounded by tall banks and leafless hedges.
And there ahead, in the hedge, pale and ghostly, sits the owl. Staring, unblinking, unbothered by the headlights' glare it's black eyes watch us watch it. Huge eyes in white face. Then off with a sweeping swoop, great white wings outstretched and away through the canyon of the lane. We creep forwards and follow the bird's passage. Before us - spectral in the lane's darkness - there is no colour; dipping and flapping and soaring.
For too short a time we follow this beautiful bird through the lane 'til finally it rises, clears the hedge and is gone from view. What a privilege these few moments have been.
This is a link to a Barn Owl site with a live web-cam. Be patient. See owls.