THE dry, sunny, but crisp weather of recent days is, apparently, soon to be replaced by freezing temperatures and snow. Well, weather predictions for Scotland are notoriously unreliable, so we will see. The darkness and cold of this time can be quite depressing, but the short days mean we make the most of the daylight and good weather when it happens.

Nothing really uplifts my mood like a long family walk in nature, so last weekend we ventured to Pressmennan Wood, a magical place where the trees embrace the lake of the same name, making it feel like a hidden world.

We took the upper path this time, my wife Kate’s favourite route in the wood. It initially took us away from the lakeside but it kept our dog safe from the toxic algae which we were concerned may still be present in the water. Our kids tend to vanish when we enter a wood, their laughter telling us they are playing somewhere close by but out of sight. Such was the case on this day as we meandered up the hill, exploring and admiring the views.

A roe deer suddenly bolted from the undergrowth in front of us, taking us all by surprise. It must have been watching us approach, standing still and unseen in the nearby undergrowth. I wondered if we’d have seen it at all if it hadn’t decided to run away.

Although it was late November, the tree canopy still had a patchwork of autumn colour. The colours were made more vivid when the sun began to set, casting a stream of golden rays through the wood, and for a moment making the lake sparkle. Such moments can’t be planned, just enjoyed and appreciated when they happen.

Then we heard wild screams from the younger kids. “Faery apples!” was the cry. Tiny apples, the size of cherries, carpeted the ground. They had never seen such small apples and came running holding handfuls of them, wondering if they could eat them.

I explained they were crab apples, fallen from the crab apple tree which grew all twisty near the path.

“You shouldn’t eat them raw,” I explained, “but you can cook them and make crab apple jelly.” The moment I said that, I knew I’d given myself a task. “Can we make it tonight?” was the predictable reply.

I will be honest, I have never made crab apple jelly but there is a first time for everything and so we gathered a pile of the tiny apples.

We spent more than three hours exploring the wood, finally reaching the end of the lake after many detours and explorations. We took a lower path back to the car, but my wife and I noticed something the kids didn’t: the sun was below the horizon and it would soon be dark. We hadn’t paid much attention to the time but the sun had given us some warning earlier on as it spread its final rays through the wood.

We didn’t say anything lest the kids got spooked, but we tried to discreetly speed our step so we would reach the car park before it got completely dark. It wasn’t easy, as the kids played in the fallen leaves and explored side paths.

Finally they noticed. “It’s getting dark,” one said.

“No, it is dark!” replied another.

Indeed it was, although we could still see where we were going. The trees now had a different guise: dark silhouettes making eerie shapes in the imagination.

Then it happened.

The moon appeared in the cloudless sky, a nearly full moon, initially reddish in colour, then bright. It was a primeval experience, the ‘beaver moon’ in the sky, lighting our way through an ancient wood. Our son did his best to spook his sisters with tales of werewolves but that just set off a crescendo of imitated wolf howling from them all. It certainly made them all feel much braver in the dark, moonlit wood.

When we finally reached the car, I had a tinge of melancholy that we were leaving. But I was glad we had dallied and not noticed the sun disappearing. During our journey in the darkness, we could see the sky through the thinned tree branches in ways we cannot from home. The darkness played tricks on us but the wood felt enchanted; most likely it really is.

And that bright moon; you might have seen it too. I will never tire of admiring its wonder.