Below the house, the infant River Meon trickles into the fields and water meadows beyond. Here, it’s too small to hold a trout-which will stop me staring into it for hours, searching for the twitch of a tail-but big enough to produce scribbles of mist in the valley and fields above it.
When you can see 1,000 yards or more, you’ve got mist; anything less, and it’s fog. They are the same thing-water droplets suspended in air-but their names alone conjure entirely different emotions: mist is always beautiful, fog rarely so. The Lady of the Lake is always in a mist, the Hound of the Baskervilles a fog. However, both conditions share some magic-silence. In their presence, the countryside feels as if it has stopped breathing.
The most beautiful mists of my life were at Newmarket, in the days when I rode racehorses in the early mornings on turf that had remained unchanged since Charles II made the town famous. On special autumn mornings, the mist would lie no more than 1ft high from the ground like a thick blanket. Galloping a Thoroughbred across it felt as if you were racing along the top of a cloud.