At last we had a decent May Day Bank Holiday, you all say. Actually, that of 2011 was sunny, though spoilt by a penetrating north-east wind, and we have to go back to 2005 for the last genuinely good one. Hopefully the nation made the most of Monday’s most welcome sunshine.
Nature certainly did. It went into rapid catch-up mode. Until this last week spring had been running late, the latest it’s been since 1996, though 2006 also saw a late spring. But spring can move fast when released, and in the space of a mere week the countryside has been transformed. Blink, or spend a week on an intensive indoor training course, and you miss it.
Bluebells have come from nowhere, or at least from a state of serious retard, and are now at or approaching their peak in many places. But why do they matter? The answer is simply because they flower en masse when spring it at its absolute zenith. Our scented bluebell drifts therefore form the pinnacle of spring – add a distant cuckoo call or the vibrancy of the nightingale and you’ve reached what TS Eliot called ‘the still point of the turning world’ (Four Quartets, Burnt Norton). Also, and more obviously, we have no other native plant that forms such stunning purple haze carpets (though devil’s bit scabious can perform a poor man’s version in September). And our native bluebells are strongly scented. We can get mildly intoxicated on the sight and scent of a bluebell carpet, especially on warm still spring afternoons – like Monday’s bank holiday. To put it bluntly, bluebells are a legal and natural high. They are especially good this year as some of the early spring flowers, with which they often grow, are still in flower – notably the pinky-white wood anemone or windflower, which are normally finished before the bluebells start.
The trees are also, quite suddenly, breaking into leaf – and this seriously transforms the landscape. The oaks are leafing late this year, so late in fact that they are coming out at the same time as the ash trees. This may or may not be worrying, depending on how aware of, or convinced you are about, the rural saying concerning the leafing of ash and oak. 2013 could, of course, be the year in which Ash Dieback starts to do to our landscapes what Dutch Elm Disease did back in the early to mid 1970s. We shall see, but in good spring weather there is always optimism – for spring is essentially about the fulfilment of promise, the promise of summer. Perhaps we truly belong in summer? Certainly, we are overdue a good summer.
Some migrant birds have arrived late, held up by northerly winds. Two of the British Trust for Ornithology radio-tagged cuckoos arrived on our shores, found that the weather wasn’t to their liking – and promptly flew back south across the Channel. Hopefully the warm spell has lured them back again. It certainly brought a major flurry of arrivals – a major fall of common whitethroats over the bank holiday weekend, and more recently garden warblers.
In effect, spring is happening, all at once and all in a hurry right now. It is impossible not to be moved by it.
- Matthew Oates
- See fantastic bluebell displays at a National Trust place near you.