Country Diary: Countryside has exploded into colour

Cowslip
Cowslip

“Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze ...”

Words by William Wordsworth appropriately describe the scene overlooked by Brompton village’s handsome church where William, and Mary Hutchinson were married in 1802. Weeping willows’ pendant boughs dipped into the water, whilst ducks and geese revelled in the sunshine.

On the Butts, horsechestnut trees flaunted fingered leaflets and flower spikes to the sun, and everyone looked happy.

Throxenby Mere was a similar scene, and both lakes awaited the blooming of wild yellow irises. Mallard and tufted ducks were present, along with greylag and Canada geese and the air was filled with birdsong, as Tigga and myself strolled along Lady Edith’s Drive.

Now what was that? A strange, reeling call which I’ve heard on only two previous occasions in my life. It rather reminded me of the rapid ticking of my free-wheeling bicycle, or the reeling of a fisherman’s rod. It was maybe a grasshopper warbler, but this bird is seldom seen. Singing from cover, this secretive bird ceased to sing immediately I moved. It’s said to drop into low vegetation when disturbed, running or creeping rather that flying. By amazing coincidence, it was only a few fields away from where I heard one several years ago!

The countryside has now exploded into colour, triggered by a couple of days of very warm weather. Roadside verges are sprinkled with celandines and speedwell, daisies and sky-blue forget-me-nots, like confetti from a wedding! Cherry blossom of frothy pink and white joins the blackthorn, with its ‘crowns’ of white veiling thorny black twigs. It’s a joyous season, marred only by those thoughtless folk who seek only to destroy our natural world. Litter-louts are on the increase, and now the pond site at Quarry Mount Reserve has had its access path vandalised! The wild iris have spread across the site, and all the frogs have dispersed now spawning is over.

A brief visit to the enchanting hilltop village of Hutton Buscel, proved well worth the slight deviation. As we ascended the access lane, we were greeted by cowslips. Wrinkled, toothed leaves formed rosettes from which arose flower stems bearing drooping heads of sweetly-scented flowers. Cowslips are visited by insects with long tongues such as moths and bees. They seek sweet nectar from the base of the petal tube.

These delicately-perfumed flowers are used to make one of the finest, and most potent of country wines, but I suggest we all leave them for others to enjoy.

The nodding flowers are thought to resemble St Peter’s bunch of keys to heaven. Apparently he dropped them when he heard that a duplicate set had been made. The keys landed some where in northern Europe, and the first cowslip sprang from that spot!