Winter in Retreat

It might only be the third week of February but the feeling that we have turned the corner and are on the road to spring is everywhere. And what a contrast to last year when we were under snow and enduring daytime temperatures of -5 degrees C!

The clear skies and warming sun make for wonderful early morning walks and Waldridge Fell and Daisy Hill are now starting to wake up after their winter rest – signs of new life are everywhere with the alder and willow catkins bursting open to shower their pollen to the wind, the vivid green lichens stand out against the bark of their tree hosts and as the early mist clears, the sun’s strengthening rays cast a golden glow on the trees.

Pussy (goat) willow (Salix caprea) is rich in tradition and folklore as one of the first signs of spring. In the north east, the flowers were an important symbol of Easter and were known as Palm as they were brought into the house on Palm Sunday. Gorse (Ulex europaeus) of course can flower throughout the year, but in winter and early spring when there is so little colour in the countryside its bright yellow flowers and pungent coconut scent seem to fill the senses more than at any other time, in folklore it is said that when ‘gorse is in flower kissing’s in season’.

The first frogspawn of the season was in evidence too and next to it I found a pile of jelly on the edge of the pond. I have been told it is frogspawn that has been regurgitated by a predator after eating a frog. So, this frogspawn maybe the last in the line for this particular amphibian.

We must be wary though of thinking that winter is done with us yet as March can be an unpredictable month bringing harsh frosts, heavy rains and strong winds. But for now let’s revel in the sunshine and promise of new growth and life that is all around us.

By Vivien Kent