A north wind brings an Arctic chill and a remarkable clarity of light. Ash buds burst open in deep purple flowers against a sky of intense blue with puffs of white cloud. Linnets make their nests amongst yellow flowering gorse. A female redstart spreads her tail with a flash of colour, and flies. Last spring, a male sang from this ash tree. Up on Scout Scar ash trees grow rooted in rafts of limestone clitter- sharp slates that clatter beneath your feet. A shower of hail dances over the stones, striking out a rare melody. Crouch down close and listen.
White flowers of blackthorn appear on the limestone clitter of Scout Scar and blue moor grass is in flower. Warm weather and southerly winds saw an influx of redstart yesterday, not yet swelling into full song. Willow warbler were abundant. I await the cuckoo, on migration for almost two months. All these new arrivals remind me of their migration routes, their dependence on weather- windows and wind direction. From warm southerlies to chilly north -west winds to come- how will they fare?
During the floods in Cumbria, Glenridding suffered repeated devastation as the beck brought down rock and debris and flooded the village. Now it’s April and diggers are excavating rock and rubble brought down in the storms. On the shore of Ullswater there are mounds of gravel and stone. It's the warmest day of spring and the fine weather has brought out tourists to enjoy the sunshine. Spring comes slowly to the fells and winter colours prevail but water-tracks are yellow with celandines and willow catkins appear. So, highlights of the season.
A morning of clear blue skies and bright sunlight. This cock linnet sang on a hawthorn bush. Every spring, linnets nest where there is dense gorse now in flower, and juniper. They favour this spot because there's also a scatter of taller hawthorn and ash where they can display to females, and where they are safe from predators. The morning was warm and peacock and brimstone butterflies were on the wing. Willow warbler were singing and I found both green woodpecker and great spotted woodpecker.
Fleeting sunlight on distant fells with caps of cloud and snow in gullies. The wind ruffles the surface of the tarn. A great crested grebe swims out into open water, and dives. He swims toward the shore, toward the reeds where his mate broods eggs on her nest. She sits snug, a flash of her white breast, a turn of her head. He swims to and fro, guarding her. Sunlight gleams the waves and colours the birds for an instant, then clouds shadow the tarn. What is nature writing? I ponder the question as I prepare to give a fresh talk about my new book, Cumbrian Contrasts.
There’s a note in the song of linnet, a single beautiful note that says linnet and nothing else . And here they are. A small flock of linnet settling in for the breeding season in a habitat where gorse flowers, in scrub where a few trees give a safe perch for a male to sing and display. The light is poor, I can infer the crimson on the breast and the forked tail the moment I catch that song. I can see because I know what I should be seeing. When the cuckoo comes, if he comes, I’ll find him here. Until he comes, my morning is dedicated to the linnet who sings high in an ash, a slender, budding ash. To the song of the linnet.
Fat snowflakes drift through the darkness and melt as they touch down. Next morning, the Howgills are brilliant with snow . A pall of mist sits over Windermere, hugging the lake, and the Langdale Pikes rise indeterminate between mist and snow . On Scout Scar, willow warbler and chiff chaff are singing . April come she will. I sing Paul Simon’s song of the season to welcome the cuckoo. Softly singing all the way to Africa to wing him on his way. It's three years since I heard the bubbling call of the female who is so much more discreet. For now, there’s freshness and beauty in the first flowers.
A red squirrel ran along the top of a mossy wall, and vanished. Lambs gambolling in the pastures near High Stennerskeugh gave us lots of fun. Black faces and little white ears, black knee-pads over white stockings. Reversible stockings. The back view shows long, black stockings. So smart they are, and demure. Then they took off, running straight at me. Giving little leaps. Airborne. My heart leaps to see it, always. So soon the gambolling spirit leaves us. Where do all the frolics go?
Let’s walk The Clouds. Speaking at Kendal Library on 1st April, I focused on the catchment of the River Eden, taking in Wild Boar Fell and The Clouds. So next day we headed for the Clouds: Stennerskeugh Clouds, Clouds and Fell End Clouds. The rain never let up and it was cold, with a bracing wind and low cloud. Not surprising that we saw no other walkers all day. Alone in The Clouds. ‘ Not a soul but you and me,’ I said.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)