Dark shapes loomed out of the darkness before dawn. We skirted around Galloway cows, down beside Park End Wood where we startled roosting birds that broke frantic from the tree tops. The high- pitched reeling trill of grasshopper warbler reached us from the edge of the reed bed, their preferred habitat. They sing at dawn and dusk, sometimes through the night, and this morning theirs was the first song I heard. Impossible to see them before sunrise. Even in good light they’re secretive and difficult to spot, despite their incessant trilling. From the hanging wood of the escarpment came birdsong. The dawn chorus is an aural experience and none of the water-birds I saw here earlier in the month was in flight. To the woods.
Through Gloucestershire, with sunlit globes of mistletoe in the tree-tops and the first cowslips on the motorway verge. A cold wind from the north. An April sky darkens and hail spatters the windscreen in sudden squalls. Lurid light floods hills on the horizon. Darkness battles light.
Northward bound and heading home, we resume, plunging deep in story. Is this a dagger that I see before me. We listen. Shakespeare’s drama we know well, but Macbeth the novel is a revelation: fierce winters, the geography of Scotland and its castles, politics and how power corrupts. Inverness, a fortress castle, inhospitable. The hour after midnight. A wolf howls, and an owl shrieks high in the keep where the king lies in his chamber.
Larksong and sedge flowers: that's my April motif from walking the Cawdale Round. Sedges yellow with pollen and skylark nesting on the ground amongst them. All day through a chill wind the surround of lark song. Common cotton grass flowers beside an upland pool and hare's-tail cotton grass, its tussocks still winter-brown. More and more as we climb. In summer, the fells will be white with their plumy seed-heads. Spring comes late to the fells and this is the season of sedge flowers. And the colourful and intricate sphaghum mosses which I love.
The bluebells of Brigsteer Park Wood were our objective, but our morning gave more. Wood anemone and bluebells flowered and I hoped for Herb Paris, Paris quadrifolia- and tried to remember its flowering season. Looking into About Scout Scar, my photograph is dated 28 April 2007, Herb Paris with bugle. The flower is an indicator of ancient woodland, found in coppiced glades, so as hazel and scrub regenerate the plant is hidden- until the next coppicing when it's drawn by the light.
Frogspawn was a talking point, a motif of an April day. A glistening along the track might have been the sun melting the last of overnight frost, or gelatinous smears of frogspawn. Sometimes frogs lay where their tadpoles surely cannot thrive- puddles that a week without rain will dry out. We peered into pools, seeking frogspawn. Most striking was this sphere of sphagnum moss somehow injected with frogspawn.
Japonica blossoms in neighbouring gardens. A secluded garden where spring- water pours forth over rock and brings abundance. An English garden that takes me back to the village gardens of my childhood. Comfrey, dark hellebores and a thick intertwining hedge of blossoms. Flowers of wych elm, a memory from the woods about Blaise Castle and secluded gardens, English gardens on the outskirts of Bristol. Blaise woods of wood anemone and bluebells. Bluebells in April, my friend Frances and I think of them in May.
She walked along the river bank bearing a bunch of cuckoo flowers. ' You look as if you'll know flowers, what are they?' Her three children came after, flowers spilling out of their arms. Cuckoo, they smiled with surprise.
Remember Maxim de Winter, from Rebecca, ' you must never pick wild flowers.' I turned back and called after her: ' Lady's smock, Cuckoo flower, Milk maids, Cardamine palustris.' Our Lady's Smock, as if a litany of names would somehow restore them to life.
Marsh harrier were in display-flight, high amongst the blue, amongst dark flecks of sand martins, then diving down into the reeds. A slick in the water, beyond the great crested grebe, beyond the golden eye. The otter raised its head clear, and the size of the creature took me by surprise. The warden relayed our sighting back to headquarters, telling the riches of Leighton Moss. Otter, and marsh harrier sky-diving. Cetti's warbler singing over the reed beds. He did not mention the willows glorious with catkins, a motif of the day.
How many British trees can you identify? It’s spring and 8th April. Location, the limestone escarpments of Scout Scar and Cunswick Fell. I show tree flowers, including catkins. Here are photographs, packed with information. And written clues too. Left: a deciduous conifer. The female tree flowers remind me of pineapples. Last summer's cones show in the background. In autumn, the needles turn gold and are shed.
Apparently, only one in fifty of us can name five British trees. See how you fare.
Young mothers clutch their toddlers and call to friends arriving in cars at nursery school. No-one at the Queen's Road bus stop. I spend time here, not waiting for a bus, but looking out over Kendal, searching the wall by Queen's Place, Queen Catherine Parr who never came to Kendal but whose ancestor was castellan here. I resume my theme from my last blog: the necessary fusion between the built-environment and the natural world. So what's the outlook?
Are enough trees being planted in Britain, asks Countryfile on 2 April 2017? Not in England. What’s the picture in Kendal, a town on the borders of the Lake District National Park where you’d think ecology and biodiversity matter?
Next morning, an email from South Lakeland District Council states the trees felled at Ghyll Brow were all under protection orders. We thought so, because we had asked for their protection. Is the force of law in what you write , or what you meant to write? None of the trees do not have protection orders. (Oops, sorry, got that wrong.) None of them have tree- protection orders. (Where did grammar go?)
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)