The next day, Shrove Tuesday, which I always feel marks the end of the darkest days of winter, it was raining. The forecast indicated it would stop by ten, so we decided to take a chance and walk to Vachery Pond, just outside of Cranleigh. This walk must be jinxed for me, the last time I ended up taking us on a long detour around Baynards Estate and then re-tracing our footsteps. I thought that this time we would manage better. Alas, this time I got us to the Vachery Pond, which you can’t access now and we walked along the Vachery Lane. It was at this point that the signpost directed us onto the Downs Link path: we should have kept to the lane and instead ended up in the suburbs of Cranleigh, still a long way from home. As we had been walking for nearly three hours, this prospect did not fill us with joy. To add insult to injury, it started raining heavily. Such are the joys of hiking. The first part of the walk had been enjoyable but you get to a point where this gives way to despondency. I also cannot report anything of great interest on the natural history front: I think it will be a while before we have a go at this walk again. Third time lucky, perhaps!
Certain walks always seem to repay the patient observer. I find that, however often I take the loop through Yard Farm across the fields and back to the woods, I never get bored of it and almost always see something of interest. I also think that the countryside is constantly changing with both the seasons and on a daily basis with the weather. In the hedges running along Plough Lane House Sparrows are common. They have the advantage of the berries that remain in the bushes and the nearby farm, with spillage of grain, so this is an ideal spot for them. The hedges give them protective roosts at night and the birds huddle up close together to keep warm. The Sparrow is one of the most adaptable of birds, which no doubt accounts for its frequency. As I got to the farm I saw a flash of yellow and managed to focus the field glasses on a Grey Wagtail. The naming of the wagtails is a bit confusing, as the name “Grey” could equally be “Yellow”, the latter designation, however, is given to the even more yellow Yellow Wagtail, if you follow my drift. I have had fleeting glimpses of Grey Wagtails by Cobbler’s Brook but this time I was able to watch it for some minutes.
Across the field going back to the wood between thirty and forty Rooks were congregated, with a few Jackdaws joining them. The milder weather has made the soil easier to penetrate and they were clearly attracted by some tasty morsels in the ground. The birds were flying from the oak trees at the top of the field and I wondered if this is where I will find them nesting: I am hoping to find a Rookery as it is fascinating to study the complex social patterns that develop in their communities. Seeing a Buzzard reminds me that they too will be nesting high in the trees from April, although the nests are well camouflaged being made of sticks and twigs; if you find one it should be possible to enjoy watching the parent birds coming and going. If you are really lucky you may even see the young take their first steps into the big wide world.
The last few days of February have been glorious with temperatures reaching double figures and lots of sunshine, acting as a tonic for us all. I do not think it is too fanciful to say that it is possible to feel the earth stirring beneath our feet, as the warmth penetrates the soil and life begins to quicken. At the end of the month we had what is known as a Snow Moon. This romantic name comes from North American Indians, who experienced their heaviest snowfalls at this time. In more temperate regions the full moon at the end of February marks the beginning of spring. This year the moon’s brightness was astonishing and we were lucky that it coincided with clear night skies, casting the world below in a silvery luminosity. I wonder if these clear skies are a benefit of the recent lack of air pollution.
The sound of bees is a sign that all is well in the natural world and gardeners are always being urged to plant insect attracting plants. The other day the warm weather woke the bees up and our crocuses and Camelia bush were alive with the hum of Honey and Bumble bees. Bees play a major role in the pollination of flowers and so form a vital link in the ecological cycle. There are worrying threats to their well-being; our government has just lifted the ban on neonicotinoid pesticides, which affect bees’ navigation and impede breeding success. This poison will also affect other insect populations and is bad news for the environment. The more people who encourage insects to their gardens, no matter how tiny a patch they have, the better. It is also true that these nectar-rich flowers are a delight to look at and their splash of colour is the perfect pick-me-up.
While I was in the garden I saw my first Brimstone butterfly of the year, an unmistakeable pale lemon; this butterfly is one of the early fliers. The pond now has Pond Skaters skipping across the water’s surface, which will provide meals for frogs, toads and newts. There is no sign of frog spawn in our pond and, although I look in every pond, puddle or ditch I come across, I’ve seen none on my walks in Ewhurst. I did get a glimpse of a newt in our pond but they are keeping a fairly low profile at the moment.
I like the way that William Wordsworth is always attracted to the humble aspects of life. It is true that he also sees the grandeur of mountains and lakes but he is nevertheless prepared to stoop down and recognise the lowlier elements of life, finding inspiration in these. In his poem To the Small Celandine of 1802, he writes of the joy an ordinary country woman experiences when the flowers come out:
But the thrifty cottagerWilliam Wordsworth
Who stirs little out of doors,
Joys to spy thee near her home;
Spring is coming, Thou art come!
During the privations of lockdown I think many of us have learnt to take joy in the small things of life and we can easily identify with the sentiments expressed here as a result. It is interesting that this lady doesn’t go out much and this may strike a chord with many of us in these hard times; even the world on our door-steps can provide inspiration. Celandines are found growing in hedgerows, on the banks of ditches and on the woodland floor during the early part of spring. Like primroses and daffodils they brighten the spirit with their sunshiny yellow petals and prepare us for warm days ahead.