As always, spring seems slow in coming ‘up this way‘. We follow Edward Thomas as he goes west in search of ‘real’ spring in the Quantock hills, getting into ‘Romantic’ mood on the way.
The signature sounds of Spring
Monday March 16th
I sit in the morning sun on a warm spring-like day. The garden birds are singing, they seem as glad as I am to be out here. A couple of secretive blackbirds are coming and going, clearly nest-building in our garden hedge. There’s a faint hum of early insects visiting our first spring flowers. A bumbling bee is out to seek another spring, while three peacock butterflies, pretending it’s mid summer, warm themselves on the brick path. A male brimstone butterfly dances across the garden in search of a mate. Everything seems to be on-the-go. Then, in late afternoon, the air is stilled, cue for the song thrush to give us his evensong. Dare I think this is spring?
Friday March 20th
As feared, Monday’s warmth did not last – the inevitable cold has returned! The calendar may say Spring Equinox, but spring is heedless preferring to keep to its own unpredictable timetable.
“Until this week the year has been like some old vehicle lurking darkly in a barn which shows signs of life but won’t actually start up and emerge.”Ronald Blythe ‘Word from Wormingford’
One early sound of spring that I wait to hear this year is the distinct call of the earliest migrant, the Chiff Chaff fresh from Africa. Equally anticipated, the Willow Warbler will, hopefully, soon be serenading us with its beautiful song.
Westwards in Search of Spring
I have happy family memories of Easter weekends in Devon, staying with an aunt in quaint Brixham, travelling west to meet the advance of spring as it spread up from the south-west. To arrive in the high-banked lanes of Devon and find them dotted with patches of early primroses and violets, was always a welcome sign.
The Quantock Hills
‘Tis a month before the month of MayS.T.Coleridge ‘Christobel’
Spring comes slowly up this way.‘
In his old book ‘In Pursuit of Spring‘, tired of London’s lingering winter cold and impatient for the fresh breath of spring air, Edward Thomas set out on foot in early March walking westwards. His goal was to find the arrival of spring in the beautiful Quantock hills of Somerset. He was passing through an England of quiet country lanes and villages that was disappearing even in his day.
“At any rate the Quantocks were to be my goal. I had a wish of a mildly imperative nature that Spring would be arriving among the Quantocks at the same time as myself: …..that since my journey was to be in “a month before the month of May,” Spring would come fast, not slowly, up that way. Yes, I would see Nether Stowey, the native soil of ‘Kubla Khan,’ ‘Christabel,’ and ‘The Ancient Mariner,’ where Coleridge fed on honey-dew and drank the milk of Paradise.”Edward Thomas ‘The Pursuit of Spring’
From other family holidays in my youth, I remember these delightful diminutive hills with their open heather covered tops, skirted by homely wooded coombes with quiet villages nestling in the sheltered hollows below. No wonder Coleridge and Dorothy and William Wordsworth settled here for a few years producing some of their most beautiful ‘Romantic’ poetry inspired by the exquisite scenery.
Edward Thomas finds his Spring
Finally, after a month of walking, Edward Thomas reached the Quantocks and met his spring.
“I had found Spring, and I was confident that I could ride home again and find Spring all along the road. Perhaps I should hear the cuckoo by the time I was again at the Avon, and see cowslips tall on ditch-sides and short on chalk slopes, bluebells in all hazel copses, orchids everywhere in the lengthening grass, …….Thus I leapt over April and into May, as I sat in the sun on the north side of Cothelstone Hill on that 28th day of March, the last day of my journey westward to find the Spring.”
Though we, too, may sometimes wish to leap over into May, I wouldn’t want to miss the growing excitement of April as we watch the slow approach of spring. Some of the best things in life are enhanced by anticipation!
Keep safe from infection, but make sure to enjoy slow-approaching spring.
Next time – ‘Beauty from the Ashes’