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The Pageant of Spring

posted 4 Apr 2012, 08:40 by Haley Whittall
The fine March weather has provided a perfect backdrop to witness the unfolding of spring in the Crowborough countryside. The great naturalist Richard Jefferies recorded the coming of spring in his 1886 Crowborough essay “The Hours of Spring”, written at his home on London Road. Walking through The Ghyll on a warm sunny afternoon, I wondered if he too had once passed this way, whether he had also stopped to listen to the constant music of the brook trickling over the sandstone, just as it has done for thousands of years as the seasons change around it, as it slowly shapes the valley so typical of our local landscape.

The spring flowers are starting to appear. The lesser celandines with their flowers of yellow stars and heart shaped leaves have been around for a few weeks, and now the pale wood anemones are also beginning to show. The colour of the woodland floor has turned from brown to every shade of green as the filtered sunlight falls on the leaves of wild garlic and bluebells that have pushed through the soft damp earth. High in the bare branches, the first chiffchaff rings its two notes around the valley, great tits, robins and blackbirds sing, and a woodpecker drums in the distance. An early yellow brimstone flutters by.

Climbing up the northern side of the valley, the Ghyll hints at a heathland past with its remnants of ling, gorse and dry bracken. The yellow and green of the gorse set against the cloudless blue sky and the low hum of bumblebees recalls Ashdown Forest on a summer’s day. There is a haze over the woodland below, the leafless birches a smoky purple against the silver bark. A woodpigeon claps its wings, rises and falls above the trees, and crows call overhead.

All this already and so much more to come. In a few weeks bluebells will carpet the woodland floor before the trees burst into green. The scent of garlic will hang in the damp woods. Blackcaps, willow warblers and cuckoos will return and sing in the trees. Butterflies and dragonflies will continue the procession into summer, and flowers will come and go. Back in the Crowborough spring of 1886 Richard Jefferies put it like this:

“A thousand thousand buds and leaves and flowers and blades of grass, things to note day by day…You never know what will come to the net of the eye next – a bud, a flower, a nest, a curled fern, or whether it will be in the woodland or by the meadow path… You do not know what you may find each day; perhaps you may only pick up a fallen feather, but it is beautiful, every filament. Always beautiful! Everything beautiful!”

The Ghyll in April 2011                                         The Ghyll in November 2011
by Pete Meiners