A second year of lockdown walks

It’s the first of April, and spring is in the air: blackthorn, fruit-tree and other blossom and leaf-buds are bursting out everywhere, daffodils are thriving, and our first tulips opened in the warm sunshine yesterday. The national mood is still sombre and resigned to restrictions, but there’s hope with the successful vaccine delivery, and the heart-warming sight of nature reviving with the warmer weather.

I looked back at my April posts last year, when we were in the first weeks of the first UK lockdown, and I started to post pictures of the sights I encountered on local walks – especially the wild flowers, blossom, gateposts and holy wells – so there will be more of that as the anniversary of that time arrives.

Prunus blossomLast week we went to the local National Trust gardens, newly opened, and near enough to count as ‘local’. A lovely prunus was outdoing the beauty of the showy magnolias around it. ‘Oh,’ said a lady admiring it, and reading the label on the trunk: ‘It’s a prune tree.’

Magnolia bloomThe warm, late-March weather had encouraged the bees to explore what seemed to be every flower in the tree. I hope you can see the one in this next picture: it had stuck its head right inside the flower.

Prunus and bee

Late last week my walks were shorter; I’d injured tendons in my hip. So I revisited the path across the valley opposite our house.

This follows the river along the bottom of the valley. Two splendid horses graze in the third field. They are obviously used to the many people who pass by – they didn’t even pause to watch as I walked by.

Early this week, in the hedgerow of a lane I often walk along, I saw the first bluebell of the spring.

Bluebell

I think this is an English bluebell – the flowers seem to be clustered all round the stem

Next time, more blossom and a holy well. I’m also thinking about my next book post – on a Rose Tremain novel that I enjoyed very much, after a few depressing reads.

Horses

Foxglove and lion

I’m halfway through The Echoing Grove, so a post will be coming soon. Meanwhile, more lockdown chronicles.

Oak treeMy first picture is from yesterday’s walk, when the sun finally came out after a day’s monsoon conditions. The bottom of this valley, to the right of the handsome oak, was once the habitat of an enormous pig. She used to love to wallow in the muddy swamp. She’s long gone, but Mrs TD and I always refer to the lane beside this field as the Pig Lane, and the walk is the Pig Walk.

Lion gate postToday I walked alone down a lane I hadn’t previously tried (Mrs TD was doing her Zoom fitness class). Outside a large house was a pair of stately gateposts (I do like a good stone post), with an unimpressively diminutive lion on the top of each one. No wonder his expression is so morose.

More spring plants are bursting into flower and filling out the hedgerows. The cow parsley is shooting up fast. Robert MacFarlane in a recent tweet suggested that one of its alternative country names, mother-die, was to warn off children from picking it in case they mistook this harmless plant for the similar-looking and Lane with cowparsleypoisonous hemlock.

Foxgloves are springing up fast, and many are just beginning to flower.

The etymology of this attractive plant is unknown, but there have been many suggestions about the origins of the name. I’d recommend an article from the OUP blog by Anatoly Liberman (link HERE), who sifts through the various (unfounded) theories, and concludes that there is no definitive explanation.

It’s well known that the drug digitalis, used for treating heart conditions, comes from foxgloves. FoxgloveThis might explain why Leonhart Fuchs (1501-66), the German scholar and botanist, gave it the Latin name digitalis (meaning finger), as its bell-like flowers would fit neatly over a human digit. In German, according to one etymologist, it’s ‘fingerhut’, meaning ‘thimble’.

The OED’s earliest citation is from c. 1000: foxes clofe, so we can’t identify Fuchs as the source of the English name.

I still favour the folk etymology, which holds that foxes would wear the flowers as gloves over their paws to deaden the sound of their walking as they went out hunting.

Field with buttercupsA mile further on is another lane with this sloping field beside it. Buttercups are still abundant in the meadows, and bluebells, dampened by an early morning shower, are at their peak in the hedgerows and woods.

I’ve still not heard a cuckoo.