May 16, 2012

Sumer Is Icumen In... or is it?

I was in the Lake District last week, where it seemed as though all four seasons were happening almost at the same time. We arrived in bright sunshine; people were eating ice creams in Glenridding. The oak leaves were coming out with their new, reddish tinge, making the wooded, lower slopes of the fells look almost autumnal. Snow fell on Helvellyn at the same moment that a cuckoo was calling on the shores of Ullswater, only a few miles away. And, like everywhere else in the country, for several days it rained. Solidly. All day.

On one of the better days we climbed Catbells, where we were buzzed by a huge transport plane on the way up and came across a magnificent slow worm basking on the path on the way down:

At nearly half a metre long he was unusually big. Seemingly torpid, when I picked him up to move him out of the way of walkers' feet he whipped his coils around my hand forcefully enough that I dropped him in surprise. His tongue was black, with a flat end that looked forked, though not as much as a snake's.

There weren't as many butterflies as you'd expect; we only saw an admiral, an orange-tip and some green-veined whites. But the wildflowers were magnificent: bluebells, wood anemones, celandines, oxalis, violets, wild strawberries, stitchwort, ransomes, speedwell, dandelions and a tiny blue alpine flower on Gowbarrow that I've yet to identify.

We saw no birds of prey at all, though speculative rooks attended the fields with lambs in, eating the forage swedes scattered around for the ewes if nothing else was available. Until the last day, the cuckoo was our great avian triumph: I hadn't heard one call in three years. But then, just as we were packing up the car: swifts.