I suppose every season has its attractions but, for me, the six weeks or so between the beginning of May and mid June has to be the tops! I’ve been ticking off the special arrivals – sand martins, house martins, swallows, warblers – all here, and this week I’ve been seeing the first swifts – always a relief when they come screaming into town! I am reliably informed that the cuckoo has been heard on Ilkley Moor, a little later than usual, but I haven’t heard it yet. However, I was pleased to see that meadow pipits , the species that our cuckoos sneakily use as foster-parents for their young, are already paired and guarding nesting territories.
Of course, one of the late Spring glories of Ilkley must be Middleton Woods in bluebell time. I was fretting in post-flu weakness when the Gazette published Linda Lee’s lovely photo but, spurred on by this, I managed to totter out into the lower wood late one afternoon. It was perfect, and not just the bluebells. The tall white-flowered stems of Jack-by-the-hedge guarded the entrance to the wood, a great bank of celandines greeted my approach and I was delighted to see that wood anemones were still blooming. The bluebells, of course, were glorious – stretching away in great pools of blue under the budding oaks. I found a boggy patch covered in golden saxifrage and nearby, on the damp soil, the modest little flowers and shamrock-like leaves of wood sorrel made patterns against the moss. Stitchwort with its white many-pointed stars was already clambering through the bluebells and in places the first fronds of fern were surfacing, each one curled like a ram’s horn.
Ahead of me on the path a pair of mallards paraded along – she in front, he attentively following. A little later I met them again. She was busily foraging in a small stream while her mate stood guard on the bank, head up, black beady eyes glinting. No doubt she would soon be sitting on eggs somewhere in the wood and he’d have disappeared from the scene – joining the other drakes on the river. Meanwhile, the few other wood-wanderers I met all seemed as spellbound as I was, moving quietly along the paths and pausing frequently to drink in scene and scent.
Was it Sydney Smith who said Heaven would be like eating caviar to the sound of trumpets? I’ll settle for a bluebell wood with a blackbird singing.