THIS is my favourite time of year, when the buds are starting to burst and everything is still to come. I have just realised that it was exactly a year ago that I wrote about the fact that spring (as defined by seven common signs) travels from south-west to north-east at about 50 miles a day. Here in Lancashire we have not reached double figures °C yet, but spring is unmistakably on its way.
I thought it would be interesting to take a walk along an ordinary road near our house to see what we can see. We start at a less than lovely spot – a cement works.
There is no doubt that this installation dominates the landscape, but it is not all bad. It provides employment for about 150 local people plus contractors (and from the newsletter they send round it must be a good place to work because they are always handing out long-service awards). They have occasional open days and we have been to two. It is utterly fascinating to go behind the scenes. There is a short railway leading to the limestone quarry (invisible from outside), which is so deep that the huge trucks at the bottom look like toys. There is the vast horizontal cylindrical kiln belting out heat. There are the machines filling and sealing bags of cement which I could watch all day. When I was taking this picture I talked to a couple of women who work there and they told me that peregrine falcons nested last year on one of the tall structures.
The works do their best to avoid pollution but inevitably there is dust in the air as you can see from the ivy on the other side of the road, which is distinctly grey and powdery for a short distance.
The most plentiful wild flower here at the moment is the celandine (officially the lesser celandine, Ficaria verna) which started flowering in January. I think they are getting a bit past their peak but there are still a lot around.
There are also bright green nettles (Urtica dioica) sprouting which look good enough to eat, and in fact they are – picked young (with gloves, obviously) around now, and cooked they can be used instead of spinach, and they are packed with vitamins and minerals. I have eaten them and can vouch for their tastiness (cooking kills the stings). There is preparation guidance here, as well as many other sites.
Another plant which is showing is cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). I read that you can make soup with it but it is very similar in appearance to hemlock so it is inadvisable to try it unless you want to risk meeting a Socrates-style end.
I was particularly pleased to find a patch of violets (Viola odorata). They go by various names including wood violet, sweet violet and English violet. My son Jim took this picture which is why it is so much better than all the other efforts in this piece.
A short way down the road from the cement works I found this small marker stone against a wall.
I can make out the words DANGER and CABLE but the rest is illegible to me. I wonder what it is meant to warn about and whether is it still valid?
In the field over the wall are some early lambs (most will arrive in a week or so). Here is a mum with triplets – not much of a picture but it has the Ribble in the background.
The Ribble is crossed at this point by a narrow bridge.
There is room for only one car at a time, and bends at each end mean that you cannot see if anyone else is on the bridge until you are very nearly on it. Caution is therefore essential.
This does not deter drivers from whizzing round the corner on to the bridge, only to find another car halfway across, so they have to reverse to the point where they can pass each other. This performance is repeated many, many times a day.
The bend at the northern end is particularly sharp and the stonework gets a regular bashing from heavy lorries (I think they are led across the bridge by their sat navs when it is far from the most suitable crossing). The bridge was closed for several months last year after a vehicle smote it and cracked one of the pillars. After the painfully slow repair work it was only a matter of days before one of the enormous top stones, centre right in the picture, had been dislodged again.
Again it was repaired, unlike the damage to the walls beside the river caused by last winter’s flood, which I wrote about here.
It doesn’t look as if they are going to rebuild the walls, and the loose stones are already being colonised by ivy.
Having crossed the bridge I came to a field with some unusual sheep in it.
They are Zwartbles, a breed from the Netherlands, which seem to be quite common round here although they arrived in this country only about 30 years ago. There are classes for them at the village agricultural and produce shows, all of which were cancelled last year, but with any luck some may go ahead this summer. They are big sheep and quite bold, and are bred for meat as apparently no one wants their dark brown wool. The meat is said to be sweet without much fat.
I have seen very few insects yet this year – one butterfly too far away to identify and one white-tailed bumble bee (I wrote about these here). My walk on Friday produced my first ladybird of the year.
This is a seven-spot (three on each wing and one across the back of the neck, Coccinella septempunctata), the most common species. It will have been hibernating, possibly in a hollow plant stalk, a crevice in a tree trunk, amongst ivy or in a shed.
Sad to say, our white mallard drake has disappeared as suddenly as he arrived. We don’t think he was hounded out because he was a match for the other drakes and quite capable of standing up for himself. We hope he has found another place to live (it is possible that he and his mate had to go some distance to find a nesting spot) and has not met a nasty fate.