At last, a sign that the worst of the winter may be behind us...

Is this the first sign that winter is ending – or would that be counting our chickens? Snowdrops, like these in at Beaumont Park in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, have begun to flower.

It's a little early for them: they are particularly associated with the Christian feast of Candlemas, which falls 40 days after Christmas on 2 February (a week tomorrow), when candles were taken to church to be blessed. British snowdrops are still often found near churchyards and old religious foundations, ruined abbeys and priories.

But in truth it may be a mistake to regard them as signs of spring; they may more accurately be seen as a flower of the depths of winter. (A flower like the lesser celandine is a better spring marker.) Certainly, seeing snowdrops make an appearance is no guarantee whatsoever – although it just so happens that the Met Office's forecast for the next couple of weeks forsees coldish, damp weather, rather than a return of the arctic conditions of December.

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