Kate Humble: Signs of spring are everywhere, even in the chill

 

Spring has been a long time coming this year, a feeling exacerbated, I suspect, by the fact that we have barely seen the sun since last March. Remember last year? Spring made a tentative start in January and by the end of March the bluebells were out, most of us had had at least one barbecue and we were looking forward to a long hot summer. Then April came, and with it, the rain, which didn't stop.

Perhaps this year we've gone back to a more pagan calendar. Spring really did seem to come in a burst of sunshine and new growth right at the beginning of May. And May Day, marked as it was (and in some places still is) with a day of ribbons and bells and dancing around maypoles, was a celebration of what in the pagan tradition was seen as the first day of spring.

I am not given to skipping around a pole in a muslin skirt waving a handkerchief. Instead, a long walk, with a pub halfway around, seems the perfect way to mark the arrival of at least some sunshine. I live in the Wye Valley, a gloriously pretty part of the country, with the magnificent remains of ancient abbeys and thick-walled castles that serve as a reminder that this wasn't always a tranquil haven.

It has some celebrated footpaths, Offa's Dyke Path and the Wye Valley Walk, that wind up and down the steep-sided walls of the valley, through woods and fields, with far-reaching views. But one of the glories of being a local is knowing the other walks, the less-known trails, where the greening of the land can be celebrated without the crowds.

Earlier this month, five of us – with five ecstatic dogs – set off along the Monnow, the lesser-known river that flows into the River Wye at Monmouth. We walked away from the town of Monmouth, through fields of sheep with their little lambs chasing each other through the dandelions before collapsing in an unruly, panting heap.

Tractors were out, towing ploughs, carving up the rich brown soil that was finally dry enough to sow. Swallows wheeled and skimmed overhead; a chiffchaff called its own name repeatedly in the woods. Wood anemones, that have bloomed as early as February in previous years, now crowded the banks in a profusion I had never seen before. Among them were bright yellow celandines, shy, peeping violets and the first of the bluebells. Wild garlic, crushed by boots and a succession of galloping paws, filled the air with its potent scent.

I paused to pick up the neat half of a tiny eggshell, bright blue, lying on the path. In a tree or a bush nearby, a robin had hatched. We scanned the river as we walked, hoping for the flash of turquoise or high-pitched "peep" of a kingfisher and instead were rewarded by a pair of dapper dippers flying above the bubbling rapids.

Reward came again, in the shape of pints of cider and thick-cut sandwiches at the pub, where we joined a throng of pink-cheeked happy families in grateful celebration that spring – however late – had finally come.

Kate Humble's new book 'Humble By Nature' is out now (Headline, £16.99)

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