A verdant tide now rises; hedgerows swell, canopies expand, and verges brim and spill into the narrowing lanes of Stone down. The seal is finally broken and Spring’s envelope opens to reveal a love letter from Summer. The grassy lakes of paddock, kept shallow by winter’s prolonged onslaught, quickly gain depth, filling up their hedged container with a rippling surface of fresh growth and submerging my body beneath its tidal line.
The grass grows so quickly it’s as if the colour green is flooding through the gate while also being poured from the sky and geysered up through the earth. Now, when seated, only my head protrudes above grass height and as the sun falls close to the horizon in the late evening its low rays reveal a dainty floral mist dressing the meadow; the flowers of hemlock and lady’s smock dotted by yellow of field buttercup and dandelion and pierced by the swords and spears of flowering and seeding grass heads.
Fuelled by the fire of May and recent deluges, the countryside is now ripe and ready for the leap into Summer. Recent cold wind and rain seems like a distant memory as I bathe in the first broken waters of the Summer’s birth. This is the month of Beltane, the festival that marks the start of Summer and sees thousands of revellers descend on Glastonbury town to march with the green men and the maypole to bushy coombe. Horned beings, woodland fairies, walking hedges, rainbow dragons and everything in between march through the streets on their way up onto bushy coombe. They stop at the White Spring to receive a water blessing before proceeding on Wellhouse lane, onto Lypiatt lane and then arriving onto the Coombe where the crowd is ushered through woven willow tunnels amidst a haze of smudging smoke – cleansed before they join the May Day ceremonial circle.
Upon the coombe, enclosed by a crowd 10 people deep and presided over by Grandmother lime, the maypole is finally planted in a receptive hole dug the previous day by the women of Avalon. Once erected, a merry dance ensues until the spiralling ribbons are wrapped fully around the ash pole. It’s a spectacular event for which people venture from all over Europe to enjoy. This year, the morning’s grey clouds were marched away and the day transformed into bright sunshine, which further buoyed the already uplifted atmosphere.
In the hedges, Spring has been rather delayed and anticlimactic. At times I thought it may have been cancelled as the hanging blanket of perpetual grey was to be torn by light’s blade on only a handful of occasions. Now, I can finally say that the season has started to gain some legs and Spring’s orgy on the breeze is underway.
From my house, the view out across the levels, for so long stood beige and bleak, is now colouring itself in, painting a new scene through my window with each day.
From up here, I have the perfect vantage point to observe the bigger picture, the macrocosm of Spring’s unfoldment. As far as the Mendip hills one can see the Willy’s bright pops, and Lady birch tree’s licks of green flame, the poplar’s beginning to whisper, while the mature oaks flash bright golden.
In contrast, upon Stone down, the opportunity is to get up close and personal. I spend prolonged periods investigating the oaks unfolding golden catkins that are punctuated by plump red oak galls. The dangling male flowers are topped by sprigs of tiny new oak leaves and they are capped with the treasured pink receptacle of the female flowers sitting delicately atop their strange bouquets waiting for the indiscriminate drift of pollen from the catkins of a nearby oak to dust their styles and initiate a new generation of acorn production.
I write this month’s newsletter from a quiet corner of a field lying directly to the North of the Tor. This field’s end is sunken beneath the eye line and surrounded by uninterrupted hedge that provides a secluded hideaway out of sight of nearby lanes. Thankfully, I have been afforded enough sunshine to enjoy a number of leisurely visits here. I bask in the brief intervals of sunshine, sing songs to the emerging season and enjoy the bird’s improvisation as a backing track. Spring’s perpetual choir is joined by wren, robin, blackbird, thrush, finch, tit, woodpecker and black cap, to name a few, and is interrupted only by the darkness of night, when the owls take over. Rarely a silence falls across Spring’s land.
On the field’s western edge stand two ash trees I know as the dancing ash due to their enigmatic poses. The tree on the left with its feminine curves and the one on the right with its more masculine angular appearance. The female tree even has a gown of ivy to preserve her modesty. Soon they will both be adorned with capes of bright green pinnate leaves and will be the last species to waltz their way into Summer.
In this corner, all is peaceful, I’m only rarely disturbed by the owner of the field, Wilf, who comes to collect fallen ash branches for the fire and to check that none of the neighbouring paddock’s sheep have been caught in or passed through the overgrown hedge. The eastern hedge has been allowed to grow to 3 metres or more and is full of mature hawthorn, ash, elder, and interrupted by large portions of privet. It’s never been laid and so is more useful as a narrow corridor of woodland than a confining hedgerow. The neighbours sheep, much to Wilf’s frustration, are constantly finding ways through the ineffectively spaced trunks into his field.
Wilf doesn’t like the sheep in his field, but doesn’t seem to mind my presence, as long as I don’t make a mess. He’s an older gentleman well known in the community for his decades of service delivering eggs from a vintage van. He’s good to talk to, knows a lot about the local area and is probably the oldest man still working!
At the foot of the field stand two old willow pollards, known to Wilf as ‘Willys’. Long ago, a permanent pond stood here fed by the field’s downward slope, hence the presence of these watery trees. ‘It was used to water the cattle’, Wilf informs me, ‘the pond fell out of use when mains plumbing came in’. The two willows have not been trimmed for ten years or so; their heads of new growth are now at prime girth for poles. A third Willy standing at the top of the field, was trimmed by Wilf himself, who proclaims proudly, ‘I did that Willy there’, he said, ‘is an el of a job!’.
I have found yet another sanctuary here, a place where I am welcome to stay and play as long as I like. As I sit alone in this field late on Beltane’s afternoon, I reflect on the weekend’s celebrations – the crowds who come to celebrate this festival grow larger with each year as more people realise what’s been missing from their lives is a connection to nature and an honouring of the cycles of the earth. Or perhaps they simply enjoy watching the May day loons dressed in pieces of tree meander, mead fuelled, up the High Street!
From here, I can still hear the drummers on Bushy coombe, as raucous now as they were four hours ago. As the crowds dwindle the party continues, I am content to listen from a distance, having had my fill of the crowds, I am tired and seek revivification from the swathes of green and blue, cleansing from the song of bird and internal recalibration from the surging rays of Beltane. Here’s to the cracking of Winter’s seal, and the unfolding of Spring’s envelope to reveal Summer’s poem written upon the hills and coombes of Avalon.
MW – 5/5/23
A Visual Diary – Apr / May
Spring Tree Walks
Public Tree Walks, Glastonbury – By Donation
Spring Tree Walk – Sun 7th May 11am – Event link
Spring Tree Walk – Sat 20th May 11am – Event link
Wedmore Tree Walk – Sat 10th June 14.30pm – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sat 17th June 11am – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sat 8th July 11am – Event link
Summer Tree Walk – Sun 23rd July 11am – Event link
Abbey Tree Tours – Spring 2023
This walk can only be booked via the Abbey website:
Sat 13th May – 11am – 12.30pm – Details and tickets
Sat 3rd June – 11am – 12.30pm – Details and tickets
Booking: 07548 936 081
Walks for individuals and groups, for birthdays, weddings, and as an add on to your retreat, at a date and time to suit you.
Call Matt to book: 07548 936 081
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