In 1906 Edith Holden started a Diary, now known as ‘The Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady’. In it, she observed Natures cycle through the months of the year, writing simply about the weather, the birds, the flowers and the natural world around her. All the pages are beautifully ornamented with her original artwork and favourite poems. In this Blog, I’m going to try to emulate her Diary in a modern way. For a start, this is a blog on a computer, not pen and ink lovingly written on paper! However, I hope that the end result will have some similarities, in that I want to capture day by day, month by month the steady rhythm of Nature through the year. For although our 21st century lives are hectic, chaotic, noisy and deafened by electronics, the beat of the natural world, which is the backdrop to all our lives whether we notice it or not, remains ever the same. So take a sedate, gentle and steady-paced journey with me through the next year, observing the natural world. Our way of life may have changed almost beyond recognition since 1906, but nature is doing what it always has done, the cycle of nature remains constant and reassuringly predictable. In that respect, nothing has changed. ‘ No Winter lasts forever; no Spring skips its turn.’ (Hal Borland)

Sunday, 2 February 2014

1st February.

February is named after the Roman word 'Februa', the Roman festival of purification and cleansing.  The Anglo-Saxons called this month Sol-Monath- Cake month, as they offered cakes to the gods in this month. In Welsh it is often referred to as Y Mis Bach- the little month.
Traditional days in February.
1st February- The pagan festival of Imbolc or Gaelic Brighid's Day.
2nd February-Candlemas day or Gwyl Fair y Canhwyllau in wales (Mary's festival of candles.)
14th February-St. Valentines Day.
24th February-St Mathias Day.

Folk-sayings about February.

' When the cat lies in the sun in February
She will creep behind the stove in March.

' Of all the months in the year
Curse a fair February.'

'If February give much snow
A fine Summer it doth foreshow.'

'If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight.
But if Candlemas Day be clouds and rain
Winter is gone and will not come again'.

February has arrived in very much the same fashion as January finished- wet, grey, windy and stormy! January in Wales has now been officially reported as the wettest on record.
The fields still have huge ponds of water on them and the brook over-topped it's banks again in the night leaving the grass flattened and strewn with debris. The Gulls and Herons seem to be the only creatures reveling in the constant floods. There are now many snowdrops and crocus in flower and even the occasional celendine. The Witch Hazel in my garden is covered in bright yellow sweet smelling flowers.

A Year's Carols: February. A.C. Swinburne

"Wan February with weeping cheer,
Whose cold hand guides the youngling year
Down misty roads of mire and rime,
Before thy pale and fitful face
The shrill wind shifts the clouds apace
Through skies the morning scarce may climb.
Thine eyes are thick with heavy tears,
But lit with hopes that light the year's."

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

January 21st.

There was a cold mist rising along the valley this morning, but it's been such a mild Winter so far, that the shrubbery along the lanes is still green, the banks covered in stitchwort leaves, celandine already, vetch and campion still flowering and the first snowdrops are flowering amongst the leaf litter on the woodland floor. This morning too, three skylarks were up in the sky singing on Red Hill-their Summer nesting grounds, can't remember have ever seeing them there so early in the year before, although it's lovely to hear skylarks any time of year. In contrast, the redwings and fieldfares seem to have disappeared at the moment, it's probably too warm for them so perhaps they've gone further north and will return if things turn colder. Still lots of flood water lying in the meadows and these are full of seagulls, and a large flock of lapwings too have flown in for a visit.

The Wild Rose and the Snowdrop-George Meredith ( lines from.)
The Snowdrop is the prophet of the flowers;
It lives and dies upon its bed of snows;
And like a thought of spring it comes and goes,
Hanging its head beside our leafless bowers.
The sun’s betrothing kiss it never knows,
Nor all the glowing joy of golden showers;
But ever in a placid, pure repose,
More like a spirit with its look serene,
Droops its pale cheek veined thro’ with infant green.

Queen of her sisters is the sweet Wild Rose,
Sprung from the earnest sun and ripe young June;
The year’s own darling and the Summer’s Queen!
Lustrous as the new-throned crescent moon.
Much of that early prophet look she shows,
Mixed with her fair espoused blush which glows,
As if the ethereal fairy blood were seen;
Like a soft evening over sunset snows,
Half twilight violet shade, half crimson sheen.

Twin-born are both in beauteousness, most fair
In all that glads the eye and charms the air;
In all that wakes emotions in the mind
And sows sweet sympathies for human kind.
Twin-born, albeit their seasons are apart,
They bloom together in the thoughtful heart;
Fair symbols of the marvels of our state,
Mute speakers of the oracles of fate!

Thursday, 9 January 2014

January 9th.

The water meadows in the Valley are living up to their description, the water subsided a little over the past few days but with heavy rain over night the plains are flooded deeply again.
A lovely, clear sunny day today though which is a welcome break from the perennial grey and wet. The ravens and buzzards were enjoying the clear conditions, croaking and mewing above the woods. The small songbirds too, robins and dunnocks were in full voice in the hedgerows. It's so mild at the moment that I've seen lots of squirrels about, there hasn't been any hibernation weather yet.

The Flood-John Clare.
On Lolham Brigs in wild and lonely mood
I've seen the winter floods their gambols play
Through each old arch that trembled while I stood
Bent o'er its wall to watch the dashing spray
As their old stations would be washed away
Crash came the ice against the jambs and then
A shudder jarred the arches - yet once more
It breasted raving waves and stood agen
To wait the shock as stubborn as before
 - White foam brown crested with the russet soil
As washed from new plough lands would dart beneath
Then round and round a thousand eddies boil
On tother side - then pause as if for breath
One minute - and engulphed - like life in death

Whose wrecky stains dart on the floods away
More swift than shadows in a stormy day
Straws trail and turn and steady - all in vain
The engulfing arches shoot them quickly through
The feather dances flutters and again
Darts through the deepest dangers still afloat
Seeming as faireys whisked it from the view
And danced it o'er the waves as pleasures boat
Light hearted as a thought in May -
Trays - uptorn bushes - fence demolished rails
Loaded with weeds in sluggish motions stray
Like water monsters lost each winds and trails
Till near the arches - then as in affright
It plunges - reels - and shudders out of sight

Waves trough - rebound - and fury boil again
Like plunging monsters rising underneath
Who at the top curl up a shaggy main
A moment catching at a surer breath
Then plunging headlong down and down - and on
Each following boil the shadow of the last
And other monsters rise when those are gone
Crest their fringed waves - plunge onward and are past
- The chill air comes around me ocean blea
From bank to bank the waterstrife is spread
Strange birds like snow spots o'er the huzzing sea
Hang where the wild duck hurried past and fled
On roars the flood - all restless to be free

Like trouble wandering to eternity.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

January 3rd and 4th.

Travelled down through a very stormy West Country to the Cornish Coast. Lots of flooded ground on the way, especially the Somerset Levels. The whole West coast, from  Scotland and Northern England down through Wales and into Devon and Cornwall is being battered by fierce Winter storms and combined with the high Spring tide is creating storm surges that are flooding coastal areas and the flat lands around. The Usk valley has escaped the worst fortunately, although the flood plains around the brooks and river are inundated with water, the surrounding villages have had little damage.

Stayed in Falmouth, which being on the east side of the peninsula is offering a calm haven for sea animals and boats alike. The bay off Gyllyngvase beach was full of sea birds- huge rafts of Shags, several hundred of them, resting in the calmer waters joined by razor bills, little auks and Great Northern Divers.
Also walked along the banks of the Helford estuary which had Egrets, Herons, Red-shanks and Green-shanks busily feeding in the mud, and some Shell ducks who were sifting through the mud with their large flat beaks.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

1st January.

January gets its name from the Roman God 'Janus'. The earliest Roman calendars had only ten months, with no January or February, and the New Year started on March 1st. In 153 BC the Roman senate changed the calendar and added January and February, naming the first month after the ' the spirit of the opening'- Janus, a two headed god who looked both backwards and forwards. The Anglo-Saxons called this time 'Wolf- Monath' as it was common for wolves to come in to the villages searching for food.

Traditional days in January.
1st- New Years Day.
6th- Epiphany or twelfth day.
7th- St Distaffs day.
25th- Burns night.

Folk-sayings about January.
 'A wet January, a wet Spring'.

'Fog in January brings a wet Spring'.

'The blackest month of all the year,
 is the month of Janiveer.

High waving heather, 'neath stormy blasts bending- Emily Bronte.

High waving heather, 'neath stormy blasts bending,
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars;
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven and heaven descending,
Man's spirit away from its drear dongeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars.

All down the mountain sides, wild forest lending 
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind;
Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing for ever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

28th and 29th December. The end of the Year.

Today was the calm day after the storm. Went for a walk along the very wet Olway Valley and up on to the lanes that criss-cross these hills towards Gwehelog. A hard grey light today that seems to bleach colour out of the landscape, which you often get after a storm. There's been a lot of wind damage to the trees, with many branches down and a loy more cracked and ready to fall in the next bout of storms that seem to be heading this way. In tha calm today though there were many birds of prey about, keen no doubt to make the most of the calm conditions to do some hunting and eating! A Sparrowhawk was chasing a green woodpecker that was calling out in fear and alarm and would in a few seconds have got it if it wasn't for the fact that I was in it's flight path and it pulled back when it saw me- lucky for the woodpecker! The hedges are full of birds so I'm sure it didn't take long for it to find an alternative meal. Also saw a beautiful female kestrel which is a rare treat these days in this area, a few decades ago they were very common here but have greatly declined. 

A cold, clear, frosty and sunny day. Walked along the Usk Valley, lots of the flood water lies iced over in the fields. The river is still high and fast flowing, with waves lapping up on to the banks in places, so still devoid of its usual birds. A beautiful glowing golden light today though and lovely blue skies to be appreciated before the next band of grey rain descends!

...And the Year ends on a dark stormy note.

The Darkling Thrush- Thomas Hardy. ( composed New Year's Eve 1900)
I leant upon a coppice gate
   When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
   The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
   Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
   Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
   The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
   The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
   Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
   Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
   The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
   Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
   In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
   Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
   Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
   Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
   His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
   And I was unaware.

Some December days in and around the Usk Valley.

Monday, 23 December 2013

December 23rd.

December's been very mild so far, but the last few days have been incredibly stormy, with lashing rain and gales. 
The river is very high and the flocks of swans, the goosanders and the mallards have all abandoned its fast flowing , muddy waters for calmer waters elsewhere, probably the reservoir at Llandegfedd. The Olway brook too is in flood, and similarly abandoned, though the overflowing waters have provided ponds in the fields that have attracted flocks of gulls. Most birds are grounded today though the high winds make flight very difficult! Along the brook, many trees and branches of the willows especially, have come down, revealing nests and honeycombs in their hollows from the Summer, and with their branches huge bunches of mistletoe are strewn on the banks. The hedgerows though are full of large flocks of thrushes, this year the Mistle thrush seems to have thrived, and they are now joined by their Winter cousins the fieldfares. The Robin in my garden has been singing a beautiful winter song all day, every day for the past few weeks, and although it s melodious notes started early this morning, it's now gone deep into the hedge to find shelter from the storm, no doubt as soon as the storm passes, it will be back out valiantly singing again!

Solstice Song.-K. Craigen.
Turn from the darkness
Step in to the light,
Burn the Yule Logs,
on this long Solstice night.

The Earths balance shifts
And we turn to the sun,
The journey to Spring
Has once more begun.
While the hedgehog lies sleeping,
The Dormouse dreams on,
The Robin and Thrush sing their mid-Winter song,
That tells of the light 
And the warmth it will bring,
The eggs in their nests,
And the flowers of Spring.

Say Goodbye to the darkness,
This Mid- Winter night,
The Earth beats a rhythm,
Dance in to the light.