23 April 2020 by Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace
As part of our #RoamSweetHome campaign, Ramblers Scotland president Lucy Wallace is sharing her Lockdown Diaries. In her latest blog, nature expert Lucy helps us seek calm and hope during our local exercise sessions, by guiding us through the colourful turning of the seasons.
Lucy on a lockdown stroll, as spring arrives at Whitehouse Woods on Arran
Spring is swinging through the trees of my village, in a rush of luscious buds and delicious blossoms.
Actor Robin Williams, famously said: Spring is Nature’s way of saying, “Let’s Party”. I get the impression that Williams knew a really good party when he saw one.
Perhaps it’s the endless days of sunshine, or maybe I am finally paying attention, but this year nature seems to be enjoying herself even more than usual. The buds are more juicy, the blossoms more plump, than any spring that I can remember.
This is the first year that I have noticed the animal quality of sycamore buds. The shell-like scales grow fleshy and pink, until eventually the leaves explode forth, like the voluptuous tentacles of a sea creature.
The speed with which they have been bursting out is quite astonishing and at odds with my normal impression of trees being slow and ponderous things. It is as if my perception of time has slowed and subtle changes have a clarity that I have not noticed before.
The origins of sycamores in Britain are murky. The earliest English references date to the Tudors. Intriguingly the ancient Gaelic name, fior chrann (‘true tree’) suggests a far older heritage.
Young beech leaves have also appeared in the last few days. They are edged with downy fuzz like baby mammals, but only a plant could be this shade of green. Emerald pleats unfurl in the breeze, tiny hairs sparkle in the sunlight.
Most of the beeches locally are hard trimmed hedgerows, but we have a few venerable old trees with smooth elephantine bark. I am pleased that something so dainty could grow from these gentle giants.
Like the sycamore, the beech is not considered a true native of Scotland, but has successfully colonised our woodlands after hundreds of years of planting by land managers. Today, these old trees seem completely at home.
Willow, is most definitely an indigenous part of this landscape. Goat willows grow along the boggy flanks of streams at the edge of my village.
Normally drab, scrubby trees, spring has gilded them with catkins and the air is rich with pollen. In the last few days the willow warblers have arrived from their winter digs. These tiny migratory birds, like their namesakes, are plain to look at, but their song is pure and full. They will cheerfully sing from any tree, but I am a happy pedant when they sing from the burnside willows.
This is the year that I discovered ash flowers. Ash trees depend on the wind to reproduce- thus the pollen is carried from tree to tree, and the winged fruits will take flight in the autumn.
Ash flowers are very mysterious, purple, sticky things that don’t look much like flowers at all. They sprout sideways in clusters on the growing tips of the tree, either side of the black hoof-like buds. These buds are distinctive, it is easy to tell an ash, even in winter when the branches are bare.
Now, the leaves are thrusting their way out of the buds and soon the trees will be fully dressed.
Spring doesn’t happen unanimously in the same time and space. There is a lag here on the West Coast of Scotland.
Frosts are rare but cool breezes have a chilling effect, and I’ve jealously noted on social media that some parts of the country have hawthorn blossom already spreading through the hedgerows. Not here. It's called “Maythorn” for a reason and the trees on Arran will doggedly wait until May is announced before they let loose.
We do have the fresh young leaves though; children long since grown knew this tree as “Bread and Cheese”. They don’t taste anything like this of course, but a few leaves scattered on a salad aren’t too bad.
There is plenty that is in flower. The gorse blooms all year but in March and early April it reaches its zenith.
The warm sunny days have helped to pump its sweet coconut scent in to the air. The tracks that line the rough meadows around the village are heady with it.
Meanwhile down in the village itself, another flame coloured bloom is making its presence felt. Darwin’s Barberry is native to the cloud forests of Patagonia, but it loves our mild, damp climate. This prickly evergreen shrub pops up all around our village and is currently ablaze with tiny orange flowers.
The overall impression is not subtle, it’s like a can of nature’s Tango but stand close and each quivering bush hums with bees and other insects.
I’ve saved the best till last. Spring is the time of blossom, and the ultimate blossom is cherry. Famously, cherry blossom has inspired festivals and rituals in Japan, but we Brits are also huge fans and they are common in parks and gardens countrywide.
There are thousands of ornamental varieties, prized for their beauty, but those grown here are often grafted on to British wild cherry stock, to help them grow vigorously in the local conditions.
The wild cherries, or geans, flower early, and they were already blooming here in March on a patch of waste ground along the river. Delicate puffs of white came before the trees had their leaves ready, decorating bare, tangled branches.
The wild blossoms are fading, but the ornamental cherries are now at their peak. My favourites stand in front of the High School, groaning with pink pompoms, like tasteless prom dresses. These are mature trees and much older than the current school buildings.
When the previous school was torn down, locals campaigned to make sure that the cherry trees would be part of the modern development. Generations of school children have come and gone beneath their branches. Fragile, fleeting in their beauty, cherry blossoms symbolize the renewal of life and the richness of the seasons to come.
The Ramblers’ new #RoamSweetHome campaign aims to inspire everyone to keep active safely during the coronavirus pandemic. We’re also urging walkers to keep connected – both with landscapes and each other - during lockdown for everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing. Get involved at ramblers.org.uk/roamsweethome
All photos by Lucy Wallace.