I whooped yesterday evening.

I whooped yesterday evening.

I saw my first swift of the year flying overhead – and truly felt that summer is on the way – however unlikely it’s seemed recently.

After a long, cold – and incredibly dry April, our water butt filled in the first days of May. Spring has seemed pretty elusive, compared to the heatwave spring of last year; and summer a distant dream.

Usually in this part of West Cornwall we sing and celebrate the passing of winter and the coming of summer on May 8 at Flora Day in Helston, one of the oldest May festivals in the country. The school kids get a day off, the pubs open at 7am, and the town centre – bedecked with bluebells – is closed to traffic, but full of people and very much open for dancing and celebration. Select “Furry Dance” participants in their glad rags wheel through the town repeatedly, to the repetitive strains of the town band and huge crowds of spectators.

The highlight for us is the pagan Hal-an-Tow celebration and singing the final verse of this old, old song feels almost cathartic:

“Hal-an-tow, jolly rumble, O.
For we are up as soon as any day, O
And for to fetch the Summer home, The Summer and the May, O
For Summer is a-come, O,
And Winter is a-gone, O.”

But again Flora Day was cancelled this year, much to the disappointment of many. I like to think of it as a rest year for the bluebells, so beautiful in our nearby Penrose woods right now.
As much as I am thrilled to be running a retreat – now full – in West Cornwall very soon, there are many things I’m still missing in these strange times.
One of the biggest, I’ve realised, is the uplands: I haven’t been “off the rock” (out of granite Cornwall) for months, and so I’ve really missed being in the mountains and in the rivers. As much as anywhere, they are my restorative place, my solace; being in them embodies my sense of freedom and joy.

So it’s with real delight that I can look forward to our next retreat – In eastern Snowdonia in mid-July. We’ll again be going “In Through the Outdoors” in the mountains, the forest and the wild coast. We’re returning to stay in a valley less known and visited; my yearning to return there is powerfully expressed in this poem:

I hear you whisper in the last of light
as I slip back to the unknown dark.
You are a place I have been before
when new light broke the skin on my eyes.

I feel you in the distance when coming by
but have yet to place adult foot on your land.
I was pulled out of you years ago
which made me scream until you held me safe.

I hear you whisper in the last of  light
as I slip back to the unknown dark.

My heart aches to live in you again,
swim warmly in your bluebell sea.
I once suckled on your fresh mountain top
giving me strength to walk, walk away.

I hear you whisper in the last of  light
as I slip back to the unknown dark.

But I long to sit again, press my hand
on your breast. Feel the heartbeat that
chimed for every minute I grew.

I wish to go back to the womb of life
in the warm sea of mother blue.
in the warm sea of mother blue.

(by Jaspers1980)cwm pennant

The views from one of our favourite walks up from Cwm Pennant are considered some of the best in North Wales, with the Snowdon massif to the east, Anglesey to the north, the expanse of Caernarfon Bay and the Llŷn Peninsula to the west, and Cardigan bay and the Welsh coast all the way down to Pembrokeshire visible to the south.

Again, we’ll be going “In through the Outdoors” on this retreat, which runs from July 15-19. Spectacular walking explores the ruins of the area’s industrial and mining past, and the bigger hills of Snowdonia are a short drive away. We will be based in low numbers and socially distanced in bunkhouse accommodation, with wild swimming available in the nearby river.

This three-night, three-day retreat is also a journey into yourself, your true nature and purpose, supported by nature as your greatest ally. It’s a restorative time, punctuated by exhilarating wild nature experiences in a stunning landscape.
We’re half full already, and there are only four more places, so if you’re also missing the uplands and this sounds for you, book now.
To register, click here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/in-through-the-outdoors-a-summer-journey-tickets-143195097391

If you need more detail first, contact either me on 07890 743 259 or Damian Tow, my ITTO partner and upland walk leader 07941 433 595.

Spring is here and summer awaits – are you ready for it too?

Spring Inspiring

Spring Inspiring

Spring inspiring

Rarely has the arrival and advance of spring felt so welcome, or so dramatic.

After one of the wettest, windiest winters in England I can remember – the country waterlogged and windswept for months – the new season has arrived with day after day of calm, sunny weather.
I’ve even been for a swim in the sea, it’s been so warm in the South West.

This has coincided, of course, with the Covid-19 crisis and a lockdown that has made time outdoors all the more sweet with the rapid unfurling of early spring.

Ten days ago I saw my first bluebell out in a hedgerow; now they are everywhere and the first few are even opening in the woods here in West Cornwall, heralding what will be a dramatic carpet of colour.

The early yellow sunshine of lesser celandines now feels long enough ago that some of them are going over, past their best, along with some bushier primroses. The same is true of blackthorn blossom. The pochard flocks and stunning goosanders have left the large lake of Loe Pool to the gulls, swans, cormorants and resident grebes.

Every day now spring is moving on, opening up further. Two weeks ago jackdaws were tugging at the golden new thatching on “Strawtop”, an old cottage on the road to Loe Pool out of my village; a raiding party of knavish jackdaws descended on our garden, after both food and nesting material.

I heard my first chiffchaff of the year, heralding for me the arrival of the summer migrants. Last week it was the first skylark in full song, filling the air with hope, it seemed to me. Then it was the wheatears, six males and one female (the males arrive from Africa first), bounding along a grassy field above the cliffs. I love that their name derives not from the romantic-sounding crop, but from their white rump – revealed in flight – making “wheatear” a polite version of the good, basic Anglo-Saxon term “white-arse”.

March violets have been out for a while now, woodruff in the verges, and yesterday I saw the delicate flowers of the wood anemone in a spot where I’d never noticed them before. Pink thrift is emerging from it’s puffy green pincushions all along the cliff tops. And in the last couple of days I’ve seen the first of the tiny, delicate blue flowers of Spring Squill in a sun trap spot.

These daily sights seems the more precious for a number of reasons; firstly, in this time of confinement and separation, my daily walk feels like the highlight of each day; sunny weather has made staying at home tough – sure – but has made walking wonderful.
My mood is so up and down at the moment, with wild swings influenced by a whole range of unreal thoughts and emotions: judgement, fear, anger, worry, admiration, self-criticism, and terrible sadness. This sadness I can live with – compassion is being real with the suffering out there. But the fear has kept me indoors sometimes for two days in a row, further feeding my sense of alienation and furring up: I now get out every day into nature: it’s my restorative time.

Any repetitiveness of the walking routes is broken by the magic of spring’s advance: yesterday I noticed new, floppy russet sycamore leaves opening in a laid hedge: such a simple delight.

Then there are the weightier portents: for me these daily changes at the seasons edge reminds me that each day is different and presents new opportunities and potential; that this is only groundhog day for me if that’s where my focus goes; that change is constant, in the smallest details and in the big picture too.

Also I see that Change is in the air, in a far bigger sense. One of the most positive developments to come out of the current crisis so far has been visioning for the future: an acknowledgement that we can’t go back to business-as-usual after all this, but instead will want to create a better world for the times ahead. Writers and commentators have been envisioning a change to societal values and a shaken-up refocusing of national and international priorities.

The enormous outpouring of love and admiration for our NHS workers, the galvanising of goodwill and empathy to create an army of volunteers to support the elderly and vulnerable people in our communities, the coming together of politicians and trade unionists to create unified policies including a huge financial support package: all of these speak to a different collective mood now, and a huge threshold for change.

I may be being overly optimistic – perhaps to counterbalance despondence and cynicism – but with Spring in the air and inspiring me daily, the longer-term future looks brighter too.