Spring in Saddleworth by John Kirkbride

John Kirkbride takes a look at what spring might bring in Saddleworth this year

TO me, spring is a time of regeneration and optimism, and I feel that this year in particular we should embrace it with open arms and welcome the pleasure it can bring (though you may need to check the guidelines to make sure embracing spring is allowed).

There’s a lot going on in spring, particularly in a rural area like Saddleworth, as the flora and fauna (not to mention quite a lot of the people) awake from their winter slumber.

The view from the window begins to morph from murky brown to that refreshing shade of chartreuse that heralds the beginning of new growth. The days get longer (if that’s possible at the moment), the air gets warmer and, if we’re lucky, the sun pops its head out and says, “Remember me?”

I was going to say that even the rain doesn’t feel as wet, but that’s not true, so let’s park that.

The other great thing about spring taking place when it does is that we still have the summer ahead of us. It’s the time when we start to think about holidays in the sun, weekends at the coast or, given current circumstances, maybe just a day out in Halifax.

The things we’ve been looking forward to are finally almost within touching distance. (Are we allowed to touch them? Not sure). But no matter. Enjoy the longer days, enjoy the birdsong and the flowers, and enjoy stuffing your fur-lined underwear back in the drawer for another few months.

Stuff about spring
When it’s spring in the top half of the world it’s autumn in the bottom half, so be thankful you live where you do. When we hit the spring equinox – alternatively known as the vernal equinox, or to a handful of people, Jeremy – you can expect around 12 hours of daylight.

Obviously, this increases as we head towards June but it’s also the point where some bright spark will inevitably say “only a few weeks till the nights start drawing in”.

Spring has been around a long time, too. While us Brits were still living in caves and hitting each other over the head with clubs, the ancient Egyptians were constructing the Great Sphinx of Giza. There’s a theory that it was built looking east to point out the position of the vernal equinox sunrise.

Another theory states that the word ‘spring’ is derived from the obscure Latin word ‘springus’, which is what Roman prisoners used to shout through the windows of their cells. (I made that up). In fact, the word simply refers to the concept of new growth ‘springing’ from the ground. In Old English it was known as Lent, which was traditionally the time when you took all your overdue books back to the library. (I made that up, too).

Spring on the farm
Spring is actually the busiest time of year for the nation’s farmers, and it’s no different in Saddleworth. You won’t see our farmers resting on wooden gates in their smocks and floppy hats sucking on blades of grass (unless you live in The Land of The Two Ronnies).

One of the first things they have to do is check all their walls and fences before allowing the livestock out to enjoy the warmer weather and fresh grass. Here in Highmoor we have a group of four nomadic sheep who simply jump the walls from field to field. I can’t help wondering how they decide on where to go for lunch. (“How about Bobby’s field?” “Nah, I had some dodgy pasture there once.”)

March and April are also the time for calving and lambing, and if you’ve seen any of those agriculture shows on TV you’ll know how busy that keeps our farmers. So if you hear the cry of “Baah!” echoing around the hills of Saddleworth, it’s not people complaining about lockdown restrictions; it’s just the wonderful sound of brand new life emerging.

You may also notice a distinct aroma of something not entirely pleasant – but don’t worry, it’s not you. Early spring is also the time when farmers embark on a muck spreading spree, covering their fields in slurry. It may pong a bit (and it’s probably best not to ask where it came from) but it doesn’t half make the grass grow. In all seriousness, it’s a hugely important job.

The joys of spring
One of the greatest joys of spring is the hope and optimism it brings for the coming year. And at this unusually difficult time in all of our lives, we need as much of that as we can get. There’s something about the sight of daffodils valiantly pushing their way up at the end of a harsh winter that makes my heart sing. (It’s usually Dance of Death by Iron Maiden, but it’s still a song).

Along with the daffodils, those tough little flowers known a snowdrops are always a pleasure to see. Although it may still be blizzarding in Saddleworth, they’re a reassuring sign that spring is on its way. And who can take a spring walk through a patch of woodland and not break into a smile at the sight of a carpet of bluebells? Well, someone who’s allergic to bluebells, obviously – but that doesn’t detract from their beauty.

Some people’s favourite season is autumn. I get why, but how can you have a favourite season that’s followed by iron-grey skies, freezing cold weather and the temporary death of all plant life?

For me, one of the greatest joys of spring is that it’s followed by summer. The pleasure we get from seeing all those new shoots coming through is multiplied in late spring, as the nation turns that glorious shade of green and the skies (occasionally) turn blue.

It’s also the time we start to think about digging out the shorts and t-shirts, while dreaming about sandy beaches, warm sea and sunshine. As I write, it’s hard to predict what kind of summer we’re going to be able to enjoy. Some of those trips to exotic locations across the world may not be possible. But one of the things this pandemic has shown me, is what a stunning country we live in.

In 2020 I was lucky enough to visit Chatsworth House, Malham Cove, various Roman ruins and medieval abbeys, Haworth, some great villages, towns and beaches in the North East, parts of the New Forest, a glorious beach in Bournemouth, historic Salisbury, and equally historic Bath.
I have incredibly fond memories of those trips away, and they’re mine to keep forever. So if we can’t go abroad for a while yet, let’s remember that Britain is a realm full of history, fascinating towns and cities and beautiful countryside, and lets make the most of it.

Just don’t forget your mask.

Brassed off but bullish
One spring event that’s eagerly looked forward to in Saddleworth is the Brass Band Contest, which was set to take place on May 28 this year.

Sadly, the organisers have decided that, given the current situation, it would be “irresponsible” to go ahead with this year’s event.

But be of good cheer because preparations are already underway for a buster of a contest next year, which is due to take place on June 10.

So polish your instruments bandspeople, and the rest of you polish your glasses (and I don’t mean spectacles). Let’s make the next one an event to remember!

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