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A North Downs Way Diary

Just as we were thinking that winter was over and we sat in the spring sunshine thinking that it wouldn't be long before we would be getting the shorts out again, this happened!

A sudden snowfall to remind us of another traditional folklore saying ' Ne'ar cast a clout till May is out!' May in this case is not the month or an old Aunt but the flower of the Hawthorn.


It hardly seems like it but six months have passed by since we started this diary. In that time we enjoyed the end of a wonderful warm summer, watched as autumn fruits appeared and grapes ripened on the vines along the trail. With some of the warmest temperatures on record, seasons merged into each other and now, six months later we are at the start of probably the most dramatic (and favourite) seasons of the British countryside - spring.

For our ancestors February was an important month marking the start of another cycle in their annual struggle for survival, they would have known it as the mid point between the winter  solstice and spring equinox, a time when life is restored to the land.

February 2nd,  the pagan festival known as Imbolic,  and later chosen by Christians to mark Candlemas Day, was particularly significant and used to predict the weather for the year ahead.  'If Candlemas be fair and bright winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain Winter will not come again".

Once ewes had started to give milk, spring had definitely started.  Not sure about any milk but these were particularly fat, no doubt it won't be long before we start to see the first lambs. .

Another folklore tradition  occurs on February 2nd.  If a badger, hedgehog  or in our case this little rabbit appears out of its hole and casts a shadow six more weeks of Winter would follow.

American settlers brought this folklore with them from Europe and unable to locate any native badgers or hedgehogs picked on the Woodchuck, amending the tradition slightly into what is now known as Groundhog Day.

Well the big day came and a dark cloudy morning turned into a bright sunny afternoon so no doubt the weather for the next few months would depend on what time the little animals woke up.

One thing appears certain the noise from the songbirds in the hedgerows along the trail is drowning out the hum from the nearby motorways, early primroses and celandines are adding a touch of yellow as their flowers add to the snowdrops which are now in full bloom. Even a few daffodils are flowering in some sheltered spots.

Just over a year ago in January 2006 we stepped out along the North Downs Way for the first time and were pleasantly surprised to find well maintained paths so close to home. There are quite a few areas revisiting so this month we decided to go back, almost to the beginning and walk along the section around Guildford  which included the sandy summit of Martha's Hill.

Judging by the increasing numbers of joggers we pass it must be getting close to the marathon season with only a few months to go before the London Marathon runners of all shapes, sizes and abilities are out-numbering the dog walkers. Perhaps they are the reason why Lizzie has suddenly started to speed up, particularly on hills, leaving me trailing (far) behind.

Just outside Guildford there is a  reminder that, without the dedication of groups working to keep the countryside accessible and generous legacies we would have far fewer areas to walk, cycle, jog or ride in - 'These meadows were part of Shalford House Estate, the house has gone but the parkland remains, saved for the public pleasure.'