After the deluge nature's winter beauty reveals itself
The last week has been one of the wettest on record, with as much rain falling than normally reaches the Yorkshire Dales in the whole of January and February. The deluge at the beginning of the week resulted in widespread flooding in the lower Dales, and turned rivers such as the Wharfe at Linton into raging torrents. Near Skipton the river Aire spilled over to occupy its wide flood plain and rendered several villages accessible only from moorland roads.
Around the settlements of Ilkley, Otley and Pool-in-Wharfedale many properties were inundated, with the water level in places reaching higher than it did in the 'Great Floods' of autumn 2000. Families whose homes were approaching normality after those floods once again had to begin the clean-up operation, left to wonder if their houses are jinxed.
The end of the week, by contrast, was bright and clear with the temperature nudging 10 degrees Celsius on Friday, a day of welcome sunshine and blue skies. An afternoon walk in lower Wharfedale allowed nature to reveal its winter colour.
Trees in late winter offer a naked kind of beauty, their semi-dormant state inviting close study of the intricate bark and newly emerging buds. In hedgerows prominent hawthorn trees stand proud, the older and taller specimens sometimes reaching four centuries in age. Most of their berries have been stripped by winter thrushes, indicating that spring will soon be upon us.
Snowdrops are flowering in profusion on lawns and hedgebanks. This delicate member of the daffodil family is also known as the 'snow-piercer', a term which describes how this plant pushes itself above the blanket of snow to reach the life-giving sunlight. In times of old, village maidens would collect snowdrops in February and wear them as symbols of their purity.
The bright yellow of the coconut-scented gorse bush brightens up these winter days. It flowers virtually all year round, a relief to patriots who believe the traditional saying 'while gorse is in flower Britain will never be conquered'. The sharp water-conserving spines of this popular amenity shrub hint at its ability to thrive in dry and windy locations and provide protection for the nests of small birds such as linnets and stonechats.
In the woodlands the ground is still rather bare. In a few places the first leaves of wild garlic emerge from the sodden earth. Crushing a leaf provides a reminder of the heady garlic odour to come when this white flowered plant carpets the woodlands in spring. The buttercup-like yellow flowers of the lesser celandine will soon be on show, taking advantage of the early spring sunlight.
Winter afternoons when the sun is low in the sky provide ideal conditions for examining the patterns chiselled in the landscape by our ancestors. The oblique rays of the weakening sun pick out ridge-and-furrow stripes created by strip-farming methods. They remind of us of a time when people were much more closely linked to the land - and the floods we have seen in the last week were just another hazard in the raw lives of Dalesfolk.
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