BBC Countryfile Magazine

Sara Maitland

The slow and magical process of spring unfurling is a wonder to observe

- Illustrati­on: Lynn Hatzius

It’s hard to write broadly about the first signs of spring in the UK because they vary, both in date and in detail, across – or more precisely, up and down – the country.

The Shetland Isles are just over 700 miles north of Land’s End – or over

700 miles further from the equator and therefore, obviously, over 700 miles nearer the North Pole. This is why it gets dark earlier during the winter in Scotland and, in summer, stays light much later than the south. (As it happens, I live in south-west Scotland almost exactly halfway between the two.) As an additional complicati­on, the weather also varies from east to west and the warmth or otherwise of the soil and, therefore, the timing of the signs of spring vary with it.

Despite these caveats, sometime – nearly always sometime in March – things will start to move forward from winter to spring. One day, you will notice, almost to your surprise, that you set out for your walk without your woolly mittens and hat and did not mind for quite a long time; or that you drive home after work without turning your car lights on; or that your garden bulbs have pushed up those curiously bright-green spikes.

If, like me, you live relatively high, you will realise that a new shade of green is pushing up the hill – the fresh grass growth begins in the valleys and works its way up the roadsides. Most snowdrops come into flower before the end of March. Buds begin to fatten on bushes and then trees.


The coming of spring is a gradual process. This is true of all the seasons; although we constantly try to put firm dates on them, they tend to slip away from our ‘rules’ and follow their own whims each year.

Because of this, I adopt a slightly different walking ‘policy’ from March to May. Most of the year, I try to take a different walk each day, but during early spring I repeat two or three walks through the week so I can observe the slow developmen­ts that spring brings to the hills, woods and riverbanks here.

Spring is a process, not an event, and you get the greatest delight out of it by paying careful attention over an extended period. For example, most trees – and bushes – push out white buds that turn green surprising­ly slowly, sometimes not until they leaf out. The steady change from bare and brown, to white then green, has a special slow magic that is worth looking out for.

On the other hand, many flowers – primroses, for example – seem to leap out of the ground all at once, flowering fully. What appears and when and in which order tends to be a local issue, related not simply to north and south, but to altitude, predominan­t wind direction and a host of other local circumstan­ces.

Similarly, the arrival of migratory birds seems to happen without warning: I tend, here, to see house martens before I hear the first strange cry of the curlews arriving up from the coast – even though the curlews have less than 25 miles to travel, while the martens have to fly all the way north from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Now that we all live with electricit­y, we probably notice the later coming of the dark and the warming of the air less than our ancestors did, but even so, there is still a deep magic in the sneaky, silent arrival of spring.

Don’t miss it.

Have your say What do you think about the issues raised here? Write to the address on page three or email editor@countryfil­

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 ?? ?? Sara Maitland is a writer who lives in Dumfries and Galloway. Her works include A Book of Silence and Gossip from the Forest
Sara Maitland is a writer who lives in Dumfries and Galloway. Her works include A Book of Silence and Gossip from the Forest

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