Country diary: my heart dances with the daffodils

At the entrance to Letah Wood, a loud-voice wren trills from an ivy perch and silver birches reach up into a blue sky. Believed to be the last wild daffodil wood in Northumberland, it is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust. The Letah Burn cuts a meandering course down its length with a footpath criss-crossing it by stony fords.

There are remnants of coppicing and a honeysuckle vine winds round a hazel pole like a helter-skelter at a fair. As the vine grows and tightens it will mould and shape the hazel, something that walking-stick makers would patiently encourage for the natural barley sugar twists. Hazel, holly and yew are the understorey trees beneath soaring beeches and magnificent Douglas firs.

The entire hillside on the opposite side of the burn is fresh and green with wild garlic. Sunlight slants through the beeches, throwing striped shadows across its succulent leaves. They can be used to make a vibrant pesto with walnuts, an emerald spring soup, a pungent potato curry. In a few weeks’ time, the garlic’s starry flowers will transform it into a hill of white. This plant is a survivor. A clump of wild garlic is growing between the buttresses of a beech tree, making use of the little cavity that is damp and rich with leaf mould.

A clump of wild garlic growing between the buttresses of a beech tree

There’s evidence of the winter’s high winds and relentless rain. I teeter on the rocks and branches that other walkers have laid across boggy, squelching mud. The burn twists and turns through scoured banks where exposed tree roots hang like a horse’s mane. A small holly, torn from the earth, arcs across the stream, and I have to scramble under a huge beech that was felled in the gales.

Then, on the bank in front of me, I see the wild daffodils. Straw-pale petals around deeper yellow trumpets and with softly glaucous leaves, they are smaller and daintier than garden varieties. In isolated clusters or spilling down the slope in large drifts, they are delicate and exuberant at the same time. The joy I feel at seeing them is heightened by the sudden yaffle of a green woodpecker echoing through the wood.

o Susie White recorded a walk in Letah Wood for BBC Radio 4’s PM programme on 23 March 2020


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