by Heather Elvidge
October, the Golden Month, earned that title for its fine days. But there’s gold too in our woods and parks as autumn transforms the land.
The great change comes slowly, and patchily. Some cherries are already pink and red, while their cousins a few miles away are unchanged. Some horse chestnuts are a blaze of yellow: elsewhere others are stubbornly green. Virginia creepers show a variety of shades – creamy white, pink, scarlet and burgundy.
At this point in the year we all wonder when the weather will turn. The Met Office suggests mild conditions are likely throughout October and possibly into November. That means yellow will be autumn’s predominant colour, because low temperatures are needed to produce fiery red leaves.
Our rural forebears watched the natural signs as they collected nuts and berries; pickled, dried, and salted food; repaired their winter clothes; cut wood and stacked peat. They believed that October held the key to winter, which is why the month has so much weather lore.
According to folklore, our unseasonably warm October means cold weather in January and February. Will there be snow? Folk used to count any misty days this month, because each one represented a day of snow during the winter.
Yes, totally bonkers, yet it’s surprisingly accurate. To try it, count only those mists that hang around all day, not the early morning ones that are chased away by the sun. You can rely on this one too - if your area has no frost by October’s full moon, you’ll be frost-free until November’s full moon. The Hunters’ Moon is on October 8.
The natural world was full of signs for those who could read them. When oaks hung on to their leaves, foxes barked a lot, badgers grew fat and squirrels filled their larders early, then a hard few months lay ahead. The most obvious sign of cold weather was an animal sporting a cosy pelt: “If the hare wears a thick coat in October, lay in a good stock of fuel.”
Making those kind of judgements requires a degree of familiarity that we can’t match. However, many of us have a cat or dog. Providing he spends enough time outside, your pet’s coat can speak as plainly as the hare’s.
And gardeners, while you’re tidying look out for hibernating ladybirds. If the winter is going to be mild the ladybird will be under the split bark of a tree, at least three feet up. But if hard weather is on the way it will be at ground level, tucked under a duvet of dead leaves. If you find one try not to disturb it, because ladybirds have not had a good year.
Twilight sets the scene for autumn funfairs. Many started off as trading fairs with hand-cranked rides as a sideline; as times changed the fun took over. Thousands of geese used to be driven on foot to Nottingham’s Goose Fair, but today it’s a big pleasure fair held from October 1 to 5.
Scarborough Fair is at William Street until Saturday. Or try rides and attractions from all over the country at Hull Fair, from October 10 to 18.