Country Diary: Sweet smell of bluebells – it must be May

A carpet of bluebells in Raincliffe Woods.
A carpet of bluebells in Raincliffe Woods.

Say, “Cheese!” Now you may be visited by a wee mouse that investigated our neighbour’s garden. No sooner had Christine warned us of its presence, as we enjoyed a cup of tea outdoors, than a tiny head peered beneath the fencing. A brief exploration, and it vanished.

The house mouse is the most familiar British wild animal entering most houses at some time or another, but it’s also frequent in the countryside, especially near corn. I confess to leaving it a fragment of cheese concealed from Tigga’s eyes, and next morning it had gone.

With the merry month of May, it’s bluebell time, and we all have our favourite haunts. On the outskirts of Scarborough, one can enjoy bluebells en masse providing a spectacle that is uniquely British. Dense colonies are usually associated with ancient woodland, but often when trees are felled, the ground flora receives increased illumination, and blossoming increases the following year. Raincliffe Woods, and Cloughton cliff top are popular, but more especially an area of woodland above Mowthorpe Farm, from where bluebells flow like a glacial stream, gently swaying like a wave of colour.

The pear-shaped bulbs were once used to make glue and starch. The root is full of slimy juice, and may be made into starch once used by Elizabethan ladies to stiffen their ruffs.

The sticky mucilage secreted from the flower stalks was used as a simple glue in book making, and to stick feathers onto arrows.

Inhale the powerful scent, so similar to that of hyacinths. The balsamic perfume is also present in night-scented stock, and broad bean flowers, being spicy like balsam or cinnamon.

This year I’ve found an abundance of spurge. Whether in neglected gardens or beneath a hedgerow, it could be a wild variety, or a cultivated species, as there are many hardy spurges, which serve as border, rockery and ground corner plants. They succeed in sun and shade, in rich and poor soils, and require little attention. The flowers are yellow-green in colour like the leaves. Pick a stem, and a white, milky juice is a swift indication of a spurge. Surprisingly they’re the poor relations of the showy poinsettias which brighten many homes at Christmas time.

Residents and visitors alike, strolling along Scarborough’s ever-popular Marine Drive, must surely now be aware that kittiwakes have returned to the sheer cliffs to nest on tiny, precarious ledges. They spent the winter far out at sea.

Vast ranks of gleaming, white birds nest here and lay two spotted eggs. Hundreds more, wheeling over the sea create an eye-catching spectacle and a great volume of noise. All the birds seem to call their name, “kitti-way-ake”. Kittiwakes are real birds of the sea, feeding on fish, and offal from trawlers. Unlike many gulls, they do not scrounge at refuse tips, or feed on beaches.