October – the golden month

Hull Fair seen from the Big Wheel Photo by Martin Spamer
Hull Fair seen from the Big Wheel Photo by Martin Spamer

After a strange summer we’re having an unsettled autumn, yet there is hope. October usually has more fine days than foul, which is why it was called the golden month.

Our rural ancestors believed that October held the key to the winter. This was when they collected nuts, preserved meat and other food, repaired their winter clothes, and cut wood to see them through the hard times. They needed to be prepared and that’s why October’s weather lore looks forward into the new year.

There’s often an Indian summer around St Luke’s Day on the 18th. One old saying even promises 21 fine days, although this is not as good as it sounds. A mild October with late leaf fall means winter will come in January and February.

Attention was paid to the number of misty days in October. It’s said that for every one there’ll be a day of snow during the 
winter, heavy or light 
according to the mist.

Yes, this sounds totally bonkers, and yet it’s surprisingly accurate. Count only the mists that hang around all day, not those early-morning ones that clear when the sun comes out.

Plants and animals were observed keenly. When the oak hung on to its leaves, animals grew an extra-thick winter coat and squirrels filled their larders early, then a hard winter lay ahead. The natural world was full of signs, easily read by those who lived closer to it than we do. But happily, one creature that we all recognise turns out to be brilliant at forecasting.

Ladybirds have had a 
terrible summer. The survivors are hiding away now and if you should chance upon one, take note of where it is.

If the winter is going to be mild the ladybird will be under the split bark of a tree, at least three feet off the ground. But if a harsh winter is on the way it’ll be tucked in a pile of dead leaves on the ground. 
Research has shown that 
ladybirds always get it right, though how they know remains a mystery.

Bright lights

If you missed that burn-up of space debris on September 21, there’s a chance of some shooting stars this Sunday.

The Draco shower can be a bit of a yawn, but in some years the Dragon awakes. So if the sky is clear it’s worth a look, especially as the Draconids appear at a convenient time, unlike most meteors. Look up from the Plough towards Cygnus, the Northern Cross, from nightfall to the early evening of October 7 and 8.

Early twilight sets the scene for autumn funfairs. Many started off as trading fairs with stalls and simple rides as a sideline: the fun took over as times changed.

At Nottingham, thousands of birds used to be driven on foot from the fields to the Goose Fair. Today it’s a huge pleasure fair, held from 
October 3 to 7.

Another monster is Hull Fair, originally a medieval charter fair dating from 1278. Be dazzled, be terrified, and savour the scents of burgers, candyfloss, 
toffee apples and brandy snap from October 5 to 13.