When will people understand that the times of the year to visit our English Lakes are spring and autumn? When will they remember that our hills are never so full of expression as when powdered with the first October snow, and that our dales are never so sweet with colour of copse and leafage as in the merry month of May? (p. 33)….
As one rambles down by the Newlands Beck, the wandering voice of the cuckoo—half distant bleat, half bell—is heard from the hillside. It is the 2nd of May, and there goes the first swift I have seen this year, screaming with delight as the dark arrow-head flies across the blue. That tiny voice, with its quavering treble that one hears in the larch, is the chiffchaff; he has been here a fortnight, and every day seems to have added to his exultation. It is midday, and the only other voice I hear is the deep contented alto of the blackbird; the thrushes sang their hearts out at four o’clock this morning; we shall not hear them again in full song till the sky over the Wythop fells is charged with saffron and the long lingering twilight of the west fades into the green light which the first star loves to peep from. But what colour there is upon the hills; no longer blanched and white with the rains of April, no longer tawny as the great yellow-maned Helvellyn was tawny in February and March, but delicate lilac mixed with tenderest russet—such is the strange painting of May upon our Cumberland fell-sides. (p. 35)….
The last daffodils are failing in their dance, and all the valley is filled with that tender humming of the bees which makes one assured that winter is over and gone. The skies above our heads are cloudless and azure pale; the lake at our feet is still as a mirror. (p. 36)
The sun is westering now, and the poplars against the cobalt blue mountain-side stand up like towers of gold. In the woods the birches seem like fountains of emerald, and the wild cherry in silver beauty of flower gleams against the russet and amber of the budding oak. The sycamores shine in first leafage as if their foliage were clear glass. Only the ash is sullenly leafless still, her bare branches white almost as giant sea corals. In the gardens the laurel is breaking into its feathers of flower, the wild clematis is tufting all its quaint dry woody growth with green, the last red tulip shells are cast away, the last red anemones are fading, but the forget-me-not and the wallflower are in full beauty, and the gardener is sweeping the daisies into a heap of scented snow. (pp. 36-37)….
And now has come the enchanted hour when the May day at the English lakes seems most bewitching. The sun has dropped beneath the hills. It sends its glory from the burnished Solway sea to light the zenith and to cast reflected beauty upon the evening fells. Helvellyn, pale lilac through the day, now glows like pink opal. The woods and meadows in the nearer foreground become grey purple and cobalt. Far off on the distant hills patches of sunlight seem to be a perpetual benison; these really are but the russet patches of fern lit by the after-glow. It will be some time before the stars appear, for there is no such long twilight as ours in May; but over Helvellyn, like a pale ghost, the full May moon is just risen, and she will have sailed well into middle-heaven before the golden glow has faded out of the west and star-time has begun. Here as one sits in the mellow light of coming eventide the last rooks caw and pass contented to their rest, a pigeon churrs from a neighbouring lime; all else, except for distant rumbling of a wheel and the far-off sound of Greta, is still. Now a bat wheels out, dark against the white grey sky, and suddenly, as if by premeditated concert, all the thrushes and all the blackbirds of the Vicarage hill begin their evening hymn. (pp. 37-38)….
And now as suddenly as the chorus began, again as if by some mutual agreement, their voices cease. Purple dark now are the Borrowdale hills; grey-white is the level of Derwentwater; a veil of mist, unseen before, possesses all the woodland on Catbels; the sound of Greta at the weir grows upon the quiet air, the faint thunder of the last train to the west passes away, a field gate closes with tender sound of labour ended, an owl hoots from the neighbouring grove, and the first corncrake crakes from the meadows beneath, the strange little conjurer running from his own voice. How ceaselessly does this happy ventriloquist call for a mate! It is half-past nine; stars are not yet here, but the moon has begun to cast its shadows. Starlight or moonlight, what cares he?—he has but one desire, and that is fellowship; and all that one may hope for is that ere the dawn he shall hear another voice in another meadow, hear it and rejoice. (pp. 39-40)
Glad as was the early morning when, from four to five o’clock, the air was shaken with the sound of birds delirious almost for the coming of the May-day sun, I am not sure but that the sweetest hour of the glad May-day is this hour of twilit eventide, when only the bat wheels and the owl hoots and the corncrake calls from the meadow. (p. 40)
(A Rambler’s Notebook at the English Lakes, pp. 33-40)