Into the Gloaming

Nightfall turned me into a ghost. It had been so hot, I’d dressed in white and hadn’t thought to change into more suitable clothing for a late evening walk. Now my husband was a little unnerved as I appeared to be floating across the field towards him.

With the twilight came the dusk chorus, dark’s answer to the dawn; in the woods, owls hooted and screeched. There was rustling close by, perhaps deer or a badger stirring, as the night woke up.

I’d hoped the day’s heat would be enough to light up the hedgerows, and I wasn’t disappointed. As we started down the track, we spotted the first tiny flicker: a glow worm suspended from a blade of grass. Further along, we found another and another deep within the hedge, fragile greenish-white dots of light.

It’s no wonder folktales abound about faeries. Midsummer Eve, a painting by the English artist Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914), captures and transforms the charm of these dabs of hedgerow brightness, which cast their own faint shadows.

Of course, in traditional tales, fairy folk or, as they are also known, the Sidhe (‘The Good People’), are much more ambiguous beings than the merry crowd depicted in Hughes’s picture, and best not crossed…

Although neither fairy folk nor indeed worms, glow worms are similarly best left undisturbed in their natural habitats. Their bioluminescence is mainly generated by the female beetle (Lampyris noctiluca) with the aim of attracting a mate. In England, the best time to see them is between June and August – and  those up the lane certainly seem to be more active on balmy nights.

All the same, while they might be firmly of this world, glow worms nevertheless seem to suggest that, on warm summer nights at least, a little magic might just be possible…

Midsummer Magic

A few miles away, there is a hillfort reputed to be the last resting place of King Arthur and his knights. Legend has that every seven years, on St John’s Eve (23rd June), the king and his knights wake from their slumber and ride out from their hollow towards Glastonbury. The jingle of bridles rings through the night air and if you bathe your eyes in Arthur’s Well on the fourth trench – and are true of heart – you can see the men go on their way.

I have neither heard nor seen the King and his entourage (perhaps I need to work on my true heartedness),  yet I’ve long known this hillfort to be a magical place. Rising up like an island, it offers long views over the land, and a cloutie tree used to grow on its banks. Churned-up mud can sometimes make the lower path tricky to navigate, but the upper slopes circle in a ridge like a dragon’s back.

It’s a place I sometimes visit when I’ve a bit of thinking to do – about things that have gone badly or well. By the time I walk back down, I’ve often regained a sense of perspective. It’s amazing how a short walk can do that for you – and there are few times of year as glorious to be out walking as midsummer, when the trees are in full leaf and the grass is long. No wonder King Arthur chooses this time of year to hit the road.

Most recently I’ve been thinking about my book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees, which was published last Thursday. While it’s been a boost to see it in the high street shops at last and to hear the audio version (a taster of which you’ll find here), I’ve already got that niggling sense of … and now what?

Most likely, I suspect, the answer will come to me when I’m out walking.

 

(The photo shows the view south, to the neighbouring hill.)