May. And suddenly, just like that, winter was over and the world sprang to life again. Traditions seem to run deep down here in Cornwall, and May Day is no different. Beltane, or May Day marks halfway between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice, and also the midpoint of the Celtic year. It seems that no time has passed since I wrote about the Celtic New Year, but it has, and here we are, six months on.
The Festival of Flora is celebrated on 1 May along with other traditional British May Day rites and celebrations: Morris dancing, the crowning of the May Queen and maypole dancing, or, in Padstow, the Obby Oss, in which the hobby horse parades through the streets, flowers are tied to lampposts, maypoles are danced round and singing starts before dawn. Buster danced all morning and was so tired, he slept all afternoon.
April showers have given way to, well, so far, some May showers – but interspersed with glorious sunshine. The evenings are really starting to draw out, and the cliff tops and verges are coming alive with colour. Earlier in Spring yellow was the predominate colour; gorse, primroses, narcissi. This has now been followed with blues – bluebells and forget-me-nots are the most abundant, whites – hawthorn and cow parsley, and pinks. The cliffs are full of pinks, bravely holding onto sandy crevices and rocky outcrops and the fields are beginning to be ploughed. Down here, rape seed fields are less ubiquitous but still plentiful. There is colour to be found everywhere – but most striking of all is the green. Leaves and ferns are unfurling, grass is growing – the call of the meadow by the tumbling river which is full of daisies and buttercups will never lose its allure to me. One day I will stop and lie down on a blanket. One day…
Things to do in May
Make May Day Posies
I watched the 1st of May dawn as we crossed the Atlantic – an epic dawn and sunshine for hours until we touched down in rainy Britain. I gathered wildflowers – bluebells, harebells, buttercups, red campion and forget-me-nots, from the hedgerows round our house, alongside the last of the scented narcissi from my tubs, and made May Day Posies – sadly too jetlagged this year to hand them out to neighbours. Maybe next year.
Walk in the Bluebell woods
The woods are now carpeted with bluebells and wild garlic. A heady combination – I seem to spend all my driving time with half an eye on the hedgerows and wooded verges, looking for a good place to stop and take a photo. I’ll come back and add one here once I’ve found the right one.
Forage for wild garlic and elderflower
I do love an activity which combines getting outside with something free, something I can eat, and also something I can photograph, so foraging is perfect. It takes a bit of confidence to be certain about what you’re picking but there are a few things that I am happy recommending – wild garlic, elderflower and blackberries – and this is the perfect time down here for wild garlic right now. Growing abundantly in woodland, it creates great carpets of pungent green leaves with delicate white flowers. Once the flowers are out, it is easy to identify – earlier on, don’t get it confused with other poisonous things like Lily of the Valley.
Wild garlic is easy to spot and collect, and makes great pesto – wash carefully and use the flowers as a beautiful seasonal garnish for a pasta dish or salad.
The elderflowers will be coming into flower later this month and can be easily collected and used to create cordial or even wine. I love watching the River Cottage episode where Hugh makes elderflower sparkling wine and the Polgoon elderflower champagne is one of my favourite local wines, perfect if you like the taste but don’t want to go to the trouble of foraging your own.
Cook (and eat!)
One of the things that I love most about coming into summer down here is the food. Our food miles reduce enormously as we are able to eat almost totally locally – and by locally, I mean within a 10 mile radius. We ate deep fried Porthilly oysters one night last week after heading to the beach after school, and last night we had sea bass with Cornish new potatoes and samphire.
I’m pretty damn excited about asparagus season which is just starting – my favourite locally grown asparagus goes on sale to the public next week, which I am really looking forward to. Simply steamed and served with a poached egg and some seasoning is how I like it best. We served steamed asaparagus at our wedding which was done in a tea urn! Look out for the British asparagus in the grocers or from road side stalls – and check how fresh it is by looking at the tops and bottoms of the stalks; the spears should be tightly closed, and the bottoms of the stems should not look too dry, or bendy.
I know we are insanely lucky having the beach on our doorstep, but even in the citiest of cities green space can be found. Getting outside for even a few minutes can bring peace and restoration – a little top up of vitamin D and a chance to close your eyes in the warmth. Down here, we have taken to heading to the beach after school if it is sunny, choosing to then work late into the night when it is dark, but even when we lived in London I’d head to a park or churchyard for a 5 minute scarf of a sandwich or coffee at lunchtime, or we’d head to the playground or splashpool on our way home from nursery.
Plant out your summer plants
Next weekend is the weekend for me (my Dad, an award winning allotment owner, is coming down to stay) so we are planning a weekend of planting. I’m hoping it is not too late to get some lettuces and cucumbers into the greenhouse…
Local things to look out for (I’ll add things as I come across them):
- SurfSide Rum Bar (on Polzeath beach) opens again on 4 May
- English Wine Week starts Saturday 26 May
- Rick Stein’s restaurants are celebrating mussels all May with special offers
- Moules Frites & Civrac white wine £13 for lunch/supper at St Tudy Inn every Wednesday