We spent a day in the Lake District, the 21 March this year, at the invitation of Jan Dalton. We had confessed to him earlier that we had never seen the famous Wordsworth daffodils “beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze…” He rang to say they were beginning to flower so we met up with Jan and Lynne his wife and set off on what was to be a magical day. The Lake District in early spring (it was the first day of spring) has a look of winter still. The trees are leafless and when the cloud comes down onto the tops you’re glad you wore that extra layer of fleece. But there are lambs on the fells and that heart lifting feeling that you are on the verge of a new season of life. Just east of Windermere was our first encounter, Brigsteer Woods beside the tiny village contains hundreds of thousands of the tiny wild daffodil spilling down the slopes among the trees. The wood is ancient and was obviously coppiced for many years, the stands of hazel bear witness to this, interspersed with large oaks. There is a walk through the woods and every step reveals more and more of the enchanting flowers. You need wellies, the mud is likely to suck your shoes off, but what a sight.
We had lunch at Miller Howe which looks out over Windermere and admired the daffodil raised by Jan and named ‘Miller Howe’. The restaurant is very proud of having a flower named in their honour and display the registration certificate when the flowers come out each year.
There are still many wild daffodils which grow in the grounds of the hotel.
On to Patterdale through a long and winding ginnel of a road called ‘The struggle’ with a stop at the churchyard which has a large population of the daffodils. Perhaps once, long since, planted on a loved one’s grave and happily colonising ever since.
Next to Ullswater and the site that Wordsworth immortalised and there they were on Wordsworth Point, growing right down to the edge of the lake. A few years ago it was found that they were hybridising with modern daffodils that had been planted nearby, by well-meaning visitors, and Jan had identified and advised the National Trust to remove the interlopers. This made me wonder how long they might have been growing there, they are so similar to the ones that grow among the ancient woods throughout France. Perhaps before history began and the continent of Europe had not parted company with the island of Britain. I hope they will be there for the next million years.
Our final visit as dusk was falling was to Acorn Bank at Temple Sowerby, the one time home of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, known to her friends as the lady of a million daffodils. The house and estate would justify a whole day to do it justice. She was passionately fond of daffodils and planted them (or her gardeners did) everywhere on the estate.These were not yet out but on the steep banks of the river valley behind the house and away from the cultivated flowers were more of the pseudonarcissus that had charmed us for a whole day. When spring starts next year I shall do it all again.