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May - Forest Foraging & Feathered Friends

“When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.” ―Lucy Larcom

Summer has slowly started to edge her way through the door from the realm of springtime, bringing with her only the best of what the previous months had to offer. She carries a wicker picnic basket filled with everything needed for a good time, as she ventures into the month of May, ready to take up space on her stage. With her she brings the promise of seemingly endless days of sunshine and warmer weather, trees that are in full bloom and a surprising array of migrating birds in all shapes and forms.

The first day of May is celebrated in the UK as May Day, a public holiday in some areas if you’re lucky! This is an ancient festival to welcome in the first day of summer, celebrated in some British villages with Maypole dancing. The joyous event graces us with the wonders of ribbons and flowers, bringing a sense of childlike fun to the festivities with laughter and cheer filling the air.

This time of year also boasts the Shaftesbury Festival of Food and Drink. This delicious festivity hails the best local produce from the area with a remarkable variety of intriguing stalls to indulge in, reaching the entire length of the town! If you’re a cuisine king or queen, you’ll particularly relish the live cooking demonstrations hosted by local chefs, outside the Shaftesbury Town Hall. And of course, lots of tasty treats can be tried too!

What makes this festival particularly unforgettable are the Cheese Races – they are just wild! Giant wheels of cheese are rolled down the iconic Gold Hill in Shaftesbury, it’s just hilarious to watch with so much silliness and fun. Although pure madness, this is an absolute must-see! The live music, dancing and bands bring such a sense of excitement to the day and what’s more, this event is all free!

May is named after the Greek goddess Maia who is said to look after plants, so it’s no wonder that the outside world is brimming with wildness. Everything seems to grow much faster now, as if the flowers and weeds are reaching up to try to touch the irresistible, golden sun – like a great divine jewel shimmering high in the sky, making the days so much longer. Long gone are the lazy mornings and sleepy evenings, suddenly being exchanged for an active sun, now rising before 5am in the morning and setting well after 9pm at night.

This time of year is so exciting for all of the fruit and vegetables that you can harvest. Rhubarb grows readily and is a quintessential favourite here in the United Kingdom, to fill puddings, pies and tarts. Alternatively, you can take a trip to a local strawberry farm with strawberry picking usually starting in early May and coming to an end in July. This is a fantastic family day out as you get to see where and how the strawberries grow and pick your own, filling up punnets to be weighed at the end! Nothing tastes more delicious.

Nearer to our English cottage however, is our beloved forest where you can harvest other intriguing treats. How wonderful it is to venture deep into the woods, finding yourself amongst the wild garlic, which resembles giant blades of grass so you feel miniaturised in a spectacular, mythical world. Foraging is the most natural way to select food that will truly do you good, quite unlike the weekly grocery shop you’re used to doing in the city! And wild garlic is the main ingredient for an exquisite pesto sauce, which would pair perfectly with fresh pasta, or white meat, or salmon, or vegetables for dinnertime. We particularly love this edible gift from nature and can teach you how to choose the most succulent leaves!

The birds sing as though part of a great musical, in tune with the other instruments played out by the residential wildlife. Baby deer are born in mid-May so while you’re in the depths of this other world, if you’re quiet enough, you might just see a real-life Bambi. While silenced, you’ll also hear the leaves on the trees whispering ancient secrets to each other, stories carried on the wind, that you can feel yourself, if only you take a moment to close your eyes and tune in.

Savour the stroll back home watching for the plethora of birds that have travelled all the way from Africa to be here in England for the summertime. Early May sees the arrival of the swift, differentiated from the swallow by its shorter body and longer wings and sporting its recognisable shorter forked tail.

As soon as these dashing little birds can be spotted frolicking in the clouds, across the blue canvas above, it definitely is the start of summertime. Swifts are usually in constant flight, so the heavens are their home which makes them easy to see, while admiring pastel sunsets on warm evenings. The UK is actually home to around 80,000 breeding pairs during these months! Their distinctive calls can also be heard, making this moment extra memorable – especially while enjoying a welcomed evening cocktail in the garden.

Ahh yes, May is perhaps the most special month of them all, with such a definite shift into a new season and so many wild feathered visitors who journey from afar, to revel in our lovely homeland for the best months the year has to offer.