It is wild daffodil time again. Three million grow in West Dean Woods. The walk running past this colony is one of the 52 walks in my new book out this week.
If you want to see more of this nature reserve where they grow, come to my talk tomorrow night, Friday, March 16, at The Basil Shippam Centre at 6pm. I shall also be talking about Kingley Vale and Chichester Harbour. These are ‘real’ daffodils to me, not the overblown saxophone trumpets trashed as vulgar by Philip Larkin. Those interbred urbans with narcissistic pose on roundabouts are flashy and ephemeral. Yet I love them, too. They capture golden moments in the drear of late winter and their sunlight strikes sparks of relief that a new year of warmth is on its way, hooray.
Yet...wild daffodils do it just as well, with delicacy.
“When daffodils begin to peer, with heigh! the doxy, over the dale: why then comes in the sweet of the year, for the red blood reigns in the winter’s pale.” Shakespeare felt their urge.
So did British Rail, half a century ago. They ran ‘daffodil specials’ on Sundays out of Paddington to The Golden Triangle in Hereford and Gloucestershire. Famous engines like Edward I dressed overall in green and gold pulled folk from the satanic city out into the fresh air every year from 1931-1959.
What a time that was. Before Beeching, before Gromoxone. One smashed up the branch lines, the other smashed up the Lentern Lilies.
Lake District’s wild daffodils, at Ullswater are still there, but so is Wordsworth.
Everybody has heard of him, but how many have heard of the Dymock Poets, who lived among what used to be huge colonies of our native daffodil?
The water meadows of the Severn and Theme were golden-hazed in March and early April. When the specials had unfurled their banners of steam down the Valley of the White Horse past Wantage and on to Stroud, there would be villagers ready in the meadows with bunches of wild daffs for the tourists to take home.
One can imagine the girls clutching bunches to their throats and laughing with reflected gold as they took home, back to The Smoke, these precious few hours of freedom.
But there are few places down there in the west that still grow the golden sheets across the green as once they did. Here in Sussex there are 100 different places that still grow Narcissus pseudonarcissus (see this week’s walk).
They are spread across the meadows east of Petworth and in scores of neglected coppice woods and when the March sun suddenly shines out of hail and thunder, they laugh gold and clean across the mind and dance in the wind, so glad to be let out of the cold winter and back once more into the blue sky.