|Buttercups at Paxton Pits|
Meadows are great inspirational places and it is no coincidence that all of the best music festivals are held on dairy farms. I remember going to one of the first festivals at Pilton and being greeted by a hippy dressed as Gandalf. He was stirring a fresh cow-pat with his staff and muttering some kind of friendly incantation. That memory alone tells me that it was after the hay-cut when the cows had been let onto the field to graze the new growth. The music wasn't that good (Hawkwind were headlining) and there was hardly anyone there but I enjoyed it because it was our very own Woodstock. I recall a sunset with rows of huge elm trees in silhouette and Glastonbury Tor behind them. Sadly the elms all died in 1976.
I was thinking about this when I was looking at our meadow and it occurred to me that Runnymede would have looked pretty much the same. It lies next to the Thames and is now owned by the National Trust who have posted pictures on-line. Sure enough, it's a field of golden buttercups.
I naively thought that the name just means runny (i.e. wet) meadow but I was only half right, in Saxon times it was the "meetings meadow"; a sort of early House of Lords. I like the idea of a meadow being a place to meet and make big decisions.
If you are going to hold a big event in your meadow, it is best to do it after the hay is cut in July or August because the hay is such a valuable crop. It is the process of hay making that encourages buttercups because it ensures that cattle are kept off until the flowers are over and hay making spreads the seeds. In fact, you know when it is time to cut the hay because all the buttercup flowers will be over and the seeds will have turned black. You don't get a good show of buttercups anywhere, except in hay meadows.
Our meadow at Paxton Pits has a very short history. It was created in the 1950s from the gravel pits that also created the lakes in Rudd and Cloudy Pits. Some of the oldest and best examples of meadows have not been ploughed for centuries but very few escaped the "Dig for Victory" campaign in World War II. In fact, many meadows were used as airfields in both wars. The best example is Portholme Meadow.
|Children explore the meadow|
After hay-time a field near our village in Swaledale was used for the annual sports day. Each village had a show day or a sports day that was held on the flattest most accessible meadow and I'm sure that the same was true all over England. We didn't have a sports field until the hay was gathered in and anyway, in those days football was for the winter, cricket was for the summer. Some of those classic dale's shows are still held and the programme always includes fell running races, dry stone walling competitions, sheep dog trials and a lot of fabulous Yorkshire food.