A splash of purple with the mark of Satan


As summer merges into autumn, the countryside takes on a whole new face and if the weather is kind, a simple walk can be filled with interest and beauty.

Selkirk Hill is at the opposite end of town for it to be my first choice of walk, but my infrequent visits are set to increase following a recent early morning stroll.

In late August and September, the glorious colour of the heather tends to dominate, but in between the purple patches, other late summer flowers are vying for attention.

Huge areas of black knapweed with their deep pink brush-like flower heads, were interspersed with blues and purples of harebells and devil’s bit scabious.

The latter derives its unusual name from ‘scabies’ – one of the many ailments that flowers bearing this name were supposed to help cure. According to one legend, the devil grew angry about these medicinal properties and tried to get rid of them by biting the roots off.

Hence why this wildflower has short and stubby roots and why it is called ‘devil’s-bit’ scabious.

Those of us with gardens with buddleia still in bloom or with some late flowering Michaelmas daisies, will not have failed to notice a resurgence in the butterfly population.

After a very lean year last year, things seem to be getting back to normal with good numbers of late red admirals, peacocks and even a few commas.

Small tortoiseshells which were worryingly scarce last year have bounced back in 2014 and seem to be on the road to recovery, barring another hard winter and cold wet spring.

Around my house at the moment, the swallows are gathering on the wires and their excited chattering awakens me every morning as they seem to be discussing the prospect of their amazing up and coming migration to warmer climes. Many swallows have had second broods and seem to have had an excellent breeding season. This is borne out by an amazing sight at Rutherford around the middle of last month when there was a report of a vast flock of hirundines (swallows and martins) near Rutherford – the observer had at least 1,000 on the wires and estimated that the flying birds could have numbered up to 10,000 or even 20,000 birds – mostly swallows, but other martins too. These would not just be local birds but those on passage, heading south, nevertheless, a sight to behold.