“Shed not a clout till may be out…”

It’s not, as many believe, an instruction to keep your coat on until June; it’s telling you to take your cardigan off as soon as the may is in blossom, which has been known to happen as early as April.

May blossom is the flower of hawthorn, which is a traditional marker tree, used to mark boundaries, paths and gateways since prehistoric times. In the reserve there is hawthorn in the oldest boundary hedges, and both of the old footpaths out of the park and into neighbouring farmland are marked with hawthorn.

Hawthorn has been significant in Britain’s myths and legends for at least as far back as written records go and probably much further. In some stories, they are the trees that mark the gateway into the worlds of faeries and giants, or they stand between this world and the underworld, and we are advised to treat them and the places where they grow with great caution.

[1] Hawthorn marking an ancient pathway at Bratton Camp [2] Mayflower beside the path in Simpson’s Field

Perhaps because gateways look both ways, may blossom seems always to have been viewed from two directions. Outside of their homes, communities use it to mark the boundary between winter and spring and to celebrate and garland May festivals, a symbol of rebirth and growth. But traditionally it is taboo to bring it into our homes: even today it is believed that to bring may blossom into a house invites disease and death in from some other world.

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