Winter has a habit of letting you forget the warmth and colour of any other season and the one just passed has been no exception. Starting so early, Mother Nature turned the landscape monochrome and reminded us with every bitterly cold intake of breath just how powerful she can be. It’s all about survival during those dark months; keeping our heads down and clearing away snow and ice from the drive, trying to maintain the temperature in the dairy, guarding the equipment from failure… So when you catch the first signs of new life hugging the stark stone walls around the farm, it takes you totally by surprise.
Spring doesn’t officially start for us until the first daffodils raise themselves up out of the ground. But when you see lovely, delicate drifts of snowdrops appearing in sheltered areas it really does lift the spirits. They come at the point when I’ve given up on the idea of spring ever arriving and remind me that everything is going to be okay and warmer weather is just around the corner.
It’s around this time too that I start to look out across the valley for the first flashes of black and white to litter the increasingly green fields. Only then can we be sure that there is no going back to cold, dull winter days – “the cows are out!” and spring is well and truly here. I’ve often longed to be there on that first day of the year when the herds take to grazing the fields. I’ve been told they’re like gleeful children, full of energy and unable to contain their excitement at the immense green space before them. How wonderful to see creatures that are usually so calm skipping about with joy!
The first burst of colour from the ground is followed by a slow unfurling of buds dotted about on Beech trees and the blossoming of May Flower along the field boundaries. Last year the May was awash with white for what seemed like an eternity. It is this, coupled with the scent of the bluebells wafting up from the river valley that makes Gorwydd in the springtime a magical place to be. There is a saying around here that if the Ash comes into leaf ‘afore the Oak, we are in for a soak and if the Oak comes ‘afore the Ash, we are in for a splash – so there is a lot of earnest tree watching as we try to foretell what kind of summer we’re in for.
The hedgerows are also getting busy after their winter trimming, nesting birds are to-ing and fro-ing with whatever they can find to build their nurseries. Wendy (Todd and Maugan’s mother, who also lives at Gorwydd) is always generous through the winter months to keep sparrows, blue, great and coal tits, blackbirds and the odd squirrel well fed, so we’re guaranteed a population explosion in the next few months.
One visitor to the farm in spring is the Cuckoo. Perhaps not the most welcome bird for certain species of nester, it has a certain significance for us as Caephilly is often known as Cuckoo cheese, particularly in South Wales. This is because spring was always the best time to make cheese, a practical use for the excess milk in circulation after the cows go out and their calves are weaned. Now of course we make Caerphilly all year round.
For us cheese makers, the change of season means we can start to peel a few layers off and wait for the next transformation of the milk as the cows’ diet becomes predominately more grass-based. The cheese itself gradually changes shape and appearance in the storeroom. They become less pillow-like, a little less juicy, but perkier in structure. The moulds on the rind begin to transform into something more silky and colourful. And the dairy fills with talk on how we are all going to fill the ever-lengthening days…