Author: Lee Cozens, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen


 Picture credit: Phil Barnes Photography

It’s the time of year when the shops are brimming with plastic spiders, cobwebs, bats and a whole host of other Halloween goodies.

This all serves to get us in the mood for sugar-fuelled, trick-or –treat outings, but with all the excitement about costumes and treats it’s easy to overlook the more compelling Halloween story happening outside in the natural world.

Halloween has its deeper roots in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when our ancestors celebrated the end of the summer bounty and welcomed in the beginning of winter and the short, cold days ahead.

If you venture into the countryside now, this eternal turning of the season is just waiting to reveal itself to your senses. The cold, damp air makes us dig out winter coats, the decaying leaf litter and autumn fungi give the woods an earthy note and the sun plays mesmerising light games with water droplets on spider’s webs. High up in the air you might hear geese or fieldfare returning for their winter break and there is a mysterious taste of mist and bonfires in the air. What a magical time to get out and explore!

Whilst Halloween is infused with scary, spooky imagery, a walk around Strumpshaw Fen at this time of year reveals that, to the contrary, nature is now at its most glorious, ethereal. Mists rising over the meadows in the morning or at dusk have a special quality. That sense of being in an ‘other-worldly’ place is not scary but rather it connects you with a feeling of timelessness and wonder.  What a gift to bring children and to give them a sense of another dimension far beyond the bright, urban comforts we are all used to.

Watch how their eyes light up as they discover acorns on the woodland floor or notice a dainty little mushroom growing out of an old log. As you peer closer at its delicate beauty suddenly it feels as if the mythical world of pixies and faeries could actually be true!

Maybe that’s how we should approach this gentle slide into the dark winter months, with a sense of awe, wonder and a childlike playfulness.

Look up and see the sun filtering through the autumn leaves and marvel at how splendid the guelder rose berries are as they glow in the light. It’s almost as if they are nature’s own fairy lights.

With the trees beginning to drop their leaves, their beautiful forms and unique qualities are once again laid bare - maybe you can spot the face of a gnarled old wood spirit in the bark? And what is that terrible screaming noise deep in the wood? Are there monsters living here? Don’t worry; it’s just a muntjac deer making its alarming mating bark!

With so much beauty and surprise around every corner, this is the perfect time to pull on your wellies, sharpen your senses and go and have a play in this magical world.


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