As spring unfolds and the birds begin to sing I look forward to summer Swallows swooping over field and fen. Today we can trace the swallows’ journey from winter roosts outside Durban, through Africa and Europe to East Anglia’s marsh and meadow. It’s an amazing story and many of us are glued to our televisions when Springwatch and other TV programmes unfold the wonders of our natural world.
18th century naturalists supposed that swallows hibernated through the winter’s cold beneath the mud at the bottom of ponds, breaking forth from their earthy tombs for Easter days! Not an entirely silly idea! The first Swallows are usually to be spotted around Easter time and over or near water as they hoover-up bugs and flies.
Truer to our modern understanding of the Swallows migration is the ancient Egyptian myth in which the souls of the dead on the way to the stars are represented as swallows. Nearer to our own time is the Armenian folk tale in which swallows fly from the empty tomb with good news of Jesus’ resurrection.
Once, in a Galilean spring, I shared communion on the lakeside where the Risen Christ prepared a barbecue on the beach. Beside still waters, in the shade of trees, I was mesmerised as Swallows dashed back and forth, skimming the presiding priests head and diving low over the outdoor altar. These, I suppose, were the descendants of the birds who had woven an Easter garment with invisible threads around the Risen Lord and his fishing friends.
So this Easter a picnic by the water, with sandwiches of bread and fishes, in the presence of the newly returned swallows, is called for. Where will you go? Norfolk abounds with suitable places - broads and fens, the sea-side ? You could, with benefit, visit the Pensthorpe Nature Reserve and Gardens just outside Fakenham. (www.pensthorpe.com. ). It is child friendly with the possibility of pond dipping, feeding the birds and binocular hire and visitors can get an insight into the captive breeding programmes with animals as diverse as Blue Cranes and red Squirrels. What is more, Pensthorpe is on the X29 bus route from Norwich to King’s Lynn and wheel-chair access is good . And Springwatch will be broadcasting from there again this year!