Ploughing way into ‘fill dyke’

fill dyke time
fill dyke time

On a winter evening the Lord above sends down a glorious curtain across the reaches of the western sky from the scarp slope above Caistor.

My grandmother used to say that by the last Sunday in January there was enough light in the sky to have her tea without the gas light on.

Spring flowers beginning to bloom in Claxby churchyard

Spring flowers beginning to bloom in Claxby churchyard

The words were spoken to me well over 60 years ago from the arm chair by the window in which she sat to see the sunset glow on a Sunday evening.

Those were gas lamp days, but it is equally true today to say that the days are lengthening as you read this diary.

There are some things that never change in our hallowed county, but the seasons do and never more quickly than in February, which hath ‘28 days clear but 29 in a leap year!’

I attended a Plough Sunday service in South Kelsey last month and we blessed the model plough kindly loaned by Michael Peacock of ‘Peacock and Binnington’ and laid upon the altar.

That’s an old tradition that seems to be dying out and more is the pity, though with modern methods most of the ploughing these days is done in the autumn.

Village diaries of the 1920s make mention of a Plough Monday Ceremony taking place in Welton, where a farmer went round with the ploughboys.

Ploughing competitions also took place and a number of Lincolnshire parish registers of the 19th century speak of the Plough Light.

This seems to be linked to lights in churches which the local plough lads paid for out of the proceeds of their escapades.

In Louth, church wardens recorded in their almanac of the Plough Light being carried down the aisle in the parish church.

Enough of traditions, as it is always a fascination to keep an eye on the countryside in February.

Snowdrops were out by the end of January and particularly impressive displays can be found in Somerby and Kingerby churchyards.

Aconites give the first colour of late January or early February and the picture above of Claxby Churchyard provides the perfect early spring scene.

Daffodils will 
soon follow by the middle of this month as the days lengthen and, hopefully, a spell of milder weather comes to end the winter gloom.

February takes its name from the Latin word ‘februum’-meaning purgation.

Traditionally, the month was when farmers in the Wolds cleaned out their ditches and dykes. That way they would then fill up with water, which would provide irrigation to the land for the drier months of summer.

Hence the expression February fill dyke - ‘February fill dyke, be it black (heavy rain)or be it white (snow)’.

Another traditional county wide saying is that ‘A February Spring is worth nothing’.

The explanation is that if it came warm early and flowers came through in the countryside, a cold snap would follow to kill them off.

A third saying goes ‘As the sunbeams shine on St Bridget’s Day (February 1) then snow will fall before May Day’.

Mention of saints in February will of course bring us to St Valentine’s Day on the 14. I went out walking with two friends just before the infamous feast a year or two ago and we called in at a country pub which advertised two nights of passion at the special rate of £200 for a double room-with breakfast.

My friend asked the landlord if he could book a single night at half price as he did not quite have the vigour these days as when he was younger!

What fun valentine roses and cards bring. The festival predates the Christian era and is another example of a pagan custom preserved under a Christian gloss.

Thankfully, the countryside in winter in the Wolds never stands still.

Spring reminds us that after February fill dyke, comes March winds and April showers that bring forth May flowers - and the cricket season!