Growing up on a hill farm at the top of Dentdale I had very mixed feelings about haytime. The days in the fields turning and scaling the mown grass with an old fashioned wooden rake were long and hard for a young girl. We had very little machinery, an old grey Fergie tractor, a mower and a sled to cart the loose hay back to the barns, so it was all hands on deck as we worked fast to beat the rain.
But we had fun too. All us farm kids had to work and on a fine sunny day in July before the start of the summer holidays our classroom would be almost empty with just the children of the shop keeper and the vicar sat at their lonely desks. Our mothers worked with us in the fields and all of them carried a yellow duster. When one of them spotted the school inspector's car chugging up the Dale out came the dusters and a ripple of golden semaphore sent us running home to pull on pyjamas and jump into bed.
|Dad setting off to the hayfield with his basket of pop|
|Leaning on his rake|
These days I love to see the hay meadows filling the valley bottoms with a sea of yellow. Look closer though and you'll see that amongst the meadow buttercups and yellow rattle are the blues and whites and pinks of speedwell and chickweed and clover.
|A hay meadow in Dentdale|
In the upland hay meadows of valleys like Dentdale you can find over 120 species in a single field. This abundance of wildflowers is a result of centuries of traditional farming practice. The grass is allowed to grow in late spring after the lambs go off to the fells with their mothers then cut for hay in the summer. As stock goes back onto the fields in autumn and early spring their hooves break up the soft ground and cause ideal conditions for the flowers to germinate.
We mustn't take them for granted though. In the last 70 years over 98% of our hay meadows have been lost. So if you're walking or cycling through the Dales this month, if you're watching the Tour de France, if you're on a coach trip or a day out and you're loving the flowers, please think about all the generations of Dales farmers whose hard work keeps this glorious landscape alive.