The foundations of the castle, or rather, restored approximations are still visible on the top of the hill, beside a tourist board explaining the history of the site with artists impressions. From between and within the walls, bulbous sweet chestnut trees with ridged bark and branch-socket holes, cover the ground with spiky cases and the sky with sun-catcher leaves. These trees are young compared to the walls, and previous generations lie as fallen giants, heads pointed downhill, on the slopes of the hill.
Today the weather is overcast and grey, with a dampness that brings a deep chill. But just a few days ago, if you had been standing with me on the sheltered sunny southern slope of St Ann's Hill I am certain you would've declared it Spring!
Blackbirds were busy with their task of turning over every fallen leaf to give the emerging green access to the light. By the edge of the path I spotted the glossy hearts of celandine leaves, the spikes of bluebells first ventures, and the coiled tongues of wild arum. A woodlouse tottered along the precipice of a brown leaf.
A layer above, the trees were yet to break their buds, they are old enough to know it's far too early for that, so just the holly and ivy gleamed and glinted in the sun. Higher still, jackdaws wheeled and played in the breeze that caught in the tree tops, chattering and inspecting potential nest holes seeming excited and eager.
At the top of the hill the wind dipped from the tree tops to skip around the trunks and play hide and seek between the low walls. The leaves of wild strawberries hunkered against the stones, growing from cracks. Sometimes one of a family of foxes slinks away from where it has been sleeping on one of these walls, but today they must've heard my approach, or had more pressing things to do this time.
The foxes may have been absent, but the birds were busy, aside from the leaf-flicking blackbirds and the playful jackdaws. Blue tits and great tits foraged from bush to bush, robins peered from between the leaves with beady eyes. Wrens appeared like mice and disappeared again into crevices and holes or sat proud, tail cocked and sang from tree stumps. Treecreepers lived up to their name, white undersides breaking their camouflage against the bark. Suddenly a flurry of squeaks and trills all around announced the arrival of the sociable long tailed tits, that bounced and dangled from the thinnest of twigs before moving on as quickly as they came.
I followed the long tailed tits down the hill to the path along the river. A lone swan sat preening her feathers at the apex of the river's lazy bend, a pair of mallards for company.
It is nice to know, despite today's return to gloomier weather, that on the sheltered slopes of St Ann's Hill spring growth has begun and a flock of long tailed tits is bouncing through the branches above foraging blackbirds, to the sound of wren song.