“August came in, that summer of 1141, tawny as a lion and somnolent and purring as a hearthside cat. After the plenteous rains of the spring the weather had settled into angelic calm amd sunlight for the feast of Saint Winifred, and preserved the same benign countenance throughout the corn harvest. Lammas came for once strict to its day, the wheat-fields were already gleaned and white, ready for the flocks and herds that would be turned into them to make use of what aftermath the season brought. The loaf-Mass had been celebrated with great contentment, and the early plums in the orchard along the riverside were darkening into ripeness. The abbey barns were full, the well-dried straw bound and stacked, and if there was still no rain to bring on fresh green fodder in the reaped fields for the sheep, there were heavy morning dews. When this golden weather broke at last, it might well break in violent storms, but as yet the skies remained bleached and clear, the palest imaginable blue”.
The opening words of Ellis Peters’ An Excellent Mystery evoke memories of perfect English August days, days that seemed to last forever. While Ireland marks Lughnasa and the onset of Autumn, just across the sea it is high summer, the shadow of the shortening days only penetrating the awareness when the end of the month is reached.
August in England is still high summer. It is the month of marquees and bunting and shows and festivals. It is the month when school holidays are a certainty for everyone, many of them having remained in the classroom until well past Saint Swithun’s Day. On this equinox morning August is nineteen weeks away, but as in the days of Brother Cadfael nine centuries ago, it is a month filled with the promise of fruitfulness and golden days.