The last of the three autumn months, November can often bring the first snow of the year, livestock is taken inside and farmers in their heated cabs plough the fields and drill winter wheat for next year's harvest.
With the dropping temperatures ribbons of smoke start to rise from cottage chimneys and gardeners who venture out to the log store at night may get to hear the call of tawny owls. While glancing up, they may also be treated to the sight of shooting stars from the Andromedids, a meteor shower that forms as the earth passes through the ancient remnants of a comet’s tail.
The ninth month of the Roman calendar and named after the latin ‘Novem’ for nine, November retained its name despite the more recent additions of January and February. The Anglo-Saxons referred to it as Wind-monath because it was now that the cold winds began to blow.
In the Devonshire town of Ottery St Mary the ‘running of the tar barrels’ takes place where men, women, and children run through the streets with flaming barrels of tar on their backs. The origins are unclear but one theory suggests that it started as a warning of the approaching armada. Heading further west and another ancient Devonian custom takes place at the village of Shebbear near Beaworthy. ‘The turning of the Devil’s stone’ has been carried out for over a millenium having been mentioned in the Domesday book of 1086. A large stone in the centre of the village is turned over to avoid bad luck for the following year. Origins of the custom are unclear and the stone, which weighs over a ton, has unusual origins, being an ‘erratic’ - not from the local geology - and thought to have been brought in by glacial action or possibly and, rather more intriguingly, by an early pagan cult.
November is synonymous with the smell of smouldering bonfires, gradual decay, and of course the common scene when on the 5th of November Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated; fires are lit and fireworks set off to commemorate the failure of Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament on this night in 1605.
Many families still celebrate ‘Stir up Sunday’ - the last Sunday of the month. A time when all the family take it in turn to stir the Christmas pudding and make a wish for the coming year.
Russell Page, Peter Seabrook, and Gertrude Jekyll are gardeners that have their birthdays in November.