FOLLOWING a winter which has been memorable for a variety of reasons, many of which are unpleasant and long-lasting, the season of spring has finally arrived.

It provides an excuse for rejoicing and I do know that many country people are praying that their fortunes, and those of their colleagues, will improve as spring matures.

Even if the sun is warmer, however, and the days are lengthening, it is believed in some quarters that a late spring is a blessing. One old adage tells us that "A late spring never deceives" and another reads "Better late spring and bear, than early blossom and blast."

So far as the theories about global warming are concerned, it has long been said that extreme seasons occur from the sixth to the tenth year of each decade, especially in alternate decades, but I have no scientific evidence to support this. My source is a century-old book of weather lore.

For those interested in curious old sayings, here is one about the seasons:

Spring - slippy, drippy, nippy

Summer - showery, flowery, bowery

Autumn - hoppy, croppy, poppy

Winter - wheezy, sneezy, breezy.

Englishman's home ...

A few days ago, an acquaintance asked if a bastle was anything to do with a castle. It seems she had seen a reference in a travel article and pondered this odd word, wondering if perhaps it was a spelling error.

Although the word is rarely used and may not be found in every dictionary, it is genuine and is the name given to a particular type of building which is, in fact, similar to a castle. An alternative word is fortlette which gives some idea of this structure, for it is a minor example of a castle, something akin to a fortified tower or large house complete with battlements.

The more usual name is pele tower, or even just pele; this is pronounced as peel and not pelly, and these sturdy stone towers are a feature of the border country between England and Scotland. There is no precise description because each tower was individually built to the owner's specification, but they appeared during the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. At that time they were lived-in and, like their bigger cousins, the castles, they were family homes which were fortified against invaders and designed to protect livestock as well as humans.

In many ways, these peles were minor castles and were certainly more than a mere keep. They were generally built by Scottish lairds or English landowners on both sides of the border, although similar structures were to be found in Ireland.

They all followed a basic design. For example, in addition to the house there was usually a stout enclosure for the livestock and the name pele comes from that enclosure.

It derives from pale, meaning a wooden post used as part of a fence, the whole fence becoming known as paling or palisade, although in some cases pele towers were built within a small walled courtyard.

There were none of the attributes of a castle such as a drawbridge, keep or gatehouse, and most pele towers were fairly simple square structures built to a height of three storeys, often with walls up to 8ft thick.

In some cases, the ground floor was used by animals, particularly if raids were prevalent; they would be ushered into the tower for safety. The first floor provided the living accommodation for the owners while the top storey comprised bedrooms.

Access from the ground floor was often via a spiral staircase which was incorporated within those enormously thick walls, although in some cases rope ladders were used, with a solid trapdoor to prevent entry by intruders. Many of the Irish peles had what become known as murder holes - these were peep holes drilled through the first floor near the entrance, so the defenders could see who or what was entering the premises.

In some cases, these pele towers were part of a castle, but not necessarily so; indeed, many of them were built by clergymen close to their churches to become known as parson's peles.

The Lake District and Northumberland were particularly rich with pele towers, including some built by clergymen - there was a parson's pele at Elsdon and another at Embleton, with the vicar's pele at Corbridge and another at Belsay.

These conformed to the usual three-storey design and included space for animals, while I am assured that they had turrets and elaborately crenellated and machiocolated parapets!

Machiocolated means there were openings between the supporting corbels. These were not for mere adornment, for they were used to drop stones and other defensive objects upon any invaders who lurked below.

In some cases, the towers have been given the name of hall - Kentmere Hall in the Lake District is an example. It is a pele tower with a 15th century house attached to it, there is another at Moresby Hall, while Muncaster Castle incorporates a pele tower, although Netherhall, built around a pele tower, was allowed to become derelict. The 15th-century pele tower at Welton Hall in Northumberland was built of stones taken from the nearby Roman wall.

With the passage of time, the defensive need for pele towers began to disappear, but it seems there was a kind of snobbery among the landed gentry and minor aristocrats who could not afford a full-scale castle, and who had not been blessed with hereditary estates and big country houses.

Such people began to build their own pele towers. Thus a new generation of so-called pele towers began to appear, often very similar to those originals, but some did have courtyards and other features of a castle, albeit in a much smaller scale.

From time to time, one comes across these towers in Northumberland or the Lakeland border country, and although they are generally known as pele towers they are not those battle-worthy originals.

I'm sure the word bastle should not be used to describe non-combative pele towers, but it is interesting the note the French word bastille (meaning fortress) is rather similar to bastle, although we now associate the former with a prison rather than a splendid castellated home.

Pretty partridge

Walking along a lane recently, I became aware of a bird only a few feet from me and was surprised to see a redlegged partridge in its colourful plumage.

With a striking white patch on its throat and cheeks emphasised by black borders, the bird was prominent against its green background.

With red legs and a red beak, the bird's other plumage is a pleasing mixture of russet browns and reds, with barred flanks and a distinctive red tail which can be seen when it is in flight. For all its bright colours, this bird can quickly merge with its surroundings.

What surprised me was that the partridge did not fly off at my approach. Indeed, it turned towards me almost as if it was tame and expecting food, but it changed its mind and paddled away, apparently unconcerned at my presence. This is sometimes known as the French partridge because it was introduced from France and although its introduction was not an immediate success, I believe that, in some areas, it now outnumbers our native partridge.

Not far away, I came upon a roadside casualty - a stoat. It's not often that a fast-moving stoat falls victim to road traffic but this one had had a knock which was sufficient to kill it.

It was a handsome creature, with a coat rather darker brown than I would have expected, but even though there was snow on the hills, this one showed no signs, not even partially, of having been clad in ermine.

Its underparts were a warm creamy white and I thought it was a young stoat in the prime of life - until it was confronted by a passing motor vehicle