OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI heard the first cuckoo on Sunday. Was I hallucinating? It was while sitting revising Chapter 14 and looking through double glazing at the Minster and the light playing over the stone carving on the West facade. Not possible. Then we went for a walk. It was sunny cold, we buttoned up, glove and furry hat. We went to find the long-vanished castle of the great Percy family of the North, the Hotspur of Shakespearian fame, the old pre-Elizabethan aristocracy who came to this island with the Normans – a knight probably called Percier in the service of William the Conqueror in 1066.

We haven’t had any flooding, but the ground was churned into mud by horses’ hooves. A lone one under a lined canvas coat shared a field with a solitary ram. Both stared us us unmovingly. Then we walked above the moat, tracking the 20 metre ditch dug out by the Norman soldiers in their conquest of the North, we imagined. The actual enclosure encompassed two fields. No traces of any buildings. No mounds even. They must have been entirely of timber. Even the most ruined and plundered stone castles leave stern remains.

No more sound of a cuckoo. A few sparrows quarrelled in the bare branches. We turned back at sunset; in the 15 days since my birthday it has moved from around 4  to 4.30 pm. Already another half hour of light!

Then, on our way out, we passed a bush freckled with small yellow flowers. It’s the jasmine I remember as a child that always came out early in spring.

Spring? I relinquished my mental babblings with Helen, Magnus and Nicholas (who are becoming more vociferous by the day) to ask the two others walking with me what they had noticed.

‘The mild weather,’ they said. ‘Seasons overturned. Climate change?’

The snowdrops will be out soon. Little white sparks of hope. And consolation.