Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bluebell Woods

This weekend was a long bank holiday weekend, and we felt in need of a visit to the woods. In particular, bluebell woods. They are usually at their best a little later in the month, but we had already glimpsed many in grass verges and in gaps in trees from the car when we've been out and about. I knew there was no time to spare, if we were to catch them at their peak, and so off we went to some woods a couple of miles away from where we live. The woods are in the grounds of a big old estate, and a road bisects them. We parked the car and after a few minutes came to a large patch of them.

That blue haze is unmistakeable, and Sara Maitland refers to their 'strange smoky shimmer' in her book Gossip from the Forest (a brilliant read if you're a fan of woodlands, forests or fairytales).

They are such a quintessential spring flower. The UK has around 50% of the world's bluebells, as we have just the right damp climate and plenty of ancient deciduous woodland. In Scotland the little campanulas that English people call harebells are called bluebells.

English native bluebells, or hyacinthoides non-scripta, have that unmistakeable droop to them and are an intensely violet shade of blue. They are sadly in decline because they hybridise with the Spanish bluebells which most of us have in our gardens. You can read about it here.

I got down to their level to smell them, and oh, the perfume! It's so delicate, and always puts me in mind of the scene in my favourite novel 'I Capture the Castle' in which Cassandra and her sister Rose visit a department store in London and find a bluebell scent for sale. They are poor and yearn for it, but later on when Cassandra is given it as a present she realises that it can't compare with the smell of the real flowers. I wonder if that's why the scent of bluebells isn't more widespread in modern perfumes.

Bluebells frequently grow under beech trees, and these woods were no exception. Beech leaves are so fresh and green this time of year and I love to see the sunlight through them

The trees around us were very tall and straight and the atmosphere so still, calm and quiet.

On the woodland floor there were many tree stumps attractively covered in moss and ivy.

There were several wild flowers in bloom too. The strangest one is arum. It has many other names such as cuckoo-pint, lords-and-ladies, jack-in-the-pulpit, wake robin, friar's cowl and devils-and-angels to name a few. Some of its names are rather rude, and a good deal of folklore is attached to it.

I also saw herb robert, which is a member of the geranium family, and has a smell like coriander.

There were also some lovely wild violets, growing amongst the ferns.

I'm glad we got out to see the bluebells at their best. They really are so uplifting. Hope you get to see some too this May x

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