Winning tip: Amazed by the mizmaze, Hampshire
My favourite place to take in bluebells’ beauty and scent is Breamore Woods in Hampshire. The public footpath takes you through the main gates of Tudor Breamore House, past the house, stables and clock tower, then uphill through woodland carpeted with bluebells on both sides. As an added bonus, when you emerge from the trees after a mile or so, the view opens out over buttery yellow rape fields and distant farmland. At the very top of the hill is the strange, ancient turf Breamore Mizmaze. I take a turn round that, then it’s all downhill, back through the bluebells and perhaps a cup of tea at the cafe.
Ronnie Wood and the blues, Hertfordshire
There’s a lovely spot in Ringshall on the National Trust’s Ashridge Estate. Parking is free on weekdays at these beautiful woods. A sea of blue awaits and often an ice-cream van. Visit Ashridge House cafe afterwards and look out for local Ronnie Wood, who recently displayed his art here. Elizabeth I was taken captive here by her half-sister Mary as a girl – she would have enjoyed the bluebells here, too. A blissful day out just outside the M25.
Follow the path below the church, Harrogate
Beyond Ripley Castle south of Harrogate, a delightful path below the church (accessible to all) leads down to Hollybank Wood, which is carpeted by fragrant bluebells every spring. It’s unlikely for most I know but if possible they are best visited just after dawn when only birdsong pierces the air and the low-angled sun streams through a canopy of lime-green leaves. The scent and sight breathtaking.
Boundless vista, Malvern Hills
Every year, in late April, I head for the Malverns to savour a most spectacular display of our native bluebells. Following the western slopes of the ridge, drive south along the aptly named Jubilee Drive, a route with a breathtaking, seemingly boundless vista across the timeless Herefordshire landscape to the Black Mountains and the canvas of blue cannot be missed. Just before the Herefordshire Beacon, the cerulean slopes appear. Black Hill car park is a good place to explore from. There are refreshments at the Malvern Hills Hotel and Sally’s Cafe at British Camp.
Azure like it, west Kent
I’ve been visiting the bluebells at the National Trust’s Emmetts Garden perched on the Greensand Ridge in west Kent a few miles from Sevenoaks every year since I was a child. The azure sea of bluebells stretches across the south-facing slopes of the Edwardian hillside gardens, which are part of ancient Scord’s Wood, an important Site of Special Scientific Interest for its flora. After you’ve admired the carpet of bluebells in the shade of the trees and the views of the Weald as far as Ashdown Forest, you can wander around the rest of the garden, with its stunning azaleas and arboretum. I always stop for lunch at the little tea room but there’s also the option to enjoy a picnic in the meadow, perfect on a sunny day.
Adult £13, child £6.50
Ancient woods, ancient land, Wiltshire
The hollows from which were quarried the great sarsen stones of Stonehenge are softened in the spring with a magnificent bluebell display that stretches throughout the entirety of West Woods, just outside Marlborough in Wiltshire. Follow ancient paths including the West Saxon Wansdyke, or make your own way among the trees. There is also a neolithic long barrow. Access by car, bicycle or foot is easy and free, although a local charity usually accepts donations over the bank holiday weekend, opening the road through the woods for full vehicle access in return. Those who have experienced West Woods’ bluebells make a visit an annual adventure. Unforgettable, especially at dawn or dusk.
Purple haze, Glasgow
To the south of Glasgow, in Castlemilk Park, you’ll experience an abundance of birdsong, the heady aroma of wild garlic and see roe deer prance through a cherished bluebell wood. But the city has another wonderful bluebell wood worth exploring: just north of Glasgow is the ancient forest of Garscadden, and the azure and purple haze of a mature bluebell wood. Both woods have well-worn paths, ruins to explore and an abundance of wildlife. Both are free to enter, providing much-needed respite from the stresses of city life.
It all makes scents, Lake District
The Lake District is well known for its bluebell woods, but you can avoid the crowds by going to Caldbeck. Just within the Lake District national park, it’s unspoiled, unique and underrated. The walk from here to Hesket Newmarket along the River Caldbeck takes in a steep woodland. Here you’ll find that unbeatable combination of bluebells and wild garlic, the smell of which lingers above the river. Both villages have charming tearooms, and the community-owned Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket is especially good for a locally brewed ale. Return via the road or retrace your steps.
Immersion therapy, Aberystwyth
At Penglais Woods, near Aberystwyth, you can achieve complete immersion in bluebells, wild garlic and other wild herbs. The forest carpet of bluebells in this local nature reserve on a sunny day is a beautiful sight. The woods, which take in an old stone quarry, are part of the Dyfi biosphere, the only Unesco Man and the Biosphere urban reserve in Wales. Among other flowers vying for visitors’ attention are red campion, stichwort, herb robert and lesser celandine. Pied flycatchers flit among the sessile oaks, sycamores, pines and sweet chestnuts in this enchanted place.
Take the tube to the bluebells, Wanstead, east London
Live in London? Want to see and smell bluebells? Then Wanstead Park should be your destination. Walk there from Wanstead tube station (Central Line) then, on the way back, pop into La Bakerie for a delicious croissant. Pure heaven. I have lots more words left to use for this entry but I don’t need to say more, just don’t pick the bluebells please.