Late last week TNG and I took time out to go in search of bluebells. We are lucky enough to live very close to the Lower Woods Nature Reserve – known locally as Wickwar Woods. Managed by a combination of the Gloucestershire and Avon Willdlife Trusts – and backed by numerous volunteers – this is one of England’s largest oak-ash woods. The Reserve is over two miles long, and has been managed woodland for hundreds of years. Because it has been continuously wooded since prehistoric times it is far richer in wildlife than those more recently wooded, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Horton Great Trench

There are actually 23 separate woods and coppices in the reserve, separated by grassy trenches and rides like the one above, Horton Great Trench. This wide grassy ride has probably been in existence since pre Roman times, and was once the main route from Wotton-under-Edge to Bristol. Others are more recent, only dating back to C17. “The Walk” was created to provide a view from the Lodge house to Wickwar Parish Church!

Wood surrounded by bank

Most of the individual woods and coppices are separated from the trenches by woodbanks. The woods were managed as coppice-with-standards. Mature oak standards were grown for large timber while hazel, field maple and ash were coppiced (cut down to ground level) on an eighteen year cycle. When a wood was coppiced the banks were topped with dead hedging to protect the regrowth from grazing animals for 9 years. Then the wood was opened up for 9 years before coppicing again. The result was a wonderful habitat for wildflowers, butterflies, dormice and birds. A combination of local woodsmen, trust staff and volunteers continue to manage around 14% of the woods in the traditional manner, selling charcoal, hurdles, hazel poles etc. and more recently, removing non-native and invasive Poplar (planted for timber in the late C20) to allow oak standards to flourish and the wildlife to return. The Spring growth makes the structure of the banks hard to see at the moment, but the photograph above, taken at the beginning of March, shows it quite well.

Lower Wetmoor Oakwood

The result of this management is a rich and varied environment, from oak woods like the one above, Lower Wetmoor, to coppiced clearings like the one below.

Coppice Clearing

It’s a magical place, full of wildflowers. We saw Cuckoo Flower or Ladies Smock…

Cuckoo Flower

…Yellow Rattle…

Yellow Rattle

…Common Dog Violet…

Common Dog Violet

… wood anenome (no fussy doubles here!)…

Anenome nemorosa

…Greater Stichwort…

Greater Stitchwort

…primroses…

Native Primrose

Don’t be fooled – I had to look a lot of these up when I got back! I was particularly excited to see orchids – albeit the common Orchid mascula:

Orchid Mascula

Not everything was pretty though, I find Lords and Ladies a rather sinister – and rude – plant, with obvious aggressive tendencies where dead foliage is concerned!

Lords And Ladies
Leaf Spearing

The woods are normally extremely wet – they are based on heavy clay, and the drainage problem is probably one of the reasons the woods have remained fairly intact down the centuries, clearing the land for farming or building has never made sense. One of the reasons for this dampness is that the Little Avon River runs through the reserve, creating yet another different habitat.

Bridge Over Little Avon

Aside from the magical quality of water running through woodland – and a perfect bridge for Poohsticks (I lost 2-1) – there are carpets of Wild Garlic down here, filling the air with fragrance, and providing a welcome pep to our lunchtime salad later.

Littley Wood By River
Wild Garlic

Down near the Poohsticks bridge is an abandoned hurdle-making shed, beautifully made from hazel poles and woven branches.

Hurdle Making Shed Inside
Knot On Hurdle Making Shed

Wonderful though it was to have seen so many wildflowers, and to have wandered through so many different kinds of wood, we were in search of one plant in particular – the Bristish Bluebell:

Bluebell

Heading through “The Grubbings” into Littley Wood, we were not disappointed. Bluebells everywhere, filling the air with scent.

Bluebells

Drifts of blue, sometimes seeming purple in the dappled light.

Bluebells

I loved seeing all the wildflowers, wandering through so many different types of woodland, spotting my first Orange Tip butterfly, but the sight of carpets of bluebells stretching out under the trees for as far as we could see is something that will live on in my memory for many years.

Bluebells

Gluttons for punishment – or bluebells – can see more images in the gallery below. More pictures from the Reserve are on the photo page.
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72 thoughts on “Bluebell Woods Bliss

  1. An enjoyable and informative post. I didn’t know there were wild orchids in the UK. I’ve been looking for English Bluebells locally, but haven’t found any yet.
    I still play PoohSticks too.

    1. Oh good, glad I am not the only “grown up” still playing Poohsticks! I knew that we had wild orchids in theory, and actually saw one on Anglesey once, but I was thrilled to see these on the walk. Less thrilled when I read that it was “very common”… Good luck on the bluebell hunt – most of our local hedgerows are full of the foreign incomers. I much prefer our own droopy headed type.

  2. What a lovely walk! But how can you not like Lords and Ladies (or Jack in the Pulpit – as I call it)? Well, you explained but . . . ah well. (I like them!)

    Happy Easter.

    Esther

    1. Hi Esther, I don’t not like them, I find them fascinating, but with the best will in the world they aint pretty…

  3. Janet – your post was absolutely enchanting! I loved every minute of the ‘virtual’ walk…(And Poohsticks is awesome – though I never had heard of formal name before now.)

    1. Hi Shyrlene, glad you enjoyed the walk in the woods – and that you know Poohsticks too, if not by that name.

  4. Oh Janet how wonderful to live so near heaven…the woods of the fairy tales we grew up with full of wildflowers especially bluebells…thx for taking us along for this bit of wonder…

    1. Hi Donna, it is rather special to be so close to such a wonderful place. I hope to do a post later in the year when it will all have changed again.

  5. Massed bluebells are gorgeous and have a lovely perfume. Very evocative of childhood.

    On the route to where I used to work was a roadside nature reserve where the verges used to be carpeted with bluebells – then along came ‘someone’ who mowed the edges when the bluebells were in full flower! I wrote complaining to the council who said they didn’t know who cut them down – maybe a local farmer but they made no effort to find out and get it stopped. So why designate it a roadside nature reserve if it wasn’t?

    1. Oh Sue, that is such a depressing story! We have some wonderful wildflowers in the local hedgerows, but the farmers have a terrible tendency to weed them out to tidy everything up. You’d think people would know better by now…

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed the walk through Wickwar woods which you have taken us today. And the beautiful English bluebells, hope they don’t get smothered with the Spanish ones. A real treat spotting the Orchid mascula.

    1. Hi Alistair, hopefully the woods are sufficiently secluded that the native bluebells are safe.

  7. I’ve seen an Orange Tip butterfly today too. I was quite impressed when you was identifying all the wild flowers until you confessed to looking up the names, I have to do that too, though I wish I was more knowledgeable in that area. I do love primroses, it’s the buttery yellow flowers that do it for me.

    1. Hi Jo, I only realised part way through writing the post that I might be giving the impression that I was knowledgeable – and I’m not! I am trying to gradually rectify my appalling ignorance, but it requires lots of checking in books and online…

  8. Great post Janet! Thank you for the pictures…there is NOTHING to beat a beautiful English Bluebell wood. The old abandoned hurdle-making shed looked great. Bit of thatch, lick of paint it would look like new! I am soaking my willows ready to weave onto my bean poles this coming week. Still hot as hell here.

    1. Hi Trevor, I would love to see a complete hurdle making shed, I’m not sure what they use for a roof, there’s not much bracken in the woods. Probably tarp! Happy willow weaving, your supports are going to be wonderful, I’m jealous!

  9. So glad you share your walk and photos with us. The bluebells are magical in the drifts. And Primrose grows wild? I would love to see them in their natural habitat, instead of the supermarket.

    1. Hi Donna, primroses certainly look a little more magical in the hedgrows and woodland edge than they do in plastic pots, but hey, if the plastic pots transport them to your garden… Magical is exactly the word for drifts of bluebells. I love woodland at the best of times, even in mid winter, but Spring had to be the best time to wander through a deciduous wood.

  10. British Bluebells, so lovely. Must have been a fun trip. Reminds me of a special place in Virginia USA where the edge of the river is covered in Virginia Bluebells. Nice orchid too!

  11. Looks beautiful, I’ve been meaning to get out to our local Bluebell wood but with all the garden jobs I haven’t made it yet.

    1. It was a wrench, and I felt guilty until we started walking. I made up for the break the next day though! And it was worth it. Go look at bluebells!

  12. hello Janet, a lovely post…we have our bluebell woods over here and they have been gorgeous this weekend….we found some cuckoo flowers and the call of the cuckoo too! I am so glad that they are coppicing the woods…thank you for your photos and studies…

    1. Hi Mike, glad you enjoyed it. I haven’t heard a cuckoo for years, not since we lived on Anglesey. I’ve read they are massively in decline, and no one knows why. At some point I would love to volunteer to help out with the coppicing, it would be great to learn, and to be part of managing the woodland. The reserve is that rarest of things, man and nature working in harmony and both benefiting. Wish there was more of it – our local farmer weeds out the wildflowers from his hedges because they are untidy!

  13. Thank you Janet for taking us on your walk. Bluebells never cease to attract, I am so glad they are back in full force having had a few years a while ago being in danger of extinction. How would we have coped without them? Interested in the wild garlic – in this country it does seem to have a round head of flowers, yet the ones in Guernsey did look like white bluebells.

    Ronnie

    1. Hi Ronnie, I’ve just been reading your own most recent blog post, I envy you getting bluebells AND sea. The beaches looked wonderful too. I love wild garlic, the smell, and the leaves taste so gorgeous in a salad or a sandwich. If I had more room I would grow some.

  14. Lovely walk in the bluebell woods – you just don’t see them in this country, not sure why. The common orchid looked anything but. Great shots of my favorite type of “garden”!

    1. Hi Cyndy, I’m sure there must be an American equivalent to the bluebell? I agree, if I could create something as beautiful as the woods in my own space I would be delighted, though I would want areas of bright sun loving colour too. The river makes it perfect to me, I love water and woods.

  15. So glad to have tagged along on your walk with you. You were richly rewarded for your efforts – the bluebells are so beautiful! Our spring bluebonnets were virtually a no-show this spring with the lack of rain. Your bluebell fields were a nice substitute to see!

    1. Hi Cat, glad you enjoyed the virtual walk, sorry I couldn’t share the scent too.

  16. I thoroughly enjoyed this entire post. It’s fascinating that the woodland walk is so ancient! But when I got to the end and saw the carpets of Bluebells, the photos took my breath away!

    1. Mine too, they seem to be particularly good this year. Its strange, normally you get a sense of age in a wood from the size of the trees. Here, because the trees have been “harvested” for centuries, it is the rides and trenches that give this, that and the sense of continuity, of hundreds of years of woodland management. A truly magical place.

  17. How I enjoyed your tour of the woods! It’s funny how it’s often the areas that are deemed useless that have survived human colonization. In the early days of national parks in the US surveyors often had to declare an to have no economic value before congress would agree to set it aside. (I believe that’s how Yosemite was able to be preserved.) It makes me wonder how many “useful” wonderlands got paved over before they could be properly appreciated.

    1. Goodness, I love Yosemite, the thought of it being deemed worthless rather takes my breath away but I take your point. I rather like the idea that our woods were saved by the mud. It is very rare to be able to walk around the reserve without squelching every other step.

  18. Lovely, lovely, lovely! I do miss bluebells. We used to visit Cliveden at bluebell time, there were masses and masses there too – such a sight under the new beech foliage. I have to content myself with displays of wild cyclamen here but somehow its not quite as good. Thank you so much for this post. Christina

    1. Hello Christina, happy to have given you a reminder of ‘Ole England. Wild cyclamen sounds beautiful, but I understand why you miss bluebells, there is something so quintessentially “English countryside” about bluebell woods.

      1. Hi Janet. They are also a joy at risk from global warming. They need to flower before the trees come into full leaf to set seed. Beech trees (with which bluebells are often assocciated) need more water than they have been receiving. I read somewhere that it wouldn’t be long before all the beech trees still exisitng in the UK would only be found in Scotland. We do have a beech wood near us but at a much higher altitude, I think there are no bluebells because they put on leaves too early.

        1. I suppose the naturally boggy nature of the reserve helps there, as does the coppicing, allowing more light through even if the tree canopy develops early. It would be tragic to lose beech trees from England, they make such beautiful hedges, and are very widespread around here. Coincidentally I noticed today that one of the beeches in a hedge around a local garden has died. Now you have me worried… Apparently we are in for some rain and a return to more seasonally appropriate temperatures this weekend. These weird weather patterns seem to be becoming the norm. Very worrying. I’ll be growing the same plants as you do if this carries on!

  19. I almost didn’t read out of pure jealousy (joking!). Well its lovely to see what is out with you and what’s not. We share a few in common (wild garlic out, not flowering, primroses out and flowering, cuckoo flower out too) as for the rest we are WAY behind.

    Loved the hazel green wood structure!

    A lovely walk, thank you – I know what I can look forward too in a few weeks or so!

    1. Glad you overcame your jealousy ;-) We seem to be heading for more seasonal weather here, summer giving way to spring, and perhaps some rain to come at the weekend. I do hope so, I am fine with putting the sunscreen away again if it means I can fill my waterbutts up, they are almost totally empty! Hope spring springs for you soon. Well, what passes for spring – I guess you generally just leap straight in to summer?

  20. Janet, I find these woods very beautiful. If there were woods like this around here, they would be full of invasive exotic plants. There would be no native wildflowers. How have they kept invasives out?

    1. Hi Carolyn, I think you would find yourself very much at home in the reserve. As to why there are so few invasives (other than the poplars they are gradually removing), the leaflet about the reserve cites the shear size as being good protection, from wind-blown chemicals and fly-tipping as well as non-native species self sowing. It is certainly wonderful to see so many native British bluebells in one place, our local hedgerows are full of the very invasive Spanish bluebells.

  21. Call me a glutton for punishment, those bluebell photos are simply wonderful. What an amazing sight to see. No wonder you went for that walk when that was what awaited you!

    1. Hi Marguerite, I somehow missed your comment, so sorry! Yes, it really was a walk that had to be done, I wish I could manage to carve out enough time to go more frequently, it is always beautiful there, always new things to see.

  22. Janet, you have done it again: you have captured the quintessential elements of ancient English woodland! Lovely pictures; informative history, and obvious enthusiasm. Some of those names sound as if they were invented by The Two Ronnies (“The Grubbings” must be somewhere close to Much Hadham on the Hill I reckon).

    1. Hi Mark, glad you enjoyed it. I agree about the names – most bizarre, in a wonderfully English way.

  23. What a beautiful place! Thank you so much for taking us along on this walk, Janet. I felt as if I had been transported to another world. The fields of bluebells are indeed gorgeous, but everything about this place seems magical. I can just imagine Christopher Robin on that bridge:)

    1. Hello Rose – and Tigger, piglet and Rabbit! It is a wonderful place at any time of year, but the bluebells make it particularly magical. Glad you enjoyed the walk – and the references.

  24. wow you really know your woodland plants. It’s a beautiful time of year for walking. I have a bluebell walk planned with a friend next weekend and fully intend to go harvesting wild garlic too. She knows all the best hot spots in the Forest. N x

    1. No, I really don’t! Hopelessly ignorant but armed with good reference books, the map and information for the reserve, and that magical thing, the internet… I am a fraud! But one who really enjoyed her recent exposure to native wildflowers. Enjoy the forest walk, sounds wonderful. Can’t beat having a knowledgeable guide.

  25. Bliss indeed! How wonderful. I love the 18-year coppicing cycle; that is really providing for the future time and again.
    The wildflowers are so pretty, and those bluebells… now that is what I call a bluebell glade. The little patches we see around us here are welcome, but I’ve yet to find anything as stunning as your woods. We used to always admire (and look out for) the swathes of blue on the hills that overlook the A449/A40 through the Wye Valley on the drive up to the Malvern Spring Show, but they weren’t visible last year; I hope that it’s simply that the woods have grown up and obscured our view rather than that the bluebells are no longer there… x

    1. Hi Sara, it is rather heartening to see something so long term still in play. I’ve heard rumours that our native bluebells are under even more threat due to global warming – I hope this isn’t the last time I get to see this kind of bluebell magic.

  26. (PS Lots of Lords and Ladies spring up around us too – I’ve spotted the leaves of one or two in the wilder parts of our garden even – and I agree, I find them slightly sinister somehow… though I couldn’t put my finger on why…)

    1. Sinister but kind of cool too – weirdly wonderful, I have them file under…

  27. It is fascinating to see that so many of the plants in flower in clay and damp are also flowering away here in stony, fast draining soil 700 feet up on my hillside in Wales. We have everything you mentioned up here. It just proves how resilient and adaptable our native plants are. I am so besotted with bluebells that I have been persuading my husband not to mow a part of our field that is usually cut until I have had time to move some bluebells to the hedge margin. Not that I am obsessive in any way!

    1. Hi Elizabeth, I think bluebells are a worthy thing to get obsessive about – glad you are going to be able to save some, and wonderful that you have natives rather than the rather stiff and graceless Spanish invaders. I’m amazed that you have so many of the same flowers growing up where you are – by contrast, the woods don’t boast snowdrops at all, I suppose because the soil is too acidic?

    1. Hi Diana, they are rather beautiful, aren’t they – you could try buying seed but no one seems to want to import seed to South Africa, and they prefer moist soil… Most active? Really? That’s the problem with me finally getting around to saying belated thank yous to people who have faved my blog. I can only hope that whatever measure used to define “active” will manage to weed people like me out, surely it should mean picks and faves etc? I am an appalling Blotanist.

      1. Ah, moist is difficult , and I am wary of invasive problems perhaps?

        Active Blotanist is NOW, in the moment. Janet 57, Gardenwalkgardentalk 52

        1. Not sure about invasiveness, it does seem to be useful as well as pretty, edible leaves, and used to heal skin conditions (no details on what or how though…)

          I now understand “active” – that was me ridding myself of the guilt of not saying “thank you” when faved… All up to date now, with yet another resolution to visit more often. Met some great new blogs again.

  28. Hi Janet, what a lovely walk on an English countryside, enjoyed your photologue! So quintessentially English too, the Bluebells, love ‘ and the flowers do last awhile.

    Belated Happy Easter Btw! Haven’t been online properly for the past few days as on holiday mode and not used the computer much :)

    1. Hi guys, “not using the computer much” sounds like a pretty perfect way to spend the extended break hope you are not over doing the Great Pond Creation Project though… Glad you enjoyed the woods – Happy Long Weekend!

  29. Your pictures of bluebells are exquisite . . . they are just such magical flowers.
    I wonder why they’ve been so good this year? I’m afraid they won’t last long, though.
    I went walking through our bluebell wood today (a managed woodland similar to the one you describe; it’s owned by the Yattendon Estate), and they seemed a bit faded compared to last week.

    Thanks for identifying all of those wildflowers! I’m getting better on flowers, but I’m still hopeless on trees — although I can identify an oak.

    1. Hi Bee, glad you enjoyed the pictures – and got to enjoy some in the flesh, so to speak, even faded they are lovely.

      I have no idea why they have been so good this year, I suppose they must have liked the long cold spell? Glad I am not the only one to have trouble identifying trees. I can now do the ones I grow myself (birch and rowan), plus oak and horse chestnut. Everything else I have to look up, and I am stuck on everything apart from silver birch if it is not in leaf!

  30. Thank you for the wonderful tour and bit of history. The English wood holds a special place in my imagination, I am not sure why, perhaps some form of ancestral memory. Blue bells blooming in the woods also seem to be a very popular film setting for English costume dramas, which I enjoy watching. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. I like the idea of ancestral memory for bluebell woods – happy to share!

    1. Spot on! Sorry, no prize except that of knowing you were right ;-)

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