From late April to late May, native English bluebells carpet woodlands around UK. The sight of these massed flowers, ranging in color from powder blue to nearly purple in the changing light, is unforgettable and it's a spring phenomenon that is virtually unique to the UK - England alone has 15% of all the world's annual crop.
While there seem to be bluebells everywhere, some woodlands, hillsides and gardens put on especially spectacular shows this time of year. These ten are among my favorites. But be warned, they are popular with lots of people. So if you want to enjoy them in relative peace and want to be able to take wonderful pictures like the ones below, try to go as early or late in the day as possible and avoid weekends if you can.
01 of 10
Miles of footpaths, cycle trails and bridleways crisscross the 5,000 acre Ashridge estate in the Chiltern Hills, on the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire borders. The estate's beech and oak woodlands have some of most popular bluebell walks in the country, especially Dockey Wood. In fact, they are so popular that in 2016 the National Trust had to impose a small entrance fee during bluebell season to protect the fragile wildflowers that were being trampled by visitors. That small charge still applies in 2018, Don't be put off by a fear of crowds. This is a magnificent landscape of woodlands, chalk downs and Iron Age hill forts for a fine day out about an hour northwest of of London. There's a waymarked three-in-one bluebell trail that visits the best areas and that can be downloaded into your smart phone. Watch the website for scheduled guided bluebell walks in season as well.
02 of 10
A maturing beech woodland not far from Winchester, Micheldever Wood is known for its bluebell displays in both the northern and southern end of the forest. Managed by the UK Forestry Commission, it's about an hour and a half west southwest of London off the M3 at Junction 9. This is a wild woodland with trails but no other facilities. A waymarked trail leads from the small parking area on Northington Lane, on the south side of the wood, to areas of archaeological interest. There is no entrance fee.
- Visit the UK Forestry Commission website to check the progress of the bluebell bloom and for navigation information.
03 of 10
Bluebells are scattered all over Hatchlands Park, near Guildford, about an hour from London. This National Trust property is noted for its gardens and opens for the season just in time for the blooming of the bluebells. The best place to see them is in Little Wix Wood, on the eastern edge of the park. It's an ancient wood of sweet chestnut, ash, oak, birch and hornbeam, first recorded in a 13th century chronicle. In the spring the trees are surrounded by a sea of violet-colored flowers.
The 400 acre park is open year round. Between April and October there's also an opportunity to visit six restored rooms that feature some of Robert Adam's earliest work. The Cobbe portrait of Shakespeare, property of the National Trust's tenant, may also on display in the house when you visit. It is believed to be the only portrait of Shakespeare made during his lifetime.
On NGS Bluebell Day (April 29 in 2018), all admission fees go to the National Garden Scheme which opens nearly 4,000 private gardens around the country for charity.
There's, parking, a cafe and shop as well as a historic kitchen tearoom. Admission is charged but visitors can opt for entry to the parkland only for a reduced fee.
04 of 10
You need to take the National Trust ridge walk from Buttermere Valley to the top of Rannerdale Knotts. It's about three miles long and described as a moderate walk that will take about two hours. From the summit, you can look across to Crummock Water and down into Rannerdale, the secret valley.
Until the end of May it's likely to be carpeted with bluebells. According to a local legend, a battle was fought between the local settlers and Norsemen against Norman invaders. The locals tricked the invaders by trapping them in the secret valley and killing them all. The bluebells, say the local stories, spring up where blood has been spilled.
There are no facilities on the National Trust land in the Buttermere Valley but the nearby village of Buttermere has cafes, restrooms and shops.Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10
This Edwardian hillside garden was bequeathed to the National Trust in the 1960s and has been maintained to protect its biodiversity and its great variety of blooming plants.
In the spring, carpets of English bluebells climb a 600ft hill through woodlands. Because of them, the garden has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) - so don't be tempted to pick a few. It's not only inconsiderate to other visitors, it is also a crime.
The garden has tulips, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias as well. There are also garden games and a wild play area for children. There are probably also plenty of ants: emmetts is another word for ants and the site used to have a lot of big anthills.
Admission is charged and, largely because of the bluebells, it's slightly higher from April 18 to May15.
06 of 10
Every spring, the Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park is awash in color as the national collection of azaleas and rhododendrons bursts into bloom. Visit in April and May and you will see varieties of shape, texture and color you've never seen before in these familiar shrubs.
They may be showy and theatrical but nature holds her own by producing carpets of wild bluebells in the wilder, woodland edges of the garden.
The Isabella Plantation is a 40-acre woodland fenced off from the rest of London's Richmond Park to protect its spectacular plants from the more than 400 red and fallow deer that roam this park. It's free, as is the rest of the park. You can get to the many gates of Richmond Park by public bus from Richmond Station on the London Underground. And if you don't want to hike into the center of the park to the Isabella Plantation, you can hop on the free courtesy bus that runs around the park from late March to late October.
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Clumber is 3,800 acre park and ancient woodland that was once the country estate of the Dukes of Newcastle. It's in the heart of Sherwood Forest, near Worksop in Nottinghamshire. So, while you're exploring its trails looking for this season's bluebells, you might want to listen out for the ghosts of Robin Hood and his Merry Men.
The National Trust has plotted an easy 3-mile walk that will take you through two woodlands carpeted with flowers with a village and an old schoolhouse in between.
The bluebell walk begins in the Hardwick Village car park.There is a parking charge but the park is free to visit.
08 of 10
This privately owned garden and cafe, about 10 miles north of Northampton, is open to the public from noon to 5:30 pm, Tuesday to Saturday from Good Friday to the beginning of October.
But, during bluebell season, the garden and bluebell wood are open every day of the week.
Coton Manor is a particularly good place to see these delicate native flowers since its woodland is an open and airy beech forest with little between the treetop canopy and the flower carpeted floor.
A modest admission is charged.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10
Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire
Hardcastle Crags is a wooded valley in West Yorkshire, west of Halifax not far from Hebden Bridge, an unusually arty and bohemian Yorkshire market town.
Finding the bluebells at this site is probably best left to hikers because most of the trails are relatively rugged. But there are hidden valleys, secret waterfalls and lots of wildlife spotting for the intrepid.
In mid-May, there's usually a free guided hike that includes the bluebell carpeted slopes. Check the events page of their website for the dates. (In 2018, it's a 5 mile hike on April 28 between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.)
The hill and valley trails are free but there is a small charge for visiting Gibson Mill, below the crags. Built in 1800, it is one of oldest surviving mills of the Industrial Revolution. In 2016, the mill celebrated 10 years totally "off the grid" - producing all its own energy from solar and water power, recycling and disposing of all its own waste. If you are interested in what an eco-conscious life, totally off the grid might be like, it's worth exploring the mill after your encounter with the bluebells.
10 of 10
The New Forest, once William the Conqueror's hunting estate, has so many lovely bluebell areas that the local boosters have put together a downloadable Bluebells & Breakfast Trail map. In all, there are 34 square kilometers of broadleafed trees where bluebells flourish in protected enclosures. Why "enclosures"? That's simple, between the herds of deer, the semi-wild donkeys and New Forest ponies that wander everywhere, New Forest Commoners have the right to use most of the New Forest to graze their cows, pigs and sheep. With so many domestic animals browsing and grazing and generally trampling about, the bluebells wouldn't stand a chance without some protection.
If you are inspired to visit a bluebell wood but don't want to travel too far from your holiday or vacation destinations, the National Trust publishes an annual list of where to find the best woods all over the country. Just click the link above to find the nearest one.