Springtime is the season for wildflowers and around the U.K. that means bluebells. These bright indigo perennials pop up in woodlands all over the British Isles from late April to late May, carpeting the entire country in their majestic color from the English Channel all the way up to Scotland. It's hard not to see bluebells if you visit anywhere in the U.K. countryside in the spring, but a few places truly stand out as particularly magical.
To avoid the worst of the crowds and get the best light for your pictures, try to visit these places early in the morning or in the early evening. Pack a camera or make sure your phone is fully charged for snapping some photos, but make sure not to disturb the flowers in any way. Not only are you protecting the blossoms for future visitors, but bluebells are also a protected species under British law, meaning that picking flowers is a criminal offense.
Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire
Miles of footpaths, cycle trails, and bridleways crisscross the 5,000-acre Ashridge Estate in the Chiltern Hills on the border of Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. 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.
But don't be put off by a fear of large crowds. This is a magnificent landscape of woodlands, rolling chalk hills, and Iron Age forts for an easy day trip outside of London. There's a waymarked three-in-one bluebell trail that visits the best areas and that can be downloaded into your smartphone, or you can join in on special guided bluebell tours.
Micheldever Wood in Hampshire
A maturing beech woodland not far from Winchester and the Hampshire village of Micheldever, Micheldever Wood is known for its bluebell displays in both the northern and southern end of the forest. Managed by the U.K. Forestry Commission, it's about an hour and a half southwest of London. This is a wild woodland with trails but no other facilities, so be sure to bring a daypack with necessities like water and snacks.
The wood has two trails that are both suitable for all skill levels, and besides the colorful flowers, you can also find some historical landmarks such as Iron Age barrows and remains from the days of the Roman Empire. The Micheldever Wood is free to enter.
Hatchlands Park in Surrey
Bluebells are scattered all over Hatchlands Park near Guildford, about an hour south of 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 trees, and the violet sea of bluebells are punctuated with bright yellow cowslips that are also in bloom for an extra splash of color.
The bluebells blossoming also coincides with the seasonal opening of the Mansion at Hatchlands Park, an 18th-century home that's elaborately decorated and has been restored to show how people lived in it back in the day. On display in the house are works by the Scottish designer, Robert Adams. This popular park does charge an admission fee for visitors.
Rannerdale Knotts in the Lake District
The Lake District is one of the most treasured national parks in the U.K. and you'll find fields of bluebells throughout the entire reserve. But if you're seeking the ultimate bluebell experience that the Lake District has to offer, then you'll need to seek out a small hill between Lake Buttermere and Crummock Water known as Rannerdale Knotts. The panoramic views and absolute serenity in this hidden valley are well worth the extra effort to get there.
The only way to reach Rannerdale is to start in the nearby village of Buttermere, which has a cafe, restaurant, and store in case you need some last-minute replenishments. From there, it's a three-mile loop trail that passes through Rannerdale and gives breathtaking views of the valley below. Make sure you stay on the marked trails since stepping into the flowers can also prevent them from growing back in the future.
Emmetts Garden in Kent
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. It's not just bluebells that you'll find here, as the garden has tulips, camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias, a rock garden, a rose garden, and spectacular views over the Weald of Kent as well.
There is an admission fee to get into Emmetts Garden, but there are also facilities like restrooms and a tea room serving snacks and beverages. Located in Kent, it's about an hour south of London by car.
Isabella Plantation in Richmond Park, London
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 to visit, 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 clockwise around the park.
Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire
Clumber is a 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, about 45 minutes outside of Sheffield and 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 takes visitors through two woodlands carpeted with flowers, with a scenic village and an old schoolhouse along the way to break up the hike.
Coton Manor Garden in Northamptonshire
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. The section named Bluebell Wood is specifically dedicated to the eponymous flower, but springtime is also when tulips are coming into bloom at Coton Manor for a double floral show.
This privately owned garden is just outside of Northampton or about an hour away from Birmingham. There is an admission fee to enter the gardens, but after walking through the flower fields you can visit the resident flamingos—a quirky addition that seems out of place—or stop in the Manor itself to enjoy some tea or a sandwich at the cafe. The manor is easily reached from Althorp, the late Princess Diana's childhood home, only six miles away.
Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire
If you're into hiking and know how to navigate in the backcountry, then the Hardcastle Crags in West Yorkshire is for you. Here you can find hidden valleys, secret waterfalls, and lots of wildlife, in addition to the bluebells that take over the forest floor. There are 15 miles of footpaths to explore at this National Trust park and in the springtime, there are often rangers who offer free guided hikes to help visitors find the most scenic flower beds.
It's free to visit the park and hike around, but another attraction at Hardcastle Crags is the Gibson Mill, which does have a separate admission fee. It's one of the oldest surviving mills of the Industrial Revolution and was built around the year 1800. Today, it's a completely sustainable building that is 100 percent self-sufficient in energy, water, and waste treatment.
The New Forest National park
Originally claimed as a Royal Forest by William the Conqueror about 1,000 years ago, today the New Forest is a national park in the U.K. and one of the few remaining ancient oak woodlands—meaning it hasn't been disturbed by man since the 1600s. The national park is also used for grazing animals who—unintentionally—stomp and walk over the land where the bluebells would grow, leaving only a few limited areas where you can find the flowers growing in worthwhile numbers.
The park is massive, so you have to know where to start if you're going for bluebells. One of the best places to see them is in an area known as Ivy Wood, located off of the B0355 road between the villages of Brockenhurst and Beaulieu. Another enclosed area that's protected from grazing animals is the Pondhead Conservation Trust, just outside of the town of Lyndhurst.