The best places in Norfolk to see glorious bluebells this spring
- Credit: Archant copyright 2011
Norfolk's woodlands offer some of the country's places to witness spectacular displays of spring bluebells. And after a mild spring the blue woodland carpet should be glorious this year.
The bluebell is arguably the nation's favourite flower. This is probably not surprising given that the UK is home to half of the global bluebell population.
Consequently our woodlands are the envy of Europe and right here in East Anglia we have some of the very best places to see their glorious displays.
For a few short weeks, before the leaves begin to unfurl, our woodlands are transformed into a hypnotic blue wonderland. From afar it can appear as though the oaks, beech and ash trees have been wreathed in a purple mist as waves of bluebells flower in unison to provide one of the most spectacular floral displays in the world.
The appearance of the bluebell is a traditional harbinger of spring, symbolising the change of the seasons and of the summer's warmth to come.
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Spring bluebells have inspired some of our greatest poets and writers. 'The Bluebell is the sweetest flower,' wrote Emily Bronte.
Bluebells have to do most of their growing before the woodland trees come into leaf. The first bluebell leaves appear in January and usually by late April/early May the plants are in full bloom. They can take advantage of an ecological niche when more sunlight gets through to the woodland floor.
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Early starters the canny bluebells burst into bloom before more temperature-dependant species with their sticky nectar attracting the first of the year's bumblebees who helpfully pollinate the flowers.
Bluebells are slow to establish themselves, so finding large clumps of the flowers is a good indicator that you are in ancient woodland.
But despite being protected by law they are under threat, both from habitat loss, foreign rivals and unscrupulous collectors who dig up the bulbs to sell on for profit.
The Spanish bluebell began to invade and compete for space with our British native 250 years ago. It poses a threat as the plant can interbreed with the UK flower. An easy way of telling a Spanish from an English bluebell is the English plant bares drooping flowers one side of the stem and is scented, while the Spanish bluebell is unscented and has flowers on all sides of the stem with a larger more open bell.
Despite the threat the humble bluebell remains one of our real champions of spring and it is well worth the effort to visit a bluebell wood near you, and stand still in awe at nature's sheer beauty.
Bacton Wood dates back to Saxon times, includes ancient Sessile Oaks and some 30 other species of tree. Two and a half miles north-east of North Walsham on the Happisburgh Road, the wood is managed by the Forestry Commission who have been thinning and felling of conifers to encouraged natural regeneration of the broadleaf species and plants such as bluebells. Walkers can take to waymarked walks to see over 30 species of tree in addition to bluebells.
The red brick mansion of the National Trust's Blickling Hall is surrounded by 950 acres of woodland and parkland – with wildflowers such as bluebells, campions and yellow archangel growing among the many trunks of oak, chestnut, beech, rowan and ash. In the 1930's, thousands of bluebell bulbs were taken to be planted in Blickling's formal gardens. Head up Temple Walk in the gardens and look out for beautiful bluebells along the tree lined avenues. The Great Wood, which has existed since before mediaeval times, is also famous for its breathtaking swathes of blue, though there are areas without any, probably because wild deer graze the woodland.
Part of Norfolk's less well-known important areas for nature – the North Norfolk Woods Living Landscape, Brett's Wood, close to Thursford, is one of NWT's newest reserves, having been purchased in 2010 with a large donation from a private woodland trust. On May 8 join expert Tony Leech in a ramble through another nearby woodland to see bluebells and ancient trees, with a pond-dipping session included too (details on 07843 069 567, email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Brook House, Stratton Strawless
The bluebells in the grounds of Brook House are splendid. Explore and discover beautiful blooms in the lovely woods and grounds on special bluebell days from April 29-May 1 (11am-4pm). Also stalls of home-made produce, plants, hand-made crafts, while the Norwich guild of stonemasons will be demonstrating carving on the first two days. Admission £3 in support of the village church, under-12s free. Details on 01603 755343, email@example.com
As well as a reputation for bluebells in the spring, these woods, near Strumpshaw, are known for their resident birds, butterflies and dragonflies. The area, a mixture of woodland, rough open grassland and two semi wet areas is managed with assistance from Blofield & District Conservation Group
This wood near Acle is owned by Norfolk County Council and maintains a wild, rural feel. There's a historic sense here where trails pass through and around land associated with the late Georgian Burlingham Hall, which was demolished about 50 years ago. A mixture of mature woodland and more recent wood and orchard plantings with easy circular walks offering a glimpse of bluebells.
Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden
Fairhaven at South Walsham always has a beautiful pockets of bluebells that are easily accessible. In the heart of the Norfolk Broads, it is surrounded by a 130 acre woodland. The garden is a mix of native and cultivated planting including beautiful pockets of bluebells, candelabra primula and rhododendron. There is exclusive access to the neighbouring nature reserve and its bluebell woods from April 24-May 14, included in garden entry. There is also a special guided bluebell walk on April 30. More details on 01603 270449, www.fairhavengarden.co.uk
The largest ancient woodland in Norfolk a mile north-east of Foxley village on the A1067, between Dereham and Fakenham. In the past couple of decades the Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been busy removing the conifers and replanting with native deciduous trees and bluebells have come back in their droves. In early spring pale yellow primroses peek out from the banks of ditches, a prelude to the riot of colour to follow in mid/late April to early May (varying year to year), when bluebells carpet the woodland floor. Other interesting woodland plants and wildflowers such as dog's mercury, greater butterfly orchid, wood anemone, wild garlic and herbparis can also be found. In total over 350 flowering plant species have been recorded.
Hainford Bluebell Wood
Drink in the sights and scents of millions of bluebells on a stroll through five acres of this ancient woodland, part of Norfolk Bluebell Wood Burial Park which opened last year. The owners of this spectacular bluebell wood which, until last year, had lain hidden from public gaze for centuries is holding five open days, April 22-23 and April 29-May 1 (all 10am-4pm). Having introduced a little more light into the ancient five-acre wood through sensitive coppicing, keen conservationists Andrew and Caroline Morton, hope it will be a breathtaking sight. Entry is free, but donations welcome for Aylsham & District Care Trust. More information 07557 200398, norfolkbluebellwood.co.uk
Lower Wood, Ashwellthorpe
Not far from the market town of Wymondham lies Lower Wood in Aswellthorpe village, an ancient woodland which was recorded in the Domesday Book. To conserve this Site of Special Scientific Interest, Norfolk Wildlife Trust coppice the wood to encourage new growth. Alongside the bluebells that carpet in spring, wild garlic is also common. Patient ramblers stepping alongside the swathes of cobalt-hued bluebells may spot red, roe and muntjac deer through the branches.
Off the B1126 near Wangford, Southwold, this wood has seen local people help re-instate a 20-year cycle of coppicing that has resulted in a spectacular eruption of spring flowers to rival any East Anglian wood, including swathes of bluebells, yellow archangel and greater stitchwort. Remember your wellies though, the wood is always very muddy!
Expect coastal views and woodland magic at Sheringham Park. Not far from the seaside attractions of Cromer and Sheringham, the National Trust landscape park and woodland garden boasts fine mature woodlands with a large variety of rhododendrons, azaleas and spring bluebells. The landscaped park and woodland garden were designed in 1812 by Humphry Repton and one of his most outstanding achievements.
Near to Chedgrave and Loddon, Sisland Carr is a small wood with a mix of conifers and broadleaf trees, managed by the Woodland Trust. Head here in mid-to-late April and May to enjoy bluebells carpeting the woodland floor. Work has been ongoing to replace conifers with broadleaved trees with the result that the bluebells have thrived.
St Peters, Spixworth
There are always wonderful display of bluebells in the woods surrounging Spixworth church and Grange Farm. And this year there is again the opportunity to see them at their wonderful best with family bluebell walks on April 30 and May 7 (both 11am-4.30pm). There will be children activities and homemade refreshments served in the 900 year old church. Dogs welcome on leads. Entry is £3, children free.
Believed to be the site of the legend 'Babes in the Wood', this actively managed wild wood, near Watton, one of the largest woods in South Norfolk and includes a fine mix of tree species, still instils a sense of history for which it is locally renowned. As well as bluebells, over the next few weeks you'll see purple orchids, wood anemone and nightingales. Over 125 species of flowering plant have been recorded in total, including the rare yellow star of Bethlehem.
The garden and grounds surrounding Walsingham Abbey are famous for the spectacular ruins of the mediaeval Priory and place of pilgrimage since the 11th century. The grounds are famous for unrivalled displays of massed snowdrops in February but late spring also sees the beautifully maintained and tranquil atmosphere of the grounds also a glow woth colourful wildflower meadows, including bluebells in the 18 acres of woodlands.