Each Spring the Friends of Hillhouse Wood organise two guided walks – one to look at the Bluebells, and a Dawn Chorus one. These are normally 2-3 weeks apart, to match each one to when its subjects are at their best. However this year things were different, and for the first time ever we ran both walks on the same weekend.
The reason for this was a combination of the weird timings of when flowers are flowering and birds are singing in recent Springs, and my availability to lead the walks. So the Bluebell walk took place on the afternoon of Saturday 7 May, while the Dawn Chorus walk ran at 3.45 am on the next day.
In truth the ‘Bluebell’ walk should probably now be called the ‘Spring Flowers’ walk, partly because so many people now come to see the Bluebells that they don’t need us to show them. And partly because the wood (and the walk to it along the track) has so much more to see. This was particularly true this year, when the earlier flowers have been delayed by the cold weather and so have overlapped with the ‘later’ ones.
Due to this, the twelve people who came on the ‘Bluebell’ walk were able to enjoy seeing a total of 27 different flowers. (This did not include the Ramsons, which we did not have time to get to.)
While there are no records to ‘prove it’, I suspect that this could be the highest number seen on one of these walks.
We were able to find a last few Primroses (which have had another good year), Wood anemones (which I think did not), Golden saxifrages, Violets and Marsh marigolds, while there were still good displays of the early flowering Lesser celandine.
Did you know, by the way, that this was the favourite flower of William Wordsworth, who wrote three poems about it? Because of this a celandine was carved on to this tombstone – but the mason wasn’t a good enough botanist and mistakenly carved a Greater celandine (an unrelated flower) instead!
At the other end of the flower timing scale the first examples of Yellow archangel (a plant that was believed to protect people from evil spirits) and Bugle were seen. The Early purple orchids were a few days past their best, but there were again a good number of flower spikes, and some of these were still pristine. These flowers are increasing in number, on both sides of the main path.
But, of course, the stars of the show are always the Bluebells. These were also perhaps a few days past their peak, but still looked (and smelt) impressive. The cooler weather, especially at night, has meant that they have remained in flower for a relatively long time. I took the group along a route that went through some of the best glades, and they really did look good.
Over the years ever increasing numbers of people come to see the wood, as both ‘word of mouth’ and Press coverage raise awareness of its Bluebells. It is great to see so many people deriving pleasure from the wood. But it does cause pain to see how people damage the very thing they come to see by making new paths and sitting (and even picnicking) in the Bluebells. I am sure that this is done innocently, and that they have no idea how vulnerable these plants are to being crushed. I doubt that little can be done to change this: we know from painful experience that any notices that are deemed to constrain peoples’ ‘right to behave as they please’ are either ignored, or else precipitate an ‘energetic’ reaction.
Sometimes this walk, happening in the afternoon as it does, encounters relatively little bird activity, as this is when they tend to ‘siesta’. However this was not the case in 2016. We heard four Nightingales singing, one of which was in a territory that was new to me. We also heard several other woodland birds singing, and saw several Orange Tip butterflies. So overall, a most successful and enjoyable walk, which set the scene for the next one, due in just twelve hours time …