“Spring brings with it one of the woodland’s greatest spectacles…bluebells.” So says the world’s leading expert on all the natural world, Sir David Attenborough, in his latest series, Wild Isles.
Ludlow in springtime is captivating. Blossoms and blooms do their thing of spreading cheer and colour. Our surroundings become verdant and vibrant. Hope characterises spring for a good reason; it’s why we suddenly start to feel like possibilities are everywhere and have the urge to explore our surroundings. Even familiar places feel like new territory. So it’s time to go into the woods.
Over half the world’s common bluebells are found in woodland areas of Britain and Ireland, and with over 1000 hectares of forestry to explore in Ludlow’s Mortimer Forest; we are spoilt for choice when it comes to bluebell spots.
We’ve chosen two walks where you can spot Hyacinthoides non-scripta, also known as cuckoo’s boots, granfer griggles, witches’ thimbles, lady’s nightcap, fairy flower, cra’tae (crow’s toes).
The WOW factor with a steep climb
There are a few ways you can approach High Vinnalls, the peak of this dog-friendly walk, but the LGL favourite route for maximum bluebell spotting is from Blackpool car park on the southeastern side of Mortimer Forest. Head straight up (due west) from the car park following the Blackpool loop, then carry straight up the Climbing Jack Trail towards Climbing Jack Common.
It’s a steep climb, walking in and out of the tree canopy, and you’ll start spotting flashes of blue from the moment you set off. Once you arrive at Climbing Jack Common, we recommend you take a few minutes to turn around from where you came and admire the spectacular backdrop of the Titterstone Clee and the hills beyond. There’s a bench along the path if you want to soak up the scenery for a little longer.
Carry up the path following the Climbing Jack trail towards High Vinnalls, admiring the sea of bluebells on either side. Before you walk through the little copse of trees, again turn around and admire the view; it is a sight to behold!
A little further up the path, you’ll reach High Vinnalls, at 375m, the forest’s highest point with splendid views across the Corvedale, Radnorshire and the Welsh Marches.
Return to the car park down the same path. If you’re lucky and walk early in the morning, you may hear the cuckoo calling, and you’ll be greeted by a chorus of skylarks all along the Common.
It truly is magical.
The gentle stroll with the best view of Ludlow
Although you won’t get a flood of colour on this walk, this lovely stroll is all about the element of surprise! Walking along the common, in and out of the woodland canopy and along the river is like a treasure hunt spotting little clumps of blue all along the way.
If you’re driving, start the walk at Whitcliffe Common car park where you’ll enjoy probably the best view of Ludlow town, taking in all our famous landmarks, the Castle, the tower of St Laurence’s, the rotunda of St Peter’s Church, the market square and the Assembly Rooms.
Take the path to the toposcope’s left (see map) and head down towards Dinham Bridge via the steep steps known as the ‘lactic ladder’. Before the bridge, turn along the Bread Walk and spot bluebells on the riverbank to your left and amongst the fossilised rock cliffs to your right. You’ll spot our resident pair of swans or family of otters frolicking near the weir if you’re lucky. At the weir, take the path up and double back up through the woods towards the car park.
Along the route, the Friends of Whitcliffe Common have very kindly placed benches and cleared a little undergrowth so you can catch glimpses of the town from different angles.
Dr Cath Price, Shropshire Wildlife Trust
“There is nothing quite so magical as stepping into a wood in early May, and finding yourself in a sea of bluebells”.
The future is blue
“Despite their popularity, all is not well in the bluebell wood”.
An extract taken from a blog by Dr Cath Price for The Shropshire Wildlife Trust, explaining why we can’t take our bluebell walks for granted and how we can help to protect the spaces we love.
“The species is threatened not only by habitat destruction and illegal collection, but more insidiously by hybridisation with Spanish bluebells – a popular garden plant introduced in the late 17th century which really has no place in our native woodlands.
Spanish bluebells bluebells have a more upright habit, with flowers all around the stem rather than the delicate, one-sided nodding flowers of the English bluebell. Spanish bluebells don’t spread easily by seed but the pollen is easily transferred by bees and the resulting seed is viable. Hybridisation dilutes the unique characteristics of the native bluebells, and permanently alters their genetics.
So what can we do about it? Spanish bluebells aren’t a problem in town gardens, but if yours is close to woodland there is a risk of pollen transfer. I’m busy digging up all the Spanish bluebells in my garden before they flower, and will be planting natives under the trees, where they can naturalise.”
5 facts about bluebells
- Bluebells are poisonous to humans, dogs, horses and cattle.
- Starch in the sap of the bulbs was once used to glue the feathers on arrows, and in Tudor times, to stiffen the fashionable ruffs.
- Bluebells are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. If you dig up a wild bluebell you can be heavily fined.
- Folklore used to tell that bluebells ring at daybreak to call fairies to the woods.
- Bees love the bluebell’s pollen & nectar and ‘steal’ it by biting a hole in the top of the flower.
Friends of Mortimer Forest are working with Forestry England to arrange a visit for residents of Ludlow Care Homes to see the bluebells in the Mortimer Forest