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Winning tip: Lake District bluebells
This spring we may all be looking for more remote places where safe social distancing is easy, and Rannerdale Knotts fits the bill perfectly. In late April, the fellside is carpeted with a truly amazing display of bluebells. There’s a three-mile circular walk from Buttermere village, taking in views of three lakes, waterfalls and higher peaks all around. But the bluebells are the big draw. It’s a photographer’s paradise but visitors are asked not to trample the plants.
Springs in spring, Bedfordshire
Part of the Chilterns, the Barton Hills are host to springs that are mentioned in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Water has never stopped flowing and the chalk downland around (a site of special scientific interest) is fantastic and protected as a nature reserve by Natural England. The spring is a lovely place for children to splash around in. You can also scramble up the paths through the woods and try to find Ravensburgh Castle (you’ll need an OS map), an iron age fortification. There is free parking nearby on Old Road, and it’s a 30-minute walk through the countryside from there. As you walk, look out for the spring-flowering pasqueflower, a rarish purple beauty known as the “anemone of Passiontide”. The hills are steep but you don’t have to climb them, though if you do race to the top. there are magnificent views. A special, ancient place.
Daffodil delight, Nottinghamshire
Post-industrial Nottinghamshire isn’t the first area spring-seeking plant lovers might think of. Yet a mere half mile from the M1, dreaming in its daffodil-swathed valley, nestles the hidden gem of Felley Priory Gardens. There’s a riot of primulas to enjoyand a little nursery that’s fun to have a nose round.
• Entry £6/free, felleypriory.co.uk
Lost in woods, near Cardiff
Every spring I like to escape to the ancient Wenallt Woods (Coed y Wenallt) near the village of Tongwynlais. It’s unbelievably beautiful and so quiet given its close proximity to the Cardiff, the Coryton interchange and M4. There are fairy doors to explore, old mossy logs, winding trails with gnarly ancient roots, rolling carpets of vivid bluebells, blooms of cow parsley and the scent of wild garlic all around. It’s a site of special scientific interest and is so peaceful you might not see another person the whole time you’re there.
Castle garden walk, Cornwall
Despite the occasional high winds of a Cornish winter, the magnolias and camellias of Caerhays Castle near Gorran are looking particularly glorious this year. The 140-acre garden is home to the National Magnolia Collection, and the Williams family, owners since 1855, are notable breeders of camellias, which are numerous. The exhilarating garden walk will take up to two hours. The Grade I-listed castle, designed by John Nash and completed in 1810, is situated impressively above Porthluney beach.
• From £9/£4.50, caerhays.co.uk
The Himalayan foothills of Herefordshire
There’s a scene in Herefordshire, my favourite springtime outing, that’s like something from the Himalayas. Park Wood, at Hergest Croft Gardens, Kington, is a secluded valley hidden deep in an ancient oak wood containing over 30 acres of giant rhododendrons and exotic trees around a magical pool. Created more than 120 years ago, it has a unique collection of over 5,000 rare plants, trees and shrubs. There are flower borders, a kitchen garden, azalea garden, maple grove, and Park Wood. Springtime is spectacular, but this is a garden for all seasons.
• £7/free, hergest.co.uk
Flowers and serenity, Oxfordshire
Waterperry Gardens are magical. You can lose hours wandering by the river, strolling through the orchard or admiring the herbaceous borders. For little ones there is a beautiful wooden play structure. Adults can enjoy the Silent Space, a beautifully landscaped area, perfect for peaceful reflection.
• £8.50/free, waterperrygardens.co.uk
A floral legacy, Peak District
Manchester businessman Samuel Grimshawe built Errwood Hall, a once-thriving estate with beautiful views which even had a private coal mine, in the 1830s. It is now a ruin having been demolished in 1934 but the spectacular displays of rhododendrons and azaleas planted by the Grimshawe family more than 150 years ago are still with us. This lovely spot is about 40 minutes’ walk due west of the free car park adjacent to Errwood reservoir in Derbyshire’s Goyt Valley. I really recommend spending a couple of pleasant hours walking here in spring.
Forest park idyll, Highlands
Last spring I visited Argyll Forest Park, Loch Awe, Oban, Glencoe and Inveraray. We explored majestic mountainsides, the shores of tranquil lochs and saw untamed wildlife as well as enjoying local fresh seafood and whisky. At Ardentinny in the forest park, the Riverside Trail was gorgeous with plenty of bluebells and Puck’s Glen was a great stroll to a wooded gorge alive with birdsong and some beautiful rhododendrons.
Tranquil lake, Powys
My perfect escape to peace and quiet is Llandrindod Wells Lake. In spring there is an abundance of wildlife including waterfowl and fish plus a charismatic dragon statue taking pride of place in the centre. I relax undisturbed but it is also perfect for a stroll or cycle ride. The 13-acre lake is free to enjoy and was built for boating when the mid-Wales town was famous in the Victorian era for its spa waters.
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