by Katie Isham.
Well, everyone else is doing it, so I suppose we’d better jump on the bluebell bandwagon! If you glance at social media, the whole country has been skipping through ancient woodland in the last few weeks. Bluebell photos have been outnumbering Line of Duty theories, and that takes some doing.
Yet despite the deluge of photos online, nothing beats the moment of being amongst the bluebells. These wildflowers are one of nature’s finest shows and the fact they’re only around for a very short window makes an appointment to see them all the more appealing. It’s also true that photographs never do the experience justice. Sure, you can even zoom in on a fancy lens to try to capture the moment, but when you look back, nothing beats the vibrant colours and overwhelming scent you enjoy at the time.
I’m almost embarrassed to share my photos with you but I couldn’t help taking some. That’s the power of bluebells; they are so beautiful that you’re compelled to take photo after photo in the vain belief that the next one will capture the magic. The optimism of a bluebell photo should be harnessed to get us through the most difficult of times.
Southampton might not have the sprawling woodland of Micheldever or the vast estate of Hinton Ampner, but we certainly have our fair share of the enchanting blue flowers. You’ll find snippets of singing bluebells peeling out from behind tall trees around Miller’s Pond, Archery Recreation Ground and of course the ever-exciting Southampton Old Cemetery. But for a specific local walk to immerse yourself in their world, Bluebell Wood at Royal Victoria Country Park is your best bet.
Royal Victoria County Park sits on the east coast of the city, stretching down to the shore of Southampton Water. As much as I’m drawn to the waves, this time we’re heading inland, under the canopy of a budding forest.
Start your wander from the iconic chapel. Whether you walk into the grounds or drive and drop your car at one of the car parks, head to the beating heart of the park. Pause and look down to the water. Always.
Follow the path that runs past the chapel southeast until you run out of track. One route forks off to the right to take you to Netley Military Cemetery, but the route straight on is our raison d’être. This takes you into Bluebell Wood.
Here you face a spider’s web of paths, some wide, some narrow, some under trees, some over hills, some winding, but all flanked by a swirling sea of blue and green. Wander free and savour the quiet calm of the magic of nature as you crisscross the pedestrian pathways – but do keep to the paths; these delicate flowers have enough hardship in their short lives without your walking boots or canine paws added to the mix.
There is something truly remarkable about finding yourself alone in the woods with only the bluebells for company. It’s a soothing and grounding feeling. Chat to the faces of bluebell pixies at your ankles but also make sure you stop and gaze to the heavens to appreciate the wonder of the gnarled giants above. They don’t yet have their summer clothes which makes these trees particularly striking. Visit just before sunset as the streaks of light only just creep past the branches to sprinkle on the bluebells below.
But don’t bother taking too many photos. They won’t be as good as you think they are. Take a mental picture while these precious perennials grace us with their presence. Or maybe snap a quick picture. Or two. Or twenty-three. Keep trying.
Cost: Free entry to Royal Victoria Country Park. Some parking charges apply if you want to park in the park.
Accessibility: Paved or gravel tracks around the park. In Bluebell Wood the paths are woodland walks which are accessible on wheels however, some smaller side paths are narrow.
Facilities: Royal Victoria Country Park has ample parking, a play area, a train, toilets, a dog wash, the chapel (which is currently closed) and our favourite facility: a café for all your (takeaway) baked goods needs.