Hampshire, in the English countryside, is one of the best places in the world to see bluebells, a flower that carpets the landscape here from mid-April to late May.
It’s the sight that announces spring has arrived in England: a deep violet-blue carpet of flowers, spread beneath the canopy of an ancient woodland. These are bluebells, and they appear between mid-April and late May across the U.K., and not much beyond its borders: More than half of the world’s bluebells are found here.
One of the best places to see bluebells is Hampshire, a county to the southwest of London that can be reached in as little as an hour. This is a historic place, with the sort of ancient woodland that is perfect for bluebell-spotting. The flower colonies take a long time to establish, so they’re more common in older woods. You can pair a trip to witness the bluebells with walks across rolling downland, visits to historic sites and stops at classic country pubs. It’s a great place to relax amid the simple pleasures of rural England.
It’s very important to help protect this special experience. Walkers should keep to the path when enjoying bluebells. Once trodden on, they don’t re-appear the following year. You also should refrain from picking them — they’re protected by law. If you treat bluebells with respect, they’ll be brightening up spring for decades to come.
Here are three of the best spots to view bluebells in Hampshire:
Joan’s Acre Wood
With its magnificent garden, laid down during the 20th century, and its house designed along neo-Georgian lines, Hinton Ampner has plenty to offer visitors. But when springtime comes, you will want to continue a half-hour walk’s away to Joan’s Acre Wood.
Here the paths weave their way between thousands of English bluebells, with their drooping heads, bell-shaped flowers and delicate fragrance. A four-mile walk, starting and ending close to the house, offers you a number of sun-dappled wooded glades packed with bluebells, and a view over the site of the Battle of Cheriton, a key contest in England’s civil war that took place in 1644.
Closer to the house you’ll find some truly ancient trees, including an oak that may be as much as 600 years old. The sweeping views over the South Downs — dramatic white-chalk cliffs extending along the coast — are wonderful, too. Not far away is the Watercress Line, a heritage steam railway that runs for 10 miles between Alresford and Alton.
The rustic Hinton Arms, less than half a mile away from Hinton Ampner, offers a perfect way to finish a day in the English countryside. Enjoy a locally-brewed ale and hearty English pub food like steak and kidney pie. If you’ve got any energy left, you can take on the Cheriton Battlefield walk, which starts and ends at the pub and takes more than three hours to complete.
Nestled in a sheltered valley on the Isle of Wight — a part of the historic county of Hampshire off the coast of the mainland — Mottistone Gardens is a remarkable spot. Located at the eastern end of the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, its warm, southerly location allows Mediterranean plants to grow. But when spring arrives, the star of the show can be found in Shearn Place, at the very top of the gardens.
Here you’ll find a rich covering of bluebells on the woodland floor. They’re just one sign of the historic nature of this landscape. It’s well worth taking the short footpath up to the Longstone, a sandstone pillar that is all that remains of a 6,000-year-old Neolithic communal long barrow, believed to have been used to bury the dead.
The history of The Vyne dates to Tudor times, when this 16th-century estate and country house was the home of William Sandys, Lord Chamberlain to King Henry VIII. Located about an hour away from London via train to nearby Basingstoke, The Vyne remains a remarkable place to visit, and not only for the building itself.
A 10-minute walk from the house takes you into Morgaston Woods, where the ground is covered in bluebells from late April, weather allowing. It’s a nice place to visit at any time of the year, but springtime is best: Along with bluebells, you might see wood anemone, wood sorrel, violets, primroses, foxgloves and common spotted orchids, as well as deer and other animals.
The Vyne’s 18th-century walled garden, meanwhile, is home to a variety of fruit and vegetables that, depending on the season, can be enjoyed in the on-site cafe. There is an orchard growing apples and mulberries, and a beautiful ornamental lake.
Lovers of history shouldn’t miss nearby Old Basing, with Basing House at its heart. Here royalist forces held out for more than a year after their defeat at the Battle of Cheriton. Witness the artillery-damaged great barn, which dates back to 1535. This is an area rich in pub life — The Gamekeepers, in Mapledurwell, is the pick for those who love country cooking, like the pan-roasted rump of saddleback pork, done with sophistication and flair.
In Hampshire, you’ll discover bluebells and a lot more. While you’re there, you might find plenty of pleasure and contentment, too.
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