A bright sunny day in May, and a friend with a car who says simply, “Would you like a chauffeur?” We jumped at the opportunity. The chance just to go somewhere is rare. Where should we go? As I said, it’s May, we’re in England – yes, spring is a little late this year, but surely this is bluebell time.
A small nature reserve a couple of miles from here has a little piece of ‘semi-ancient’ woodland, known locally for its lovely show of bluebells every spring. It may be semi-ancient, but it has a website and there I found an ad for a guided walk in the bluebell wood this coming Sunday. Right – that would suggest the bluebells are out, although those in the local gardens comprise only leaves, their buds huddled shyly down in the middle. Ever the optimist, I told myself that the wild ones might just be a little ahead of the cultivated ones, which are mostly Spanish bluebells nowadays, not the native English variety. English ones must be tougher, hardier than their Spanish cousins, so bound to be in bloom.
We arrived at our destination, clambered out of the car, pushed open the large kissing gate and found … lush green woodland. Ne’er a hint of blue. Not one bell. Birds singing, squirrels scampering up the trees, wild geese at the water’s edge, sun filtering through the fresh budding leaves, but no bluebells. They are at exactly the same stage as those in the gardens.
Luckily, this nature reserve is part of a country park, an unexpected oasis in this dismal, depressed industrial town. And in that park is a working Victorian farm, formerly the home farm to the Earl’s country estate, a quaint little window into local history, which has a tearoom in what used to be the farmhouse kitchen. Not a twee, genteel tearoom serving scones and cream teas, but a robust couple of rooms (yes, it has expanded to incorporate the old parlour) offering doorstep sandwiches, baked potatoes with a wide range of fillings, hunky chunks of homemade cakes and tea in mugs. A place for families, because the farmyard with its stables, byres, poultry runs and pigsties draws children like a magnet and all that running around and fresh air makes kids and parents hungry.
So no bluebells today, but a filling lunch eaten next to the old black-leaded range that had my mother reminiscing because it was very similar to the one in her childhood home. Many of these tales were new to our friend, and we covered the greater part of the twentieth century in the couple of hours we sat there. Afterwards, a stroll around the walled gardens, warm and sheltered from the breeze, a peep into the gift shop where a jar of lemon curd insisted on accompanying us home, and then back to the car.
My mother did extremely well. In the last eight months, she has hardly walked more than twenty metres at a stretch apart from pottering around the house, and although she said she felt “a bit weary” she was still very perky and animated on our return home. The stroll around the farmyard and gardens must have amounted to close on a kilometre, and she wasn’t at all tempted to sit on any of the benches strategically placed along the paths. “Why should I sit there? There’s nothing to look at!” Sadly, apart from swathes of daffodils and one or two fruit trees just starting to bloom, that was true. Spring really is a little late this year.
The fresh air seems to have done her good, reinvigorated her. After a short rest on getting home, she is now cleaning the pantry. Perhaps we’ll go again next week?