A trip to see the bloomin’ fritillaries

Banner with Snake's head fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris and other springtime flowers

Those damned elusive snake’s head fritillaries - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Monthly musings of the naughtily nice kind

Two months ago, I knew thousands of snake’s head fritillaries would be blooming in Oxford. I have longed to see this sight for decades, and I felt the moment had come. 

‘We must go to Iffley Meadows to see the fritillaries!’ I announced to my startled daughter. (Let’s call her Betsy: I always do.)

We grabbed the dog and set out, but had to stop in Cirencester because Betsy needed a pizza, the dog needed a walk and I needed the loo.

It was one of those ultra-modern terrifying steel torture chambers that pass for lavatories these days. Of course I got stuck in it, for what was probably only 30 seconds but felt like 30 years. Eventually, hot and shaking with panic, I realised the door handle should be pressed up, not down, and escaped. Thank God I’m not in charge of our nuclear deterrent.

Next, it seemed a shame just to eat the pizzas in the car park. ‘We’ll be in lovely countryside in moments!’ I cried, improvising a route towards Oxford but arriving instead in an industrial estate that resembled Dante’s First Circle of Hell. 

‘I’m sure this is the right – oh no! It’s another dead end!’

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‘We must eat the pizzas before they get cold!’ We found ourselves in the car park of an insurance company, and wolfed down the tepid pizzas, terrified that somebody would emerge and force us to buy life insurance. 

I heard footsteps. I knew we had to escape. Hurling my pizza box into the back, I threw the car into reverse and inadvertently caught my elbow on the horn. WAAAARP!  I accelerated off. I think we got away with it, CCTV permitting.

‘Never mind!’ I rhapsodised doggedly. ‘It’ll be wonderful to see the fritillaries blooming!’

In Oxford, blood-curdling traffic suggested that an extra life insurance policy might have been a good idea after all. 

‘Never mind! Here’s the nearest car park!’ It was GO OUTDOORS, if you’re interested – and after all, we were going outdoors, so why not? I bought a dog bowl to justify our parking, and a bottle of water, but Patch snootily ignored it, the bastard. (NB he is technically a bastard so that’s not swearing.)

Guided by Siri, we found the meadows via a gloomy bridge and weir where I was sure somebody had been murdered in Morse. So here were the meadows! But where were the fritillaries? We trudged on and on through 
meadow after bloomin’ meadow. But not a fritillary in sight. 

Uneven ground is purgatory to me, and I was wearing the wrong boots, so I had to stare fixedly at the ground to make sure no evil tussocks lay in my path. Betsy meanwhile was tracking our progress via Siri’s map on her mobile. Eventually Siri lost his temper with us and started braying ‘Proceed to the Route! Proceed to the Route!’ 

‘Oh shut up! I’m never going to Proceed to a Route ever again, you bastard!’ I cried. (This time it really was swearing.)

On we ploughed. I had wanted to see these fritillaries for 30 years and I was going to crawl there if necessary, dammit. 

A woman appeared. ‘Where are the fritillaries?’ we begged, exhausted. 

‘Oh, you’ve just passed some,’ she said, waving at our previous meadow. We retraced our steps, and there they were, a dark red and white embroidery, freckling the green. We had walked right past them, oblivious, staring fixedly at our tussocks and our phone.

Well, at least I’ve seen the bloomin’ things now. Sorry about all the swearing.

Follow Sue on Twitter: @sue_limb