A bit of a purple patch in Suffolk
David Falk of Discover Suffolk finds himself all at sea when he follows his compass to Captain's Wood in search of scented springtime waves of blue
David Falk of Discover Suffolk finds himself all at sea when he follows his compass to Captain’s Wood in search of scented springtime waves of blue
Bluebells – they’re cheeky little fellows at the best of times. They appear almost at whim anytime after April Fools’ Day and spend all day nodding about in the breeze. Apart from the squeaking of their juicy stems, they jostle and jest in silence. No bells here. And at closer inspection their outfits aren’t really blue at all either...With so many pockets of ancient woodland peppered about Suffolk from the edges of the Sandlings or banks of the Orwell to the depths of the Stour Valley, the native bluebell is in its element here. Before the trees stretch out their leafy canopy, the perennial herb and member of the hyacinth family, can be found pushing up through the crispy oranges of last year’s bracken and fighting for attention with the greenest tightly curled fists of the new year’s ferns. Captain’s Wood is one such special Suffolk hideaway in the picturesque village of Sudbourne, land of turf and ‘taties, off the Snape to Orford road up by the heritage coast. From the moment you park up by the old school and wander back down a verdant corridor, which opens into a surprising muntjac playground of heathy grassland, you not only find yourself wondering where the bluebells might be, but meet with the realisation that you’re on the edge of experiencing something really special. Here, the golden clumpy gorse bushes scatter the grassland, mirroring the flat-bottomed spring shower clouds which scud in the blue above. It’s a timeless place, owned by bishops and noblemen and important local families for over a thousand years. A tiny fluffy robin uses the information board as an appropriate perch. Attention drawn, the map soon reveals a circular walk through a mosaic of woodland and pasture, coppice and clearings; the information tells of pipistrelle bats and stag beetle, barn owls and butterflies...and bluebells. Across the heathland, way-markers point into the woods. Paths lead to intriguing vague remnants of a formal garden – a confusion of crumbling walls and deep ditches, bright rhododendrons and the occasional exotic tree – and then the magical woodland opens out in the bright leafless light of spring. Smooth barked birch, soldier-straight hazel, a strange metamorphoses of oak-cum-holly tree, clumps of Scots pine and lines of sweet chestnut: Captain’s Wood is full of enigmatic, outstretched, upturned, fallen and gnarled surprises, but above all, the fascinating individual eco-systems of its veteran oaks steal the show. Until you happen upon a hare that is, as it pounds across the pasture or meet the resident herd of fallow deer – 20 or more strong – grazing the day away on the edge of the grassland. Then you might get stopped in your reedy tracks by the wonder of simultaneous contrast as the bright whiteness of two soaring Shelducks illuminates the natural world against the tense, greyness of springtime shower clouds. And then there are the bluebells. Closed up tight still perhaps and pushing their pale pointy noses just here and there through the green blanket of Dog’s Mercury. Or snuffling their way through the airy layers of crunchy russet bracken like a hedgehog uncurling from hibernation.In places, they gather in great swathes, sprawling squeaky leaves and succulent stems haphazardly under the splaying branches. Elsewhere their linear leaves masquerade as grassy blades across outstretched meadow slopes, promising a smooth springtime quilt of colour. Wherever they surface, they nod soft bluish flowers, hanging heavy with creamy white pollen, their petals finished with flicks and curls: perfectly pretty, yet somehow shaggy in an endearing, bed-head sort of way.Rest a while on the stump of one of the Captain’s ancient oaks and be lulled by the gentle swell that’s all around. Let your eyes duck and dive across the shimmering waves of woodland floor. Against the occasional splashes of clear spring sky, the shallow sea of Captain’s Wood is far from blue. It’s not some trick of the light, but is as bright a realisation as a rainbow: even the bluest bells are as intensely violet or purple as their scent is hyacinth-sweet, and in Captain’s Wood, a white specimen is only slightly less common than a muntjac’s tail. n Find out more about your countryside from Discover Suffolk.Discover Suffolk is a County Council led partnership initiative to improve access and raise awareness of Suffolk’s countryside.
www.discoversuffolk.org.uk includes free downloadable leaflets for exploring the county on foot, on horseback and by bike as well as details of countryside sites and events, nature and bird reserves and top tips on places to visit from a wide range of local personalities.
MAKING ANCIENT WOODLAND EVEN MORE ACCESSIBLE
Arger Fen and Spouses Vale are two ancient coppice woodlands alongside fen meadow. Close to Assington and Wissington near the Suffolk-Essex border of the Stour, they have recently been linked together by Hulback’s Grove, a new woodland project from the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Here under a motley, yet oh-so-natural collection of oak, ash and field maple, massive alder and coppiced hazel, our native bluebells sprawl and droop, leaf-tip touching leaf-tip, petals rolled back as if straining to take in as much spring whitethroat and nightingale song as possible. The reserve really welcomes careful visitors with new sections of boardwalk installed through wet areas and steps put in place on the steeper slopes. For details about Suffolk’s very own bluebell woodlands and a great range of countryside walks and, including guidance on how to get there, check out Suffolk County Council’s official countryside website: www.discoversuffolk.org.uk
BLUE HEAVEN Suffolk woodland bluebells(Hyacinthoides non-scripta or common/native bluebell)
A perennial herb, growing from a white bulb Loves humidity and dappled shade Shorter of stem than the cultivated variety (Hyacinthoides hispanica) Smooth, shiny and slightly succulent linear leaves with an acute tip and 4-16 flowers to one flower spike, which will hang down distinctly to one side of the stem Deep violet blue or lavender blue, but paler forms possible. White and pink are rare but out there! Creamy white pollen anthers, attracts bumble bees Very sweetly perfumed Flowers April to June Protected species in the UK
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