Late April and early May brings perennial excitement to most landscape photographers. Apart from the emerging green that’s beginning to appear in every scene, these few weeks of spring bring a special treat – rich blue carpets of bluebells. It’s a time of year I look forward to very much, and one that I unfortunately managed to miss last year due to a lack of careful preparation and some bad timing. However, this time I was more organised and determined not to let another chance unintentionally pass me by.
I knew that the bluebells were late to flower this year. They were only in bud in my back garden whereas during a more typical season they would be in full bloom. So during the last days of April, I went for a walk around a local bluebell wood to see what the situation there was like. The bluebell season is so short, and to capture them at their best you want to do it before they’ve been trampled on by walkers, dogs and deer. So the week before a planned trip to Snowdonia, I decided to make a visit to the woods to judge whether I needed to take my photographs before I went, or to wait those few days extra and do it after I returned.
I had never visited these particular woods before. They’re only a ten minute drive from my house, as opposed to the half hour or more journey to my usual bluebell haunt of Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire, which is owned by the National Trust. But I had been informed that the wood near Norton Green was rich with bluebells and really was worth visiting. So, I put on my walking boots, packed my camera in my rucksack “just in case” and set off for a walk in the woods. Parking just outside the village pub, I headed out of the village following the path, and immediately knew that I had not been misled. The woods truly were magnificent, full of wonderful open trees. The kind of wood that has a dappled light penetrating the canopy to give everything an ethereal glow. Where you can see the trees going on forever, and where there’s enough space between them so that nature can still breathe. And while I was still awe-struck by the beauty of the location and was taking in the view, a group of a dozen or so deer darted between the trees a few metres away!
The woods on their own would have made fantastic images, but already I could tell that the potential of this place had not yet reached its climax. For covering the floor in every direction you looked were bluebell leaves everywhere, the flowers just coming into bud.
I estimated that in exactly one week’s time the blooms would be at their best. Exactly the same time that I would be in Wales. Damn. So I made a decision that on the day I was coming back, I would set off early enough to enable to me photograph the bluebells on my way home. And that I did.
The weather driving back from Wales was atrocious. Grey clouds and intermittent rain all the way. It only started clearing up properly when I got to within a half an hour’s drive of the woods and suddenly it brightened dramatically. The sun came out and it turned into a pleasant and warm spring afternoon. I pulled off the motorway and drove to the village again, where I parked my car. All the while in anticipation of the view that awaited me, yet at the same time nervous that I might have missed the best of it. But I needn’t have worried. The floor of the woods were awash with these delicate blue flowers and the sunlight was streaming through the treetops in places, lighting patches of the ground in a truly heavenly way.
However, nothing is perfect, and my price that day was to return to my car absolutely covered in tiny caterpillars! I had to fight my way through them as they dangled on tiny threads from the tree branches, wiping them from my face and avoiding getting them on my camera lens. But knowing that I hadn’t missed this beautiful sight for the second year running, and knowing that such a wonderful place exists such a short distance from home makes the caterpillars all worth it. I’ve already decided to go back to the woods again next year. Although maybe I’ll take a rain coat to protect me next time.