Yesterday, once the frost had lifted and the temperature rose a few degrees, in the bright sunshine I ventured out for proper walk, the first one for many weeks now lockdown restrictions here in the UK are easing. I took my new toy along – a smartphone with a decent camera. Well, even a girl of my age has to move into 22nd century technology eventually!
We are fortunate where we live for, despite being in the centre of an ever-growing town, at the rear of the houses opposite us is a small woodland known as Gorse Covert, together with an area of open grassland. For hundreds of years this was wild woods with farmland and a nearby village. When Dave’s family moved here back in 1947, the house was at the very end of the village, the large field in front of the house used as the local cricket pitch, surrounded by thick woodland known locally as the Bluebell Woods. As the town grew and more and more houses built, thankfully what is now Gorse Covert and part of the open grassland were left for the community to enjoy. It has become a haven in the middle of what is now a huge housing sprall and vast shopping mall.
Dog walkers and their dogs enjoy it here, there is plenty of green space for them to run around in. There is play equipment for children including a zip wire, and exercise apparatus for energetic adults. The area is maintained by our local council and a Nature & Wildlife Team, volunteers who help make it the place it is today. Paths have been made, which people do appear to keep to. Trees are coppiced, the dead and dangerous ones felled. The ancient rhyne running through has been cleared of debris and rubbish, so when it rains the area isn’t flooded. The ponds have been re-established, wooden bridges erected, wire fencing repaired.
On the downside, it is such a pity not all the local community appreciates the area. Sadly, people will dump their garden waste and cuttings and other bits of rubbish here, others believing they are being environmentally helpful by planting garden bulbs and other flowers which don’t belong in this habitat – the non-natives that can and will cause a problem in time if not removed.
That aside, it was a lovely walk, one I intend doing a lot more of again. There weren’t many people about. I could hear the birds singing, see them in the tree branches. Abundant squirrels skitting here, there and everywhere. Not our cute, endearing little red native ones sadly but the greys, who can be equally amusing to watch. Used to folk being here, they don’t run away as many people bring peanuts for them.
But what thrilled me most on my walk was seeing my favourite wild flower just beginning to come into bloom: English bluebells, Britain’s most iconic flower. True English bluebells are a beautiful sight, the scent wonderful. There is a lot of controversy in the UK as we also have hybrids thanks to a Spanish species introduced into gardens 300 years ago. I could talk for hours about this issue but that is not my intention here. (More about that topic can be found on my garden blog: Kit’s Garden.)
As I strolled around the Covert enthralled by the sights and sounds, I began to remember some of the folklore and history surrounding the English bluebell:
- In the language of flowers, the bluebell symbolises constancy, humility and gratitude.
- If you wear a wreath of bluebells you will only be able to speak the truth.
- If you turn a bluebell flower inside out without damaging it, your one true love will soon come your way.
- Bluebell woods are enchanted places. Fairies use them to lure and trap people in their magic world.
- When a bluebell rings, it calls all the fairies together. If a human should hear the bell, it heralds a sorry end for they will be visited by a bad fairy up to mischief.
- If a child picks a bluebell from a bluebell wood, the child will vanish, never to be seen again.
- During Queen Elizabeth the First’s reign, ruff collars were stiffened using starch made from crushed bluebells.
- During the Bronze Age, feathers were stuck onto arrows using the sticky sap from bluebells.
- The sap was used as glue for bookbinding because, being toxic, it stopped certain insects from attacking the binding.
- Herbalists used to use bluebells to help prevent nightmares.
- Thirteenth century monks used bluebell sap to treat snakebites.
- Modern scientists are now researching whether toxins in bluebell sap could one day help treat cancer.
And yes, I now have my next subject matter for painting!