Bluebells put Essex on the global map
PUBLISHED: 12:11 27 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:11 27 May 2014
Until recent years I was completely unaware that one of the UK's greatest and most celebrated natural spectacles, which is in fact unique to these isles, can be seen on our own doorstep in Essex. Somewhat embarrassingly, I only found out about this courtesy of the BBC's Natural World TV series, with one particular programme focusing on the wilder locations of our much-maligned county, which is more usually noted for its crass stereotypes and D-list celebrities than its natural riches. And what's more, the setting for this glorious spectacle is a mere stone's throw from the part of South Essex in which I grew up, not to mention from my current home in Southend on Sea.
Just outside the town of Billericay, itself within the shadow of Basildon’s concrete sprawl, lies Norsey Wood, a pleasant if seemingly quite ordinary and rather unremarkable area of woodland. However, for only a few days each spring, between late April and early May, it lays on a sumptuous banquet for the senses as millions of fragrant bluebells flower en masse, coating the woodland floor in a gentle yet vibrant wash of the softest, most gorgeous purple-blue, forming one of the densest concentrations in the entire world. With their delicate trumpet-like heads bowed humbly towards the soil, these exquisite flowers look almost forlorn as they jockey for position amid the life-giving light, making the most of their brief yet magnificent reign.
Fresh from my mud-squelching walks at Norsey Wood, I soon learnt of another local spot that reputedly plays host to bluebells, this time a little further north, between the towns of Chelmsford and Maldon. As unassuming a site as its Billericay neighbour, Blakes Wood puts on a display that surpasses anything I had previously laid eyes on, its beauty utterly bewitching, almost transcendent.
Seemingly wherever one turns, the eye is met by massed ranks of these eminently graceful flowers as they perform their motionless ballet, the woodland floor aglow with generous brushstrokes of the most heavenly shade of violet blue.
It was certainly a sight to behold and amid the hypnotic watercolour haze of bluebells were an array of other wild flowers vying for attention, each as beautiful as the last. I’m a complete novice when it comes to all things floral and, with a little help from my wife, it was nice to be able to identify certain other species, among them Yellow Archangel, Lesser Celandine, Wood Anemone and Red Campion.
Britain is home to more than half of the world’s bluebells and the woodlands that stage their mass flowering are certainly among the nation’s most precious natural treasures. Nevertheless, as spring marches onward and the growing forest canopy casts its ominous shade, these most beautiful of flowers seem to simply give up the ghost and lay down to die — their lives spent, their dreams eclipsed until the following year, when the timeless rhythms of nature will ensure that the very same drama unfolds once again.