As our landscape begins to emerge from the depths of winter, the thoughts of many motorhome owners will inevitably turn towards spring. After all, there really are few more lovely times of year to take a woodland walk than when Britain’s stunning spring flower, the bluebell, is in full bloom.
Why not treat yourself to a carpet of blue in woodlands, forests or your local park this touring season by taking inspiration from our pick of the best places to see bluebells this spring?
Bluebells with their graceful, arching stems and delicate bells of deep colour are one of the most individually beautiful wild flowers in Britain. But it’s when those single splashes of colour come together to form endless pools of blue light that you have the makings of a truly wonderful experience. As the colours and scents intensify, you’ll be knocked out by a delicious sense of abundance. Particularly after the barren months of winter.
As well as telling you the best places to spot them, our guide also explains how to identify this delicate native flower and even has handy advice on how to grow your own to display in your van!
When you’re out searching for bluebells, you’ll want to be able to focus on that perfect moment in time. You won’t want to be worried about the safety of your motorhome parked up nearby. So call the helpful team at Motorhome Protect to arrange motorhome insurance for your trusty vehicle so you’ll be able to continue touring the country to see this fabulous floral phenomenon.
When do bluebells flower?
Okay, we know they flower in spring but when is the best time to go searching? Well, the bluebell spends most of the year as a bulb underground emerging to flower from mid-April onwards through to late May. This early flowering means it can make the most of the sunlight available on its forest floor habitat, before the tree canopy above becomes too dense.
The precise timing of when this begins will depend on the weather that year and where you are in the country. The further south you are, the warmer it tends to be and the earlier you should be able to spot them. However, because there may be millions of bulbs in any one bluebell wood, once they begin to flower there really is no mistaking that sumptuous blue carpet beneath the trees.
In terms of how long the bluebell season lasts, again this will depend on the weather and your location. So, the bluebells could start in the far south of Britain, where it tends to be warmer, before sweeping up the country to finish the season in Scotland and the far north. As the UK is home to over half of the world’s population of bluebells then it’s fair to say that if you’re exploring the country in spring, you’ll have a hard time NOT spotting bluebells!
An easy identification guide to bluebells
Long associated with our islands’ ancient woodlands, bluebells are undoubtedly one of Britain’s more recognisable wildflowers. However, are you aware that there are in fact two types of bluebells growing wild in UK forests today?
We have the native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), which is also known as the English or British bluebell. And then the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which grows faster and more vigorously than the native bluebell and can now be found across much of Britain. The Spanish variety was first introduced by the Victorians as a garden plant but was first noted as growing in the wild in 1909.
While the native bluebell is still common, they are threatened in many places by habitat destruction, collection from the wild, and from cross breeding with the Spanish variety. Indeed, during a survey by conservation charity Plantlife around one in six bluebells found in broad-leaved woodland was a Spanish rather than native bluebell. Bluebells are vital to keeping woodland ecosystems going and, fortunately, both varieties still attract butterflies, bees, hoverflies and other insects which use the plants for nectar.
Wondering what the subtle, and not-so-subtle differences between the native bluebell and the Spanish bluebell are? Well, wonder no longer with our easy spotter’s guide.
- Flower petals are a deep blue/violet shade. But sometimes they come in white.
- Flower petals are narrow, drooping, and tube-like.
- Petal tips are curled back.
- Stems droop at the top with most flowers on one side.
- Pollen is creamy white
- Relatively thin leaves, around 1-1.5cm wide.
- A strong, sweet scent of perfume. Simply heavenly on a warm day!
- Pale coloured petals in a light blue. Again, they can sometimes come in pink or white.
- Cone shaped flower petals are erect and spiked.
- Petal tips are flared.
- Stems are straight with flowers all-round the stem.
- Pollen has a pale green or blue colour.
- Broader leaves, around 3cm wide.
- Little to no scent.
As you can see, while the native and Spanish bluebells may at first glance be easily dismissed as the same, on closer analysis they are in fact very different.
Where are the best places to see bluebells this spring?
While bluebells generally prefer shady spots and are traditionally associated with woodlands, you can see them in plenty of other places, too. You may even spot colonies of bluebells developing in fields, along hedgerows, parkland or even along the sides of roads.
Going for a walk among the bluebells is a popular spring pastime in Britain with many organisations and charities such as the National Trust and the Woodland Trust featuring bluebell walks as an important part of their spring offering. Indeed, they’ve become so popular among the British public that when Plantlife asked people to vote for the ‘Nation's Favourite Wildflower’ the bluebell won by a significant margin in England. Although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland opted for the primrose instead.
Fancy getting out among one of the great spring spectacles? Then you’re in luck, there’s bound to be a bluebell walk within easy touring distance of you. Here’s a selection of the most beautiful bluebell woods and walks in the UK for inspiration. What a great excuse for a springtime tour!
And it’s not just the bluebells that it’s worth seeing. There's lots more to see and hear too. Many bluebell-heavy woods are home to species of birds that have migrated thousands of miles to the UK to breed during the warmer months. Keep an ear out for woodland birds singing from the branches. Birds like the blackcap, wood warbler, nightingale and chiffchaff.
While on the ground, look out for other woodland wildflowers among the bluebells. You may catch the delicate white stars of stitchwort and even the unmissable pink spikes of early purple orchids. It really is the most wonderful time to explore the vast range of flora and fauna our islands have to offer.
Don’t forget that as well as having motorhome insurance, you’ll also want to get your motorhome ready for the touring season. Read this Motorhome Protect guide to getting your motorhome ready for spring and be prepared!
So, what are some of the most perfect spots to grab a snap of beautiful bluebells? Let’s take a look!
Wanstead Park, London
Having one of the very best colonies of bluebells in the London area, Wanstead Park is the perfect spot to welcome spring and enjoy native bluebells, baby wildfowl and lakeside walks. Part of Epping Forest, the 140-acre woodland park was once home to an 18th Century house and garden compared to Blenheim Palace. Today the house has gone but the park retains a small number of rather romantic remains from this time. Once a rich man's folly, The Temple is now home to art and history exhibitions and the story of Wanstead Park.
As one of the UK’s best gardens to visit by motorhome, you won’t be surprised to learn that Sissinghurst has something special in store when it comes to bluebell season. The best spots to see the carpets of vibrant colour are near the lower lakes on the estate. Could there be anything more delightful than a scenic bluebell flooded walk? We don’t think so. Unless you add a cream tea or delicious cake into the bargain!
If you’re thinking of building up an appetite then consider volunteering for the National Trust at Sissinghurst. We have details about this and many other fabulous volunteering opportunities for outdoor lovers in this Motorhome Protect guide. Just make sure you’ve got specialist motorhome insurance in place to keep your vehicle and its contents covered while you’re off doing some good!
Sheffield Park and the Bluebell Railway, Sussex
Around 20 miles northeast of Brighton lies the stunning 100-acre gardens of Sheffield Park. Laid out by legendary landscape gardener Capability Brown, there are many excellent places to go for a walk among the bluebells here.
However, if you want to take the weight off your feet and try something a bit different then just a mile south west of the gardens lies the southern terminus of the wonderful Bluebell Railway. Climb aboard a vintage steam locomotive and gaze out at the bluebell woods through which the line passes. What a great way to travel through the Sussex countryside without having to drive!
If you do plan to leave your motorhome behind for the day while you take to the rails, you’ll want motorhome insurance to protect your home on wheels while you’re gone.
Killerton Estate, Devon
While conifers make up much of this historic woodland, there’s plenty to keep the keen nature enthusiast happy. A haven for butterflies, birds and bluebells alike as well as stunning wild cyclamen, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic among the flowers. Countryfile magazine suggests a wonderful walk through the grounds of the Killerton Estate and we have to agree! The estate is easily accessed via the M5, so is perfect for a quick getaway in spring.
Hartland Abbey & Gardens, North Devon
As the setting of the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility in 2007, walking the grounds of this former abbey soon transports you to a bygone era. There’s so much to do here in the spring including Daffodil Day and Bluebell Sundays. Indeed, the bluebells here carpet the walks all the way from the Walled Gardens down to the sea with restored paths leading to the Woodland Summerhouse, the Gazebo and Blackpool Mill. And in the summer, there’s even a programme of outdoor theatre productions.
Burroughs Wood, Leicestershire
Just a short drive from the M1 motorway as it carves its way through the heart of England, this Woodland Trust site is a perfect combination of ancient and modern woodland. With well-used pathways and gentle undulating slopes, getting around is easy for all ages. The southern part of the site was newly planted in the late 1990s. If you’re looking for bluebells then you’re best off exploring the ancient woodland to the north.
Rode Hall and Gardens, Cheshire
The gardens of this old Georgian Hall contain a Grade II listed park and an enchanting bluebell woodland that’s a joy to behold throughout April and May. It’s the perfect opportunity for a keen photographer to capture springtime at its most peaceful and lovely. If you’re here too early for the bluebells then the stunning snowdrop walk will be enough to cheer the soul and let you know that spring is on its way.
Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire’s most famous hill is at its most distinctive and iconic best at this time of year. Quilted with banks of bluebells, sorrel and stitchwort, this stunning spot in the North York Moors National Park is a spring masterpiece.
Muncaster Castle and Gardens, Cumbria
There’s much to recommend a stroll through Muncaster Castle’s 77 acres of historic gardens at any time of year. However, spring is probably the moment when the gardens are at their flowering best with banks of colour cascading down the hillsides and ravines surrounding the castle. As the sunlight hits the undulating sea of bluebells it’s easy to see why Ruskin named the view across the gardens to the fells beyond as ‘The Gateway to Paradise’. A bluebell heaven indeed!
Urquhart Bay Woods, Great Glen
This ancient ‘wet’ woodland close to the world-famous Loch Ness is found between the rivers Enrick and Coiltie. It offers one of the most photogenic opportunities to experience the wonder of bluebells. The reason? Well, the nearby ruins of the 16th Century Urquhart Castle are very atmospheric. Footpaths form a rough figure of eight through the centre of the wood which features alder, ash, bird cherry, and white willow. Be aware that after heavy rains the whole woodland could be flooded.
Before you set off on such a grand adventure make sure you’ve got all your documents in order including motorhome insurance, MOT certificate and driving licence.
Colby Woodland Garden, Pembrokeshire
This hidden woodland valley is full of surprises. Nature has done a truly spectacular job at transforming this former industrial area into a tranquil 8-acre valley garden. The perfect place for heritage hunters and those who love to get out into nature. Spring offers lovely walks through carpets of bluebells, crocuses and daffodils. You’ll also see swathes of camellias, rhododendrons, and azaleas. Later in the year you’ll see summer hydrangea and the stunning autumn colours of dogwood, acer, and sweetgum.
Mount Stewart, County Down
The mild climate around Mount Stewart, which allows a diverse range of plants to flourish, has played a big part in the fame of these celebrated Arts and Crafts-like gardens. Regularly voted one of the best gardens in the UK, you’ll find stunning Mediterranean specimens in the formal gardens. However, it’s the wooded areas you should visit in spring if you want to see bluebells. These humble wildflowers really become the stars of the show as they cover the woodland floor in a lilac haze.
Derrymore House, County Antrim
While there are many places to spot the traditionally coloured bluebells in Northern Ireland, there is one place in particular where you’re certain to spot the much rarer white bluebells. According to the green-fingered custodians of the National Trust’s woods in Derrymore owing to a rare genetic mutation the proportion of blue to white flowered bluebells is around 10,000:1.
So, while in the woods of Derrymore there are only a handful of these wild white bluebells you’ll find many more around the Derrymore House. At some time in the past, the gardeners at the house must have collected the white bluebells and propagated them. Planting them all around the house where they have now happily multiplied to form a large colony of white bluebells.
A trip over to Northern Ireland could easily be extended by a journey down south to the Republic of Ireland. Be sure to check your motorhome insurance covers you for such changes to your travel plans.
Taking care around bluebells
As a perennial plant, bluebells should come back every year. However, large bluebell colonies can take between five and seven years to develop naturally and can take a long time to recover if damaged. If a bluebell’s leaves are crushed, they die back from lack of food as the leaves cannot photosynthesise.
The native bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, so it’s crucial to avoid trampling them at all times. Try to keep to official trails where you can, and walk single file wherever the plants grow along a narrow pathway. Keep dogs on leads, too.
Never pick, uproot or destroy native bluebells or you’ll end up in trouble with the authorities.
How to grow bluebells in a pot
Bluebells can commonly be found growing in woodlands and grasslands, however with a little effort you can take bluebells with you on a spring adventure by growing your own in a pot. They can make a beautiful window display in your motorhome.
To do so follow these instructions:
- Find a pot with good drainage holes.
- Fill with a mix of compost and grit.
- Put in part shade to full sun.
- Plant bulbs 10cm deep and 10cm apart.
- Cover with soil.
- Once the bulbs start to sprout, gently water to maintain moisture.
- Once flowers appear, feed with a liquid plant food every 1 to 2 weeks.
- Once the flowers and leaves have died back, cease watering. You can then remove the bulbs and store in a cool dry place out of direct sunlight.
As already mentioned, native bluebells are legally protected and it’s against the law to dig them up from the wild. Make sure you ask the supplier to confirm the bulbs are cultivated, not collected from the wild.
For more information on how to grow native bluebells in your garden read this fascinating guide from the Woodland Trust.
Protect your home on wheels with motorhome insurance
Bluebell walks are a simple but beautiful pastime perfect for the season. But in the excitement to get out amongst nature, don’t leave home without ensuring you’ve got the right motorhome insurance policy for your needs.
Our bespoke cover can include benefits such as:
- Unlimited cover for countries part of the EU
- Cover for motorhomes valued up to £120,000
- Cover for camping personal effects up to £3,500
- Unlimited mileage cover
- Discounts if you’re a member of a club
- Consideration of all claims and convictions
Call Motorhome Protect and get a quote for motorhome insurance today.
Policy benefits, features and discounts offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.