Bluebells guide: where to find, best bluebell walks around the UK and how to grow your own

Strongly associated with our ancient woodlands, Britain's stunning spring flower - the bluebell - has bloomed, so now is the time to plan a woodland bluebell walk. Our expert guide to how to identify the native flower, best bluebell walks and how to grow your own. 

26th April 2017
UK, England, West Midlands, Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sunrise In Bluebell Woods/Credit: Getty

How to identify British bluebells

Bluebells flower in April and May and in the UK, there are two types of bluebell which grow wild. These include the native bluebell, which is also known as the English or British bluebell, (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica), which can now be found across much of Britain. The Spanish variety grows and faster than our native bluebell and is one of the major threats to our native species with cross breeding between the two a potential risk. Both varieties however attract butterflies, bees and insects which use the plants for nectar.

 

Native British bluebell 

Close-up of a Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in King's Wood, a large area of ancient coppice woodland near Ashford in Kent
Close-up of a Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in King's Wood, a large area of ancient coppice woodland near Ashford in Kent/Credit: Getty

Five ways to identify British or Spanish bluebells 

British bluebells

  • Flower petals a deep purple
  • The spike of the flower droops to one side 
  • Pollen has no colour
  • Flower petals curved and in a tube
  • A pugent scent of perfume

Spanish bluebell

Spanish Bluebells growing in England/Credit: Getty Images
Spanish Bluebells growing in England/Credit: Getty Images

Spanish bluebells - things to look out for

  • Pale coloured petals in a light blue but can also white or pink
  • Flower petals are erect and spiked
  • Pollen has a blue or green colour
  • No scent

Bluebell walks: woodlands and estates

Here is a selection of the most beautiful bluebell woods and walks in Britain

1. Urquhart Bay, Great Glen

Explore the wet woodlands of Urquhart Bay, Great Glen/Credit: Woodland Trust
Explore the wet woodlands of Urquhart Bay, Great Glen/Credit: Woodland Trust

This ancient wet woodland is close to Loch Ness and offers a unique bluebell experience, as the flowers have sprung amongst the ruins of a 16th century fortress. Also, see stunning wildlife and pay a visit to Urquhart Bay, which is easily accessible. For more information: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

2. Grizedale Forest, Lake District

A woodland walk in the heart of the Lake District/Credit: Visit Cumbria
A woodland walk in the heart of the Lake District/Credit: Visit Cumbria

This woodland walk is nestled in the heart of the Lake District between Lakes Windemere and Coniston. This idyllic forest is painted in the beautiful purple hue of bluebells at this time of year.  For more information: www.forestry.gov.uk

3. Coed Tregib, Carmarthenshire

Wander among oak and ash trees in Coed Tregib, Camarthenshire/Credit:Woodland Trust
Wander among oak and ash trees in Coed Tregib, Camarthenshire/Credit:Woodland Trust

Oak and Ash trees spread across miles of this ancient woodland creating a thick, tangled canopy for bluebells come April. While this might seem like a scene out of middle-earth, Coed Tregib is near the welcoming little town of Llandeilo with its two train stations and good road access. For more information: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

4. Burroughs Wood, near Leicester

For accessible bluebell walks visit Burroughs Wood, near Leicester/Credit: Woodland Trust
For accessible bluebell walks visit Burroughs Wood, near Leicester/Credit: Woodland Trust

Burroughs Wood is a brilliantly accessible site in the heart of England. Less than an hour's drive from Birmingham, it welcomes visitors with wide pathways perfectly suitable for buggies and wheelchairs that snake through a combination of ancient and modern woodland. For more information: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

5. Killerton Estate, Devon

A haven for wildlife, take a walk in Killerton Estate to enjoy a carpet of bluebells/Credit: Carys Matthews
A haven for wildlife, take a walk in Killerton Estate to enjoy a carpet of bluebells/Credit: Carys Matthews

Conifers make up much of this 300-hectare woodland that has become a haven for butterflies, birds and bluebells alike. Situated in the grounds of the Killerton Estate, which has good access via the M5, this woodland is one of the largest in mid Devon and is perfect for a springtime saunter.

6. Arlington Farm, East Sussex  

These eight east Sussex trails are all around a mile long and link together across three farms. The Beatons Wood trail is suitable for wheelchair users, and all the paths are signposted so you know what springtime delights you are looking at. From here you can hop next door to Parkwood Farm where you can see pigs, sheep and goats and even watch the dairy herd being milked. Visit: bluebellwalk.co.uk

7. Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

Could there be anything better than a scenic bluebell flooded walk? Improve perfection on a guided 4mile walk through Sissinghurst Castle followed by cream teas. All you have to do is decide which to put on first, cream or jam? Visit: nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden

8. Muncaster Castle and Gardens, Cumbria

Dubbed by Ruskin as 'The gateway to paradise', the woodland above the castle is washed in sunlight dappled blue beauties. With views over to the only coastal village in the Lake District, Muncaster's 18th century gardens also boast an impressively large Rhododendron and exotic tree collection. Visit: muncaster.co.uk/gardens

9. Hartland Abbey and Gardens, North Devon

As the setting of the BBCs Sense and Sensibility in 2007, walking in the grounds it is easy to be transported to a lost era. The gardens themselves were almost forgotten over the First World War, and the Summerhouse pathway, which reopened in 2010, had been lying hidden since 1945. Visit: hartlandabbey.co.uk

10. Carstramon Wood, Scotland

There is a distinctly native theme in this Scottish woodland. As well as being packed with native bluebells, Dumfries and Galloway is also a haven for our red squirrels. Other fauna drawn to the woods by the siren-like bluebell pollen include butterflies, endangered birds, and rare insects. Visit: scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/reserve/carstramon-wood

 

Best National Trust properties to see bluebells around the UK

©National Trust / Drew Marsh

South West

Lanhydrock, North Cornwall

Lanhydrock is the perfect country house and estate, with the feel of a family home. The estate is well worth exploring, with tranquil riverside paths and ancient woodlands blooming with waves of daffodils and bluebells. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lanhydrock

Godolphin, Cornwall

Travel back in time as you wander around Godolphin’s 16th-century garden, one of the most important historic gardens in Europe. Get lost in the tranquil and mysterious woodland, where the years of mining have left an unnatural, undulating landscape carpeted in bluebells throughout April and May.  www.nationaltrust.org.uk/godolphin

Buckland Abbey, Devon

When you visit Buckland, you follow over 700 years of footsteps; from the Cistercians who built the Abbey and farmed the estate, to seafarers Grenville and Drake who changed the shape of the house and the fate of the country. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/buckland-abbey

Kingston Lacy, Dorset

From Iron Age forts and colourful heathland to water meadows and even a Roman road, there’s plenty to see on the 8,500 acres of estate at Kingston Lacy. In spring, the woodland walk which follows the edge of the formal garden is a great place to see the annual display of bluebells. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy

London and South East

Emmetts Garden, Kent

During the spring months, the slopes and hillocks of Emmet’s Garden are a beauty to behold. May is the best time to see this Edwardian hillside garden carpeted with bluebells, creating a sea of hazy blue beneath the trees. You can also enjoy views over the Bough Beech Reservoir and the Weald of Kent. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/emmetts-garden

Mottisfont

Mottisfont’s magnificent ancient woodlands provide the perfect habitat for a wide range of flora and fauna. Take a walk around the estate to Great Copse, where you can see plants such as Solomon's seal, wood surge, herb Paris and sweeping drifts of bluebells. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont

Sheffield Park and Garden, East Sussex

Formed through centuries of landscape design, Sheffield Park and Garden is a horticultural work of art with influences of ‘Capability’ Brown throughout. During the spring months the woodlands, glades and flood meadows of Sheffield Park will be awash with a sea of bluebells and buzzing with butterflies, damselflies and dragonflies. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sheffield-park-and-garden

Hughenden, Buckinghamshire

Benjamin Disraeli, Victorian Prime Minister and former owner of Hughenden, loved spring flowers. He turned his gardens into havens for seasonal blooms, from wooded slopes covered in daffodils to flower-lined paths. Follow the Woodcock Walk trail as it meanders its way through a typical Chiltern beech woodland, which is covered in swathes of bluebells during the spring months. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hughenden

East

Blickling Estate, Norfolk

Visit Blickling in spring and discover one of the best places to see bluebells in the country. Follow the winding paths through the Great Wood and pass through swathes of the dainty blue flowers. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/blickling-estate

Sutton Hoo, Suffolk

Even on a dreary day the sight of delicate bluebells in bloom will surely bring a smile to your face. They carpet the woodland floor at Sutton Hoo, so keep an eye out for bright flashes of blue as you explore this hauntingly beautiful estate with its ancient burial mounds and far-reaching views over the River Deben. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-hoo

Midlands

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

During the spring months, carpets of bluebells can be found along the path through Serpentine Wood at Calke. Take a wander through the trees, and rest on a fallen trunk to enjoy the aroma of the flowers. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/calke-abbey

Coughton Court, Warwickshire

Coughton Court’s bluebells can be found in Timm's Grove, named after a highwayman who reputedly used to hide out in the woods after an ambush. These days it’s much more tranquil, so why not take a stroll to admire the hazy blue carpet that fills the woods in spring? www.nationaltrust.org.uk/coughton-court

Longshaw, Derbyshire

You'll need to explore a bit further afield to find bluebells at Longshaw. Hay Wood is the best place to spot them, so why not take a walk along the ‘Bluebells and Flycatchers’ trail to seek them out and make the most of the season. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/longshaw-burbage-and-the-eastern-moors

Hardwick Hall, Chesterfield

Take a stroll around the Oak Walk at Hardwick Hall to see the beautiful carpets of bluebells and daffodils. From spring to early summer the ground is covered with haze of blue and the white flowers of wild garlic, which attract many butterflies and bees. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardwick-hall

North

Hardcastle Crags, Yorkshire

Bluebells are the undisputed spring highlight at Hardcastle Crags, filling the air with their sweet perfume.  At their peak they carpet the ground, forming an almost unearthly blue haze through the wooded valley. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hardcastle-crags

Wallington, Northumberland

Follow the River Walk through the wooded valley cut by the River Wansbeck and take in the colours of spring.  Admire the carpets of crocus, wood anemones and daffodils in the Walled Garden as you head down to the river and look out for the swathes of bluebells along the riverbank. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wallington

Speke Hall, Merseyside

Spring is an ideal time to take in the delightful gardens surrounding this Tudor timber-framed manor house on the banks of the River Mersey. Wander through the estate to Clough Woods where you can follow the fantastic display of bluebells on the Bluebell Trail or take a tour to discover how the team at Speke protect the endangered spring flower. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/speke-hall-garden-and-estate

Rannerdale, Buttermere Valley, Cumbria

Sometimes known as the Secret Valley, Rannerdale offers a popular bluebell walk in spring, when the woodland floor becomes an indigo carpet. This area is said to be the site of a battle at which native Cumbrians and Norsemen ambushed and defeated Norman armies in the century after they came to Britain in 1066. Local folklore suggests that the bluebells have sprung up from the blood of slain Norman warriors. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/buttermere-valley

Wales

Chirk Castle, Wrexham

Complete with a 700 year old castle, far-reaching views across the Cheshire and Shropshire plains and an award-winning garden, Chirk Castle’s 480 acre estate is a great place to find some signs of spring. One of its highlights is the enchanting carpet of bluebells spread throughout the woodland in May. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/chirk-castle

Colby Woodland Garden, Pembrokeshire

Come and see how nature has spectacularly transformed this old industrial area into a tranquil valley garden. In late spring, the woodland offers lovely walks through bluebells and other wildflowers. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/colby-woodland-garden

Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd

Late spring brings a splash of vivid blue to Penrhyn Castle. Bluebells can be seen all around the gardens and woodland in May, a beautiful contrast of colour against the castle’s grey exterior. Follow the new visitor route through a sea of blue, below the hanging boughs of mature and semi-mature oak trees with spectacular views of Snowdonia and the North Wales coast. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/penrhyn-castle

Northern Ireland

Crom, County Fermanagh

This ancient woodland sits in a tranquil landscape on the peaceful shores of Upper Lough Erne. One of Ireland’s most important conservation areas, it has many rare species of flowers and fauna. Come spring, the woodland floor is simply covered with bluebells it’s quite a sight to behold. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/crom

Downhill Demesne, County Londonderry

Visit this stunning landscape demesne, where you’ll find magnificent clifftop walks with rugged headland views across the North Coast. Discover Mussenden Temple and the striking 18th-century ruins of Downhill mansion. Bishop’s Gate garden and glen is a great place for the whole family to relax and enjoy the delights of nature waking up – especially during bluebell season. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/downhill-demesne-and-hezlett-house

Minnowburn, County Down

Set on the southern edge of Belfast, Minnowburn is a tranquil refuge with meadows and woodlands stretching down to the Lagan river. There’s also plenty of wildlife to look out for, from the blue flash of a Kingfisher to an Otter poking its head above the water. Wander through the woods in spring to see a haze of bluebells. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/minnowburn

 

How to grow your own bluebells 

Grow your own bluebells/Credit: Getty
Grow your own bluebells/Credit: Getty

Wild native bluebells can commonly be found growing in woodlands and grasslands, however with a little effort you can grow your own.  Successful growing will depend on your soil as British bluebells thrive best in slightly acidic and moist soil, which drains well. The best time to plant is in Autumn, but green bulbs can also be planted in spring. Being a woodland flower, bluebells prefer shady so around a tree or in a shady patch of the garden is the best place to plant. 

Prep your soil

Prior to planting bulbs, prepare your soil by adding manure or compost to enrich the soil quality.

Spring planting

Use green bulbs in spring and plant them at a depth of around 10cm, spacing them 10cm apart. 

Autumn planting 

Use dry bulbs and plant twice the depth of the bulb. Ideally, at least 14cm in depth, leaving a similar space between bulbs. If you can plant deeper it is worth the effort. 

How long do bluebells take to flower?

Bluebells may take a couple of years to flower but they are a self-sowing plant so with a bit of luck, over time will naturally populate your garden. 
 

 

 

Main image: Warwickshire, Stratford-upon-Avon, Sunrise In Bluebell Woods/Credit: Getty

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