Top 10 orchid sites to visit

High summer is the time to go hunting for Britain's strangest and most beautiful flowers. These are 10 of the best sites in the country to see them:

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1. Ainsdale Sand Dunes, Lancashire
Marsh helleborines and many other orchids species grow in the dune slacks and under the pine trees. Early in the morning, flowers gleam with dew and summer dusks are scented by evening primroses. It is accessible by public transport; just 20 minutes’ walk from the nearest train station. The dunes are open access from Southport to Formby, information on what is flowering is displayed in Ainsdale beach car park.
 
2. Noar Hill, Near Selborne, Hampshire
With a wide range of species you can visit from April to August and see orchids flowering. The first to flower are the early-purple orchids and the last are autumn lady’s-tresses.
 
3. Badbury Rings, Dorset
This iron-age hill fort is managed with grazing cattle and sheep to keep the scrub down so that the orchids thrive. Walk around the rings of the fort and keep your eyes open for orchids.
 
4. Bonsai Bank, North of Sole Street, Kent
A walk through the woods will take you to the area marked as Bonsai Bank. Flower-rich glades support a range of insect life from butterflies to glow worms.
 
5. Witton Lime Beds, North east of Northwich. Cheshire
Chemical residues from industry created this site of scientific interest. It is one of the few places where both northern and southern marsh orchids grow, so you can also see their hybrid blooming here.
 
 
6. Sandscale Hawes, Cumbria
Look in the dune slacks for thousands of coralroot orchids. You’ll also be treated to the sight of other orchids and views of the estuary and Lakeland Mountains. You’ll be facing west, so sunsets are long and spectacular.
 
7. Kenfig dunes, Glamorgan
The best site to see fen orchids, but also contains many other orchid species. You can ring the information centre to check flowering times. T. 01656 743386
 
8. Balranald, Outer Hebrides
Traditional land management creates the Hebridean machair (grassy plain) that is carpeted in flowers including marsh orchids.
 
9. Beinn Eighe and Torridon, Highlands
Between Loch Torrin and Loch Maree you can enjoy mountain scenery and particularly Scottish plants among the Caledonian pinewood. Among them, you can see creeping lady’s-tresses.
 
10. Whisby Nature Park, Lincolnshire
With thousands of southern marsh orchids in the Orchid Glade, it would be hard not to see orchids here if you visit during flowering season, in June and July.
 
Check before you trek
Orchids bloom just once a year, and flowering times are strongly influenced by the weather. In general, they flower earlier in the south and later in the north. Check species flowering times in a botanical guide aand consult with local nature wardens to make sure you’re not disappointed.  
 
This top 10 originally appeared in Flora exotica: the allure of orchids by Susanne Masters in the July 2012 issue of Countryfile Magazine