Bluebells guide: how to identify and best bluebell walks in the UK

One of the most welcoming signs of spring, make the most of the bluebell season this with our bluebells guide, including where to find the best bluebell walks in the UK.

North York Moors National Park, North Yorkshire, UK

Strongly associated with our ancient woodlands, Britain’s stunning spring flower the bluebell has bloomed, making this time of year is a lovely time to take a woodland bluebell walk.

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Bluebells are also one of Britain’s more easily identified wildflowers, but can you tell the subtle difference between the native bluebell and the Spanish bluebell?

One of the pleasures of bluebells is their individual beauty: graceful, arching stems bearing delicate bells of deep colour.  But when those single splashes of blue multiply to form dreamy pools of thousands of plants, fresh pleasures await. The colour and scent intensify and there is a delicious, extravagant sense of abundance after the barren winter months.

Why not enjoy a carpet of blue in woodlands, forests or your local park this bluebell season by taking inspiration from our pick of the best bluebell walks in the UK.

Our expert bluebell guide also explains how to identify this delicate native flower and has handy advice on how to grow your own.

When do bluebells flower?

Bluebells flower in April and May and in the UK and 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.

Fox among bluebells
Fox cub among springtime bluebells
Getty

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.

The UK is home to over half of the world’s population of bluebells.

Photo Taken In Germany, Oldenburg

How to identify bluebells – what is the difference between English bluebells and Spanish bluebells?

Native bluebell

bluebell
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 Images
  • 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 pungent scent of perfume

Spanish bluebell

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

Do bluebells come back every year?

As a perennial plant, bluebells flower every year. Bluebell colonies take between 5-7 years so develop and can take some time to recover if damaged. It is very important to avoid trampling bluebells in bloom to protect the delicate flower and allow the colony to spread naturally. The native bluebell is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Bluebells in woodland
Bluebells carpet a woodland floor in Hampshire/Credit: Getty

First and most importantly, if you love bluebells and want to preserve them, try and keep clear of them. Where bluebells are growing, stick to official trails, and try to walk single file wherever the plants fringe a narrow pathway.

Wild garlic guide: where to find, how to cook it and recipe ideas

Late spring is the perfect times to go foraging for this versatile and pungent plant, which can be whipped up into a delicious soup or pesto.

See our expert guide on where to find it and forage responsibly, how to cook it and tasty wild garlic recipe ideas

Wild garlic growing wild

How long does the bluebell season last?

Depending on the weather, the bluebell season can last a couple of weeks, generally appearing first in the south of Britain, where it tends to be warmer before sweeping across the country to finish the season in Scotland and the north.

Bluebells on hillside
The slopes of St Boniface Down create an ideal habitat for bluebells which appear in late spring/Credit: Alamy

Where are the best places to see bluebells?

Traditionally a woodland flower, bluebells tend to grow on woodland floors, although as new colonies develop you may also see them in the fields, along hedgerows, parkland or even along road verges.

How to identify spring blossom

As light flows slowly into our woodlands and hedgerows, once-bare branches begin to bloom. The brief blossoming of rowan, wild cherry and hawthorn is a magical spectacle, wreathed in ancient folklore.

Our guide on how to identify spring blossom found in the UK and best places to spot blossom

 

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Britain’s best bluebell walks

This spring, what better place to start than one of the most thrilling things you can do in the British countryside: walk among bluebells.

Some time in the next few weeks – usually around mid-April – the first bright bluebells will unfurl in our woodlands, creating one of the great spring spectacles.  If you’re like to find a bluebell walk near you, here is a selection of the most beautiful bluebell woods and walks in the UK for inspiration.

Loughrigg Fell, Cumbria

You don’t have to climb high in the Lake District to get the finest fell views – a short stroll through the heart of the national park offers rewards aplenty.

View Loughrigg Fell, Cumbria walking route

Bluebells on loughrigg Terrace near Ambleside in the English Lake District, Cumbria, UK.
Bluebells on Loughrigg Terrace near Ambleside, Lake District/Credit: Getty

Wanstead Park, London

Embrace spring and enjoy native bluebells, baby wildfowl and lakeside walks in the romantic remains of an 18th-century garden within Epping Forest.

Day out: Wanstead Park, London

Bluebells in woodland
Bluebells at Wanstead Park, London, UK/Credit: Getty

Rode Hall and Gardens, Cheshire

Wander through an enchanting bluebell woodland in the grounds of an old Georgian Hall.

Day out: Rode Hall and Gardens, Cheshire

Spring bluebells
Ants help to spread native bluebell seeds – it takes several years for a seed to grow into
a bulb and then a flower/Credit: Alamy

Bramley, Surrey

Follow your nose on this sensory walk through sun-dappled holloways, fields and woodland brimming with life.

Walk: Bramley, Surrey

Bluebells in woodland
Bluebells tend to grow on woodland floors/Credit: Getty Images
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Urquhart Bay, Great Glen

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.

Falls of Divach, a waterfall of Scotland near Urquhart Bay, half way along the northern shore of Loch Ness, UK
Falls of Divach, a waterfall of Scotland near Urquhart Bay, half way along the northern shore of Loch Ness/Credit: Getty Images

Grizedale Forest, Lake District

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.

The track through Grizedale, Lake District National Park, Cumbria
The track through Grizedale, Lake District National Park, Cumbria/Credit: Getty Images
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Britain’s best spring walks

The arrival of the spring equinox signals the start of longer, warmer days and the countryside is awash with colour and wildlife.

A perfect season for hiking, here is our guide on the best spring walks in Britain

River Bradford, Derbyshire

Burroughs Wood, near Leicester

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.

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

Killerton Estate, Devon

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.

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

Sissinghurst Castle Garden, Kent

Could there be anything better than a scenic bluebell flooded walk? Improve perfection on a 4 mile walk through Sissinghurst Castle followed by a cream tea or cake.  nationaltrust.org.uk/sissinghurst-castle-garden

Castle
The Elizabethan tower, Sissinghurst Castle Garden, 1930, designed by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, Kent, England/Credit: Getty

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. muncaster.co.uk/gardens

Munster House and Gardens
Muncaster Castle gardens with azaleas (Rhododendrons), Cumbria/Credit: Getty Images

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. hartlandabbey.co.uk

Wildflowers
Colourful display of Pink Asters and Agapanthus with Mahonia in the Background in the Garden at Hartland Abbey, Devon, (Getty)

Roseberry Topping, North Yorkshire

Quilted with banks of bluebells, sorrel and stitchwort, Yorkshire’s Matterhorn in the North York Moors National Park is a spring masterpiece.

Roseberry Topping
Rosebery Topping/Credit: Getty

How to grow bluebells

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.

Gardener tending to bluebells
Gardener tending to bluebells (Getty)

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 (colonies take between 5-7 years to develop) but they are a self-sowing plant so with a bit of luck, over time will naturally populate your garden.

Do bluebells like sun or shade?

Bluebells will grow in direct sunshine, but tend to prefer a bit of shade which is why they often carpet woodland floors.

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When to cut bluebells back?

Leaving bluebells to die back naturally will help them return stronger the following year.