Bluebells in the Bottom

MAYBE it’s too late for bluebells. Maybe there’s been too much rain. Anyway, we’re following a four-mile bluebell yomp, as outlined on page 62 of this month’s Dorset magazine.

Instead of bluebells, we’re ankle deep in cow pats. Weeks of torrential rain have left the bridleways of Fishpond Bottom resembling, well, the bottom of a fishpond.

We’ve been here before but this time, we start off in Champernhayes Wood, thrusting forth an impressive battery of tree trunks and stumps. Hazelnut shells crunch underfoot. But no bluebells.

Some are scattered sparsely round the gorse in the neighbouring meadow, and a few prop up the pretty hedgerows.

But nothing like the hazy violet carpets we’d rather hoped for. Still, there’s plenty of other splashes of spring colour for us to marvel at.

Trees froth and foam over with new leaves and acid green buds shooting into the sky. Lilac spumes from a hedge. We see buttercups, cow parsley, the air smells sweetly of freshly cut grass. Fern fronds unfurl. Nettles flower, as tiny pink and white stars decorate the roadside.

A one-eyed horse peers over a gate. Fields rise from the valley. We climb and descend in a gentle rhythm. Sometimes, we slosh through streams. We pass the barns of Sheepwash Farm. More horses watch us trip along.

Beyond a dairy farm is a field of Friesians with vast, swinging udders. ‘W/R’ (shorthand for Wessex Ridgeway) is scrawled on a piece of board by the gate. Silently, the cows regard us as we wade through boggy grass. The smell of manure is overpowering. Thinking of the trampling scene in Tamara Drewe, I start to feel nervous.

There’s a chill in the air as we skip over a stile and emerge into a field of long, lush, green grass. We sit down and munch on ham sandwiches. Below us, a flock of seagulls hover behind a tractor ploughing up fresh earth. Buzzards circle overhead. To our left, we can see the bright blue wedge of the sea at Charmouth.

Picnic over, we trot down through another farm into Wootton Fitzpaine, a tranquil and neatly manicured village. One of West Dorset’s quaint white fingerposts directs us to the Monkton Wylde and Fishpond road. Then we follow the track into Knapp Farm.

The last mile is uphill and I’m panting all the way. Not for nothing does the magazine describe this walk as ‘challenging’ and ‘very strenuous’.

We splash through more boggy meadows, struggle back into the woods and gasp with delight. ‘Bluebells!’ we hoot in unison, startling some dog walkers. Yes, here they are, a soft mist of purply-blue whispering round the tree trunks.

True, they’re past their best, but they still look magical to us. I lie down to photograph them. We try not to tread on them. We definitely don’t pick them.

Too soon, they thin out, and are gone. But we’re deliriously happy to have caught them at all. What a treat! Springtime’s here at last.

[This blog was written on Sunday, 13 May 2012]

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