Oh! Roses and lilies are fair to see;

But the wild bluebell is the flower for me. Louisa A. Meredith

National Trust bluebell wood

Imagine yourself here, walking along this path on the Godolphin estate in west Cornwall… Kathy Doyle posted from Godolphin last year: 'I can see the very first flowers starting to come through, very exciting, still awaiting the grand show.'

There’s something about bluebell time, isn’t there? Those rolling carpets of purpley-blue under new beech leaves, that sweet fresh green scent, bring a spring to your step and a feeling that winter is past. The Trust looks after some of the country’s most important bluebell woods; a quarter of the woodland we own is ancient or semi-natural – the perfect environment for our native bluebells to flourish in.

The first appearance of the flowers is keenly awaited and anticipated, but whether it’s going to be mid-April or mid-May depends on all kinds of factors such as how cold the winter has been and whereabouts in the country you are. This is why the Trust gives a helping hand with its online Bluebell Watch. Keep an eye on the Trust’s website from late March onwards, and you will start to see updates from staff at gardens and woodlands throughout the South West letting you know where are the best places to see bluebells this spring. You can also follow updates on our Twitter page and our South West blog, and upload your favourite bluebell photos.

A glance through last year’s Bluebell Watch postings shows that the first in the country was made by Andrew Wrayford, warden at Buckland Abbey in the sheltered Tavy Valley, who wrote on 14 April: ‘I spotted the first few bluebells out yesterday – follow our “Blue Walk” to see them…’. He was followed two days later by Mike Hardy, warden on the Lizard, who had seen them on the Penrose estate, near Helston: ‘The first flowers are finally showing today, in full sunshine but still with a chilly easterly wind. Will they all be in full bloom for Flora Day, Helston’s celebration of the arrival of spring on 8 May? The clock is ticking…’.

Ode to the Bluebell by Ian Wright, Garden Adviser for Devon and Cornwall

England without bluebells? It would be like cancelling spring and going straight to summer! Can anything actually beat walking through a bluebell wood on a warm spring day with all your senses in total overdrive?

But for the bluebell, that time of glory is the commutation of months of preparation, much of it going on unseen. The bluebell starts to grow in the late summer, hidden away underground, its clock ticking towards spring. The bluebell’s sole aim is to set its flowers before other plants that are more temperature-dependant can compete, and before the tree canopy above shades out the forest floor.

You would be mistaken if you thought this iconic plant of spring is untouchable. It faces real challenges in the form of climate change which may give other plants a chance to compete at the same time or even losing its unique identity by hybridising with its invasive Spanish cousin.

But for all this, the bluebell remains one of our real champions of spring, so I urge you to make the effort to go and visit a wood near you, and stand still in awe at nature’s sheer beauty.

The joys of a good walk

‘I have two doctors: my left leg and my right’ G.M Trevelyan.

After the indoor excesses of Christmas, what could feel better for body, senses and soul than to put on a pair of boots and go for a good walk? A blast of air so fresh you can taste it, a favourite landscape all to yourself, curious things washed up on an empty beach, the first touch of spring colour amidst the bare bones of winter, an unfamiliar bit of country to discover with friends, sharing a flask of soup in a sheltered hollow on the cliffs: walking at this time of the year has to be one of the great joys of living in the South West.

If you need a new idea, or want to explore a place you’ve never been before, why not have a look at the many downloadable walks on the Trust’s website? Go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks and you will find them listed by theme and by area. New walks are being added all the time, so keep an eye out.

For the extra encouragement of a sociable walk, plus the chance to learn new insights, you could join one of the guided walks led by Trust staff or volunteers around a patch they know well. Coming up soon are walks at Lanhydrock, Loe Pool, Godolphin and Cotehele in Cornwall and Plymbridge woods near Plymouth; guided garden tours at Greenway in South Devon and at Dunster Castle and Montacute in Somerset, and there’s still a few of the popular ‘Sunday Rambles and Roasts’ to catch at Montacute.

Festivals of walks

Now in its 11th year, the North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival takes place in spring and autumn. This spring, National Trust rangers will be leading walks at Baggy Point, Watersmeet and Bucks Mills in Devon on 29 April and 4 May, and the Holnicote estate and the Quantocks in Somerset on 5 and 7 May, looking at birds and other wildlife, history and archaeology as well as just enjoying some magnificent views. More info. at exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk

Cotehele is running a festival of walks in April, with a variety of themes and covering different places on the large estate including the outlying Iron Age hill fort at Cadsonbury. For details, see your events bulletin or contact Cotehele direct.

Later in the year, look out for details of a new walking festival being planned by the Trust for the Lizard area in September.

And now for a few of our favourite early spring walks…

Lucy Parkins, Visitor Services Manager for North Cornwall

Top of my list has to be the stunning circular walk that includes the Valency Valley in Boscastle. The smell of wild garlic combined with the simple but beautiful sight of bluebells emerging never fails to put a smile on my face. One of the great things about this walk is the inclusion of a section of coast path as well, and so it ticks all the boxes! If I really fancy treating myself, I’ll pop into one of the pubs on the route to enjoy a pint of the local brew.

Download this walk at: nationaltrust.org.uk/walks, or pick up the Trust’s ‘Coast of Cornwall’ leaflet no.3 Boscastle from local outlets.

Janet and John Stitson, Volunteer ‘Weekend Wardens’ at Saltram, nr Plymouth

One of our favourite walks takes us from Saltram car park, up a pathway between fields to the old road which ran from Plymstock to Plympton. This is now a peaceful path with stunning views towards the city of Plymouth and the sea beyond. We continue through the woods towards Stag Lodge, where snowdrops, wood anemones and, later, bluebells abound. We walk down the Dell, enjoying the magnificent rhododendrons and trees bursting into new life, and on down to the estuary at Point Cottage. The estuary itself is always interesting for its varied wildlife; we pass by the Amphitheatre and the bird hide and walk across to see the snowdrops and daffodils in Longbridge Drive before returning to the car park.

Saltram estate walks guide available from…

Sam Arthur, Volunteer Warden at Lanhydrock, nr Bodmin

My personal spring favourite starts out from in front of the great house and heads up along the edge of the woodland garden, with its vivid colours from the flowering camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias. Having passed the old head gardener’s cottage, you’re rewarded by a bench with glorious views across the Fowey valley. Heading downhill, and taking a hard left at the hairpin bend, you find yourself surrounded by huge beech trees. Their translucent lime-green spring leaves shed dappled light across a sea of bluebells, celandines, stitchwort and wood anemones: it’s by far my favourite spot on the whole estate. Over to your right you can see the remains of old tin workings, as well as leats feeding a historic mill and stretches of the 8ft wall that kept herds of deer inside the 17th-century deer park.

Turning down to the Fowey River, you’re surrounded by primroses and the distinctive smelling wild garlic (if you’re feeling adventurous, try nibbling on the young leaves). Walking upstream, through masses of wild daffodils, keep an eye out for dippers – and you might even catch a glimpse of an elusive otter or kingfisher. On reaching the ancient Respryn Bridge, cross back over the river and head for Lanhydrock house up the avenue with its double row of over 300 enormous beeches. Ahead is the gatehouse, one of the oldest buildings on the estate, and beyond it the possibility of a warm drink and cake in the cosy café as a perfect end to your walk.

Estate walks guide available from Lanhydrock shop (open weekends Jan & Feb, then daily from 19 Feb).

Tom Wood, Ranger for the Teign Valley

Tom Wood National Trust

Tom Wood, Ranger for Teign Valley

I like to walk the classic circular route from the car park by Castle Drogo, over Piddledown Common (where the gorse is always in flower) and along the spectacular Hunter’s Path, where on frosty mornings you can look down and see the trees in the valley encased in ice crystals and looking like something from a book. The route drops down through the woods to where Fingle Bridge crosses the River Teign and it is here that you notice the flushes of new green buds on the trees, not yet open but ready to spring into being. That sudden change can happen rapidly in this part of the world; one day the scene is wintry and bare, and the next trees are in leaf and spring is well and truly here.

As I walk from Fingle Bridge upstream, the river still has its winter level but the water is stained not by mud but by the tannins of the trees and the peat which make the Teign look like a fine cup of tea. Approaching the edge of the old deer park, you can see the deer wall alongside the route; then I cross the river again on the suspension bridge, with great views up and down the river along the pool created by the builder of Castle Drogo partly as an area for him to fish. Then it’s the long slow climb back up though the woods, spurred on by promise of something tasty to look forward to in the Drogo café.

Walks leaflet available at Drogo visitor centre (open daily).

Homely tips for lovely loaves

Is there a better smell in the world than freshly baked bread, just out of the oven? Drop in for a bite to eat at Cotehele in Cornwall or Killerton in Devon and you could find yourself enveloped in that warm enticing fragrance, stealing out from the kitchens. The skills of the master baker are kept very much alive at Cotehele and Killerton, where bread is made regularly for their restaurants and tea-rooms using flour ground traditionally at Cotehele Mill and Clyston Mill respectively.

If you come away filled with the urge to bake your own bread, here are some inside tips for great bread-making from Cotehele’s Tim Bennett:

Cotehele flour

‘Starting with raw ingredients, you need to make sure you get good quality ingredients. We prefer to use a mixture of Cotehele’s own wholemeal flour and organic white flour. The white flour keeps the bread light and soft whilst the wholemeal flour adds a different texture and flavour.

‘Bread-making is a bit of a science and it’s good to experiment and find the recipe that works best for you, and then try adding in different flavours. Flavour a bread to complement what you’re going to serve it with. Sugar is used to feed the yeast, and also adds to the colour of the crust, but too much will restrict the gluten development. Salt aids the texture and adds to the flavour, but too much will kill the yeast and the bread won’t rise. The quantity of water needed will depend on the flour and will tend to vary slightly throughout the year; warm water is used to keep the yeast active.

‘Once the bread dough is mixed it’s important to knead it well. This stretches out the gluten in the flour and will give a much better texture. You need to get really involved when kneading and it should leave you tired. It’s a good exercise!

bread made from cotehele flour

‘A splash of water over the bread just before you bake it gives you a nice crust.’

Check www.nationaltrust.org.uk for opening times for Cotehele’s Barn Restaurant and the Edgcumbe on the quay, and for Killerton’s Garden Tea-room and Orchard Tea-room. You can watch flour being made on certain days at the historic watermills at Cotehele from 15 March, and Clyston Mill at Killerton from 3 April.