Where to see bluebells in Sussex in 2017
PUBLISHED: 09:40 25 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:40 25 April 2017
It was raising funds for the local primary school which first inspired farmer John McCutchan to open his bluebell woods to the public.
Now, 45 years on, the Arlington Bluebell Walk in Beaton’s Wood attracts thousands of visitors every April and May. They have the option of exploring seven different trails across the 23 acres taking in rivers, wild garlic plants, and even cows being milked, alongside the huge beds of beautiful flowers nestling at the foot of the hornbeam forest.
“Our children went to Park Mead Primary School and my wife was one of the parent governors,” recalls John, who first opened the woods at Bates Green Farm to the public in 1972. “They were trying to raise money for an outdoor swimming pool so I suggested parents might want to look at the bluebells one weekend. I’ve forgotten how many turned up but several said they wanted to bring their auntie or granny the next weekend.” With the help of East Sussex County Council the bluebell walk became an annual charity event. This year it will be raising money for more than 20 causes, ranging from the NSPCC to Eastbourne Food Bank, with charity volunteers helping to keep the walk running smoothly. John’s neighbours at Parkwood and Primrose Farms also allow walkers over their land, with a viewing platform of the milking of 400 cows at Parkwood a daily attraction between 3pm and 5pm.
The Arlington Bluebell Walk has become synonymous with the village. Proceeds from the walk helped build the village hall, which has two bunches of bluebells on its village sign in recognition. Early visitors can also see beds of white wood anemones among the trees before the bluebells take over.
John is now 80, and has given up his sheep flock. But he still administers the woods and walks, overseeing regular coppicing and giving regular updates on the website as to how the bluebells are faring this year. “I have no idea whether they are going to appear in early or late spring,” he says. “Last year winter came in March and put everything back – it’s very weather-dependent. One day we might end up with 35 visitors, another day there might be 3,000 visitors. Last year we had 22,000 visitors over five weeks, the year before it was 15,000. It all depends on the weather at the weekend.” This year improvements on the walk, which runs daily from 10am to 5pm, Saturday 8 April to Sunday 14 May, include an additional entrance to the White Walk which has been given a new hard surface, new signs and a new large blown-up photo of a bluebell wood in the gents’ toilets to match last year’s very popular 6ft by 9ft image in the ladies’.
Entry to the walk costs £6/£2.50, for more information visit www.bluebellwalk.co.uk.
Sussex Wildlife Trust will be on site at Arlington in the Old Granary each weekend with information on bluebells and other wildlife species, a photography display and hands-on activities for children. And there are further bluebell walks on Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves across the county. In the west there is the ancient woodland pasture and reclaimed arable land of Ebernoe Common and the ancient woodland of The Mens, both near Petworth. And in the east of the county there are bluebell walks among the sandstone cliffs of Site of Specific Scientific Interest Eridge Rocks, near Tunbridge Wells; Flatropers Wood in Peasmarsh; the deep wooded Marline Valley near Hastings; Selwyns Wood near Heathfield and at their headquarters in Woods Mill near Henfield.
National Trust properties offering walks through the bluebells include Nymans in Handcross near Haywards Heath, and Rudyard Kipling’s former home at Bateman’s in Burwash, which is hosting a ranger-led two-hour guided walk of the estate on Friday 28 April from 10.30am. Tickets cost £5 per person – call 01435 882302.
This spring the National Trust is launching a brand new bluebell walk, following 15 years of restoration work on the ancient forest at Walk Wood in Sheffield Park. The walk, which is open from mid-April to mid-May, will act as a preview of the work carried out by head gardener Andy Jesson. Guided walks are being held from 10am on Wednesday 26 April and Wednesday 3 May.
Andy describes opening Walk Wood as the proudest thing he has ever done in his career. Sheffield Park Garden took on Walk Wood in the early 1980s, but it was only in the early 2000s, assisted by a £20,000 legacy in 2005, that they became aware of the area’s significance and history. “It’s taken a large team of people to unearth the secrets of the ancient woodland over the last 15 years, including volunteers, archaeologists, nature conservationists, forestry officers and historic curators,” he says. “We discovered that the woodland was first created in the early 1700s. The paths were created to allow the occupants of Sheffield Park House to wander through the woodland whilst taking in views of the surrounding landscape, blending into the garden boundary. We plan to restore these paths back to their original routes to give people a sense of history as they explore the grounds.” There will be installations made from natural materials by local artists, with everything kept as natural as possible so as not to upset the environmental balance. “When you thin a woodland area, you could tip the delicate balance so we encourage natural regeneration and try not to interfere,” says Andy. “From the end of April to early May the English bluebell will carpet an area of woodland nestled around the hornbeam trees at Walk Wood in a magnificent display of blue. In the same area [visitors] will come across tree stumps that are up to 400 years old – it’s truly a trip back in time.
“We have a 20-year woodland management plan. We’re in this for the long haul. We want to keep on exploring, investigating and sharing these discoveries with our members and visitors, giving them something new to experience each time they visit.
“Bluebells are an essential part of our heritage and as long as we treat them with respect, we’ll be able to enjoy our bluebell woodlands for many years to come.”
Other Sussex bluebell havens include Tortington Common and Binsted Woods near Arundel, Angmering Park Estate and Brede High Woods in Cripps Corner, near Battle.
There is also the option of seeing them from the window of a steam carriage on the Bluebell Railway, which runs between Sheffield Park to East Grinstead. Bluebell Specials, highlighting the spring flowers beside the tracks, run from Tuesday 2 to Wednesday 10 May.
For more information visit www.bluebell-railway.com.
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