It is a great time of year for walking in the woods and there are many ancient woodlands around here to choose from. Just across the field are Butlers Wood and Waldegrave Wood, both dating back to medieval times and associated with Butlers Hall - Thomas de Butler lived here in 1361 and Richard Waldegrave in the 1400's.
Although with some the footpaths tend to go round them rather than through them, there are a number that you can explore. Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserves include Arger Fen and Spouses Vale near Assington, Groton Woods at Groton and Bradfield Woods at Bradfield St George. All are worth a visit and each has its own character. Other woods that are close by include Clay Hill Woodland at Great Henny, Loshes Woodland at Loshes Meadow, both an easy walk, and Assington Thicks at Assington and Marks Hall Estate a little futher away.
Last week I went on a 'Walk and Draw' with the Colchester Ramblers to Hillhouse Wood, West Bergholt, which is maintained by the Woodland Trust who have a wood finder website Visitwoods. They also have Fordham Hall Estate Wood and Primrose Wood near Boxford. The Ramblers welcome people joining them on their walks and their programmes are easily found on their website. Locally there are three Ramblers groups - Sudbury, Colchester and the Stour Walking Group, the latter for people in their 20's-30's.
Hillhouse Wood is interesting with undulating woodland and a rich variety of flora and fauna. The wood was carpeted with bluebells and swathes of wild garlic or rampons with their lush garlicky smell. There were also a few beautifully deep magenta spotted orchids which were quite a treat to see. I was also amazed at the trees flowering - both oak and hornbeam with masses of blossom as the leaves were just starting to form
I have been walking to the woods each week and watching the bluebells come into flower, playing the child's game of are they bluest yet? Last week they were quite blue, but this week they are definitely bluer - a more intense and potent blue - wondering whether they will be bluest next week - or maybe with the recent sunshine we might have just reached bluest! Usually the sun is much stronger at this time of year and flowers seem to wither in the heat - not so this year with the daily cooling of rain that has been preserving all our Spring flowers and making them open incredibly slowly.
Hyacinthoides non-scripta or the common bluebell is particularly associated with ancient woodlands, of which there are many round here and it is magical to be in a wood surrounded by blue. The blue carpet overcomes our senses of sight and smell, you are enveloped by blue!
I was woken by the sounds of a nightingale early this morning and the birdsong has continued on this brightish day. It is lovely to hear after the recent rains. I heard the first cuckoo on 16th April but I am still waiting to see the first swallows and house martins return. The house martins nest each year in the eves on the front of the Dairy, which faces west - it is great to watch them flitting backwards and forwards and feeding their young. There are a great variety of birds in the garden and surrounding fields, and although I am no bird watcher I have noticed flocks of skylarks, several woodpeckers, pied wagtails and a variety of tits and finches amongst them. I must find a bird book to help my recognition!
The orchard was humming this morning - the cherry blossom is beautiful at the moment with a delicious scent. The plum and gage blossom is fading and the apple and pear is just beginning to come out. We planted the orchard in 1997, there are 36 trees altogether, with a row of cherries on the left, a row of plums and gages at the back and a row of pears on the right - in the middle are apples. They are all old varieties associated with Suffolk and Essex, we thought this seemed appropriate as this whole area up until the 1970's was covered with apple orchards - it is sad that they were grubbed up. Only one apple tree remains from that time - but I have an aerial photo of the farm in the 1970's and also some documents from the records office listing the varieties that were here in 1951!
I hope that the recent rain doesn't spoil the pollination - hopefully the sun this morning will help. On Sunday the kitchen garden looked very dramatic in the stormy weather with a double rainbow behind the wall. Beyond the next field behind the wall are two ancient woods - Butlers Wood and Waldegrave Wood, as well as Parsonage Wood over towards the Tye - we often get a rainbow that seems to start in Parsonage Wood and end in Butlers Wood, going across the sky behind the garden - it always looks magical though of course I would prefer sunshine to rain!