Lovely lily of the valley, fabulous flag irises, oodles of tranquility and a helping of beer (of course)

lily of the valley - _Alicja_ pixabay
The dainty and demure lily of the valley flowers. Credit – _Alicja_

Small yet perfectly formed is a good way of describing the lily of the valley flower. Its string of tiny, white coloured bells hang down from the flower stalk, hiding shyly amongst the leaves which are ridiculoulsy large compared to the size of the flower. I have to confess to being a big and blousy type, prefering large, colourful flowers which stand loud and proud. However, I know that lily of the valley is a popular garden flower with lots of people and so there’ll be many who’d like to see it in the wild. Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell boasts a large carpet of it right now, and you can create a circular walk incorporating the canal where there’s a riot of flowers and colour.

Lily of the valley flowers during the middle of May and, when I visited Siccaridge woods yesterday, the flowers were starting to ‘go over’ (as botanists describe the flowers beginning to die). The flower-buds were almost non-existent during May Day bank holiday weekend and I’d thought they wouldn’t be open until late May. The fabulous sun and high temperatures of the past three weeks or so have obvioulsy put the plant into overdrive so if you want to see it, this weekend is the time.

The sun-yellow flag irises are another wild flower that’s looking fabulous now and the disused canal from Chalford to the Daneway pub is an ideal place to enjoy it. These are wetland plants that grow tall out of the water and the flower has the classic shape of iris flowers – three large petals hanging down from a central coloumn of petals growing upwards. As well as the irises, there’s a riot of other flowers growing alongside the canal – the Queen’s Anne lace forms thick stands of delicate white-coloured flowers being true to their name, interspersed with the bright cerise pink of red campion, the light pink of herb robert, yellow archangel, white dead-nettle and all overshadowed by the icing-thick covering of white flowers on the hawthorn bushes. The birds are also in good voice, especially if you do this walk early in the morning or from tea-time onwards when the ‘dusk chorus’ gets going. This stretch of canal is the closest I think the Stroud valleys has to wilderness. The ‘real’ world seems millions of miles away and the whole atmosphere is peaceful and tranquil. Time spent here is the perfect way to unwind from the stresses of the day.

You can create a circular walk combining Siccaridge woods, this stretch of canal and the Daneway pub which serves great food and beer (as well as lots of other drinks, of course!). Now that’s what I call perfect nature watching!

When to visit: middle two weeks of May, and possibly until end of May (depending on how warm the weather is)

Location: the woods and the canal are on the opposite side of the road from the Daneway pub on the road from Sapperton to Tunley. OS Explorer map 935037.

How much time to allow: 1.5-2 hours for a gentle stroll with time to stop and admire the flowers and generally soak up the peacefulness. Don’t forget to add time for a pub stop!

Terrain: the path through the wood from the entrance gate is generally flat with the usual soil surface you’d expect in a wood but it’s quite stony in places. It may be possible for people with limited mobility to manage this stretch (though probably not wheelchairs). At the far end of the wood, the path goes steeply downhill to the canal towpath, which is then flat as it runs back to the road and the pub. Unfortunately, there are a few steps down from the road to get to the canal towpath so, although the towpath is flat and easy to walk on, it wouldn’t be possible for people with mobility problems to reach it. The beer garden at the Daneway is a lovely place to sit and enjoy the woodlands and countryside surrounding it, so one option is for the person with mobility problems to sit there with a drink and book whilst others do the walk which takes an hour.

Facilities: good food and drink, a large beer garden with great views, and general conviviality are available at the Daneway pub ( The pub sits on its own in the valley, surrounded just by woodland, countryside and wildlife. It’s a great place to sit in the beer garden and take in the peace. The equally good Bell Inn is further up the road in the village of Sapperton (


from Stroud: from the A419 Stroud to Cirencester road take the turn to Frampton Mansell. Keep on the same road and drive through the village, along the country road through the countryside and to the edge of Sapperton where there’s a small cross-road. Take the left turn signposted to the Daneway. If you’re not visiting the Daneway, park in the layby on the left hand side just before the sharp right turn onto a bridge but if you are, park in the Daneway car park.

From Cirencester: on the A419 Cirencester to Stroud road, take the Sapperton turn-off, continuing straight over the crossroads, along the edge of the village to a mini cross-roads and continue straight on following signs to Daneway pub. If you’re not visiting the Daneway, park in the layby on the left hand side just before the sharp right turn onto the bridge but if you are, park in the Daneway car park.

Walk a short way up the road away from the pub and the entrance gate to Siccaridge wood is on the left hand side. There’s a gap at either the side of the gate which you can walk through. Carry straight on through the centre of the wood and half way along where there’s a clearing, the carpet of lily of the valley is on the right hand side. Take a little track on the right to find a bench a short distance along with a view over the valley. Return to the main path and the lily of the valley continues either side of the path. At the far end of the wood where the path splits, take the left hand path. Ignoring side paths off the main one, continue along to a major fork and take the right hand path and then left at a tiny crossroad of paths. This is the gentler of the paths down to the canal. Walk straight on to the canal bridge, from where you’ll get good views of the old canal and the lovely Frome valley. On the other side of  the bridge, take the track to the left to find the main towpath. Continue along this path until you reach a few steps up to the road, and on the opposite side is the Daneway pub.

Wonderful wild garlic woods: 2 – Box wood near Minchinhampton

Box wood - wild garlic carpet in wood May 18 C Aistrop
Carpet of wild garlic in Box wood, near Minchinhampton, Stroud. credit – C Aistrop

Box wood is twenty-five acres of glorious woodland covered with a carpet of wild garlic flowers during the mid-two weeks of May. This site differs slightly from the others I’ve written about as there isn’t a circular path through the site – the footpath is one-way leading from Box village down through the wood to the Avening road. The big plus about visiting Box wood, though, is the choice of not one but two fab eating places, one at each end of the wood: the Halfway cafe sitting on the edge of Box village with its views over Minchinhampton Common and incredible cakes, and the Weighbridge Inn at the other end on the Avening road and its delicious speciality, the ‘2 in 1’ pie.

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Glorious wild garlic: 1 – Conygre Woods near Tetbury

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Footpath winds its way through the wild garlic spectacular in Congyre woods near Tetbury. Credit – C Aistrop

If you’re desparate for some fresh air and to escape the television having sat through the marathon of THE wedding and the FA Cup Final, there are plenty of woods around Stroud offering peaceful solice and a place to restore your equilibrium. Wild garlic flowering is at its peak right now and as the bluebell woods die down, nature rolls up the blue carpet and unfurls the white one. The sight of the wild garlic woods is just as spectacular as the bluebell ones with the garlic’s large, white pom-pom flowerheads making the woodland floor look like a scene from the Snow Queen.

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Snow on the cycle track – in May?!

Cycle track Stroud-Dudbridge - pussy willow fluff covering ground May 2018 C Aistrop

The stretch of cycle track from Dudbridge heading towards Stroud is looking glorious at the moment, its carpet of wild garlic resembling a layer of royal icing spreading out left and right from the track. However, whilst walking along the Dudbridge end, I noticed a unusual sight as if a strange kind of snow had fallen amongst the white pom-poms of the garlic. Had Stroud-based special effects company, Snow Business, been testing their latest type of snow ready to coat the film set of a new Hollywood blockbuster?

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Orchids and ice-cream

early purples + cowslips with view to Woodchester May 2018 C AistropRodborough common is a popular place for Stroudies to stroll on a Sunday afternoon – thanks to the beauty of the common and Winston’s Ice-cream’s parlour with its enticing range of delectable ice-cream delights. But my hunch is the vast majority of these visitors don’t realise the importance of the common they’ve just walked the dog or the family around, or that they’ve just sauntered past rare orchids.

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Sauntering through bluebells in Standish woods, Randwick

Standish wood - bluebells and lots of trees May 2018 C AistropAt this time of year, bleubell woods seem to be everywhere you turn – and that’s one of the (many) wonderful things about living in the Stroud district. Standish woods near Randwick village is one of the most popular woods around Stroud for a bluebell experience – partly thanks to the stunning views down the Severn Estuary, the flat path along the top of the wood, the good parking and the ice-cream van.

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Bluebells and beer

Siccarige wood - close-up bluebells amongst coppice 6.5.18 C Aistrop
A carpet of bluebells in Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell. credit – C Aistrop

The Frome valley must be the closest we have in the Stroud area to a feeling of wilderness. It stretches from Chalford village (near Stroud) for a few miles towards Cirencester and, running along its bottom, the disused Thames & Severn canal offers tiny glimpses into an age of industrial triumph. But its state of decay atmospherically demonstrates how, in the end, nature subtly claims back and subsumes everything. One of the rare bits of human intrusion in the valley is a very welcome one – it’s the excellent Daneway pub, and a return walk from Chalford along the canal towpath taking in lunch at the pub is a popular summer Sunday activity.

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Fancy a wildlife spectacular this weekend?

Bluebells on Cam Peak
Bluebells cloak the slopes of Cam Peak near Cam, Dursley. Credit – C Aistrop

Despite us still being in a state of shock at the news that this coming bank holiday will be both sunny and warm (when did that last happen?!), a bit of planning means that you could make the most of this and see quite a few wildlife spectacles. May is the month when nature seems to awaken with a start and bound out of bed. It’s May that’s busting out all over, not June. Bluebells, wild garlic and orchid meadows are at their best; nightingales and cuckoos are singing; the dawn chorus is at full crescendo; migrant birds are arriving back from southern climes by the thousands; and hawthorn hedges become coated with the ‘white icing’ created by the profusion of may flowers.

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A delicate harbinger of Spring

Wildlife april - group of Cuckoo flower Canal Cainsx rd Caroline Aistrop
Masses of cuckoo flowers growing alongside the Cotswold canal near Stroud. Photo – Caroline Aistrop

One of the less well-known hargingers of spring, and one of my favourites, is the dainty cuckoo flower. Our ancestors gave it this name to acknowledge it as a sign of the cuckoo’s imminent return to the UK from its African wintering grounds. The pale lilac or pink flowers appear en masse in damp places during April and if they seem vaguely familiar, this may be because the cuckoo flower is one of the cabbage family and has the characteristic four petals arranged in the cross-shape shown by most members of this group. To be honest, if it was a bright yellow colour, it’d look a dead ringer for oil seed rape which is its close cousin. However, cuckoo flower is shorter in height and is a soft shade of lilac or pink so the overall impression is of a refined relative used to the good things in life compared to a brash relative that likes to shout its presence and stomp about a lot.

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Forest of Dean’s daffodil weekends – a real harbinger of spring

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The wild daffodil splendour of Gwen and Vera’s field, Forest of Dean (copyright Caroline Aistrop)

If you fancy seeing a real riot of nature this weekend or next weekend, the Oxenhall and Dymock Daffodil weekends are a must. They’re a celebration of the wonderful sign of the coming spring which we all love to see – the daffodil. In this case, it’s the wild daffodil which grows in profusion through the woods and fields around three villages – Oxenhall, Kempley and Dymock. Never mind those hosts of golden daffodils in the Lake District, Wordsworth could easily have been writing about his walk through the countryside in the Forest of Dean.

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