Winter cheer from snowdrops and aconites

Conygre Woods - snowdrops + aconites close-up Caroline AistropThe noticeably lengthening days are letting a little ray of sunshine break into my winter grey gloom, but the thing that really cheers me up is a wander through Conygre Wood near Kingscote village. During February, the woodland floor hosts carpets of snowdrops along with a lovely cheerful flower called winter aconite. The latter is a little, bright yellow flower which opens up in the sunlight creating a patch of mini-suns shining back at that elusive ball of fire which we don’t see enough at this time of year.

Conygre Wood is right on the edge of this picturesque oldy-worldy village which lies just off the A4135 between Tetbury and Dursley (just half a mile from the Hunters’ Hall pub). If you’ve only got half an hour or so, it makes an ideal place to visit as there’s a circular walk beginning and ending at the kissing gate entrance. This wood and Kingscote wood, which lies just beyond it, are a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI for short) – a special status given to places in the UK which are important for the wildlife that lives there.

Contrary to what you might think, the snowdrop isn’t native to this country. The first record of it here dates back to 1597 as a garden plant and in 1770, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire were the first places in the UK where it was recorded as growing in the countryside. Obviously, it must have spread from gardens like so many other flowers are doing even today. It’s native to Europe and the Middle East, found from the Pyrenees in France at the most western point through Italy, Greece, Sicily, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Turkey and as far east as Iran and Syria. Its name scientific name, Galanthus, was created in 1753 by a famous naturalist called Linnaeus and means ‘milk flower in the snow’. There are two types of snowdrop in Conygre Wood – the type with the trumpet (the cylindrical bit in the middle) made of one row of petals and then a ‘frilly’ type where the trumpet is made up of lots of petals. You have to keep looking closely at the flowers to spot the different types!

The winter aconite isn’t native to our countryside either and is found growing wild in woodlands of France, the Balkans (an area of southeast Europe) and Italy.  It is a member of the buttercup family (hence the buttercup-like yellow flower) and, like the snowdrop, it was brought here to be used as a garden flower. Unlike the snowdrop, it isn’t nearly as widespread and it’s pretty unusual to find it in woodlands like this. Although neither of these flowers are strictly ‘wild’ flowers, they appear when most of our native ones have yet to poke their heads up, cheering the soul and adding some colour to the grey days.

When to visit: both snowdrops and aconites flower from early February until late in the month. The colder the weather, the longer the flowers will last as insects won’t be around to fertilise them. Insects are cold-blooded and need warm temperatures to move about easily – apart from the bumblebee which has its own fur coat and can function on cool days.

Location: Conygre Wood is on the edge of Kingscote village. Take the A4135 between Tetbury and Dursley – either travel along the A46 until the crossroads with traffic lights where you can turn one way to Tetbury and the other way to join the A4135. Or pick up the A4135 from Dursley. Hunters’ Hall is alongside this road and opposite it is the minor road to Kingscote. Take that and follow the road for half a mile into the village.

How much time to allow: there’s a circular walk around the wood which takes about three-quarters of an hour to an hour at the very most if you’re not hurrying.

Terrain: The wood is on a slope so the lower path, which takes you to the snowdrops and aconites, starts relatively flat but then starts to slope downwards. It gets very muddy after a lot of rain towards the far end. The return path runs along the top of the wood and is well-drained and flat.

Facilities: there aren’t any in the village but the Hunters’ Hall pub is a great place to stop for a drink if you need to use the toilets. They also serve tasty food and their Sunday lunch is very popular. If you’re thinking of enjoying this before or after seeing the flowers, make sure you book your table in advance as all the tables were taken on the Sunday when I called in after visiting the wood.

Directions: either park on the road in the village (note – it’s a small village with little parking especially when a Sunday service is held in the church) or park at Hunters’ Hall pub if you’re going to have a drink or eat there. From the church, keep walking along the main road through the village ‘away from’ the Hunters’ Hall, and in a short distance you’ll see the wood in front of you on the left hand side of the road. Go through the kissing gate entrance and when the path splits, take the right hand path to reach the aconites and snowdrops. After enjoying their loveliness, carry on along the path, keeping to the right. You’ll see a small lake in a field a distance away on the right, keep going and eventually you’ll reach a ‘T-junction’  – turn left here to double back and walk back through Conygre wood along flat, dry path which will return you to the kissng gate.

Conygre Woods - carpet of aconites Caroline Aistrop

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