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.

I’ll be out and about myself trying to visit as many places as possible and writing about them, but I thought you might like suggestions for great places to visit ahead of the weekend. The best time to see all these wildlife spectacles is from now until mid-late May. I usually reckon that bluebells and both early purple and green-winged orchids flower during the first two weeks of May, wild garlic during the mid-two weeks and the cuckoos and nightingales sing/call from late April and into May until they find a mate so the sooner you can go to places to hear these, the better.

Here are my recommendations for the weekend:

Standish/Randwick woods, beyond Whiteshill village – a spectacular bluebell wood with added views down the Severn estuary to the Severn Bridge (on a clear day). Drive through Whiteshill on the road to Gloucester, take a left turn on a ninety degree bend (signposted to Haresfield Beacon) and continue along this minor road until you reach the National Trust car park on your left (called Shortwood car park, parking charges apply). Park here and you’re right next to the wood. The path is flat for a good way through the wood but it isn’t a circular path so turn round and walk back to car park when you’ve gone as far as you want. OS Explorer Map SO 179 833086.

Woodchester Mansion park, near Nympsfield – parts of the wood are full of wild garlic and the grounds are stunning to walk around. On a bank holiday weekend, the abandoned partially-built 18th century gothic mansion is open to the public and a guided tour is a fascinating insight into how these mansions were built. Add in the cafe, shop and facilities, and there’s a whole day’s visit here. Drive out of Stroud on the B4066 and take the left turn to Nympsfield. A bit further there’s a left turn to Woodchester park. Park in the National Trust car park (charges apply) and consult the map there to choose a waymarked trail around the park to follow. The shortest one includes a children’s playtrail as well as wild garlic. OS Explorer Map 168 798015.

Rodborough Common, near Rodborough – the National Trust-owned common boasts a profusion of early purple orchids and cowslips at this time of year, plus lovely views to the Severn estuary and down the Nailsworth valley. Winstones ice-cream parlour is an added bonus especially for keeping grumbling children happy (“Keep up children, Winstones ice-cream is not far now, just around the corner”). Drive out of Stroud on the A46 and then turn left onto Rodborough Hill, keep going straight on this road onto the common and then park in one of the car parks on the right hand side. Winstones is on the part of the common opposite these – just follow the trail of people! The orchids, cowslips and other flowers are all over the common on both sides of the road. OS Explorer Map 168 853035.

Siccaridge Woods, near Sapperton – a fabulous bluebell woodland cared for by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. Some parts of the wood are dominated by wild garlic so you get two for the price of one! Plus a small population of the wild (original) version of  lily of the valley grows here, too. It’s a fabulous place to visit, and (to top it off) there’s a great pub just over the road – the Daneway. With no other buildings around and being located in a valley, you feel like you’re miles away from anywhere. Take the A419 Cirencester road from Stroud, and after passing the Ashton Down airfield on the right, take the left run to Frampton Mansell. Drive through the village and keep going straight ahead until reaching cross-roads on the edge of Sapperton village.  Turn left here and follow this road until it arrives at the Daneway. Park in pub car park if you’re planning to eat or drink there or else just find a spot to park on the side of the road (please park considerately, it’s a minor road). The entrance gate into the wood is further up this road on the left hand side. OS Explorer Map 168 938035.

Box Wood, near Box, Minchinhampton – a enjoyable, downhill walk takes you through this stunning wild garlic wood and into the Avening valley where the Weighbridge Inn resides (serving their delicious speciality: 2-in-1 pies). Drive over Minchinhampton Common and turn right at Tom Long’s Post (where this infamous highwayman was hanged) towards Nailsworth. Along this road, turn left to head into Box village. Park in the village or at the Halfway House cafe (if you’re going to eat there – incredible cakes) and walk to the wood. OS Explorer Map 168 859003.

Frampton Pools, near Frampton-on-Severn –  the only place near Stroud where you can hear nightingales singing (as far as a I know). I’ve also heard cuckoos calling here as well. Drive down the village green to the far end (near the Three Horseshoes pub) and turn left to reach a tiny car park on the right hand side. Park here and walk down this road towards Frampton Pools sailing club but take a public footpath on the left before the club and walk over the fields to the wood in the distance. The best time to go to hear the birds singing is either early in the morning or in the evening. Some years I’ve heard them singing close by the entrance into the wood. For precise details about how to find this site and the footpath around it, read my blog post dated 22nd May 2017.

Cam Peak, near Cam – this hill looks like it’s a five year old’s first attempt at drawing hills. It’s the classic triangular shape that all hills should be, and at this time of year it’s slopes are covered with bluebells. The effect on a sunny day is truly spectacular – green grass on the slope, electric blue of the flowers above that and topped by the bright blue of the sky. The walk around the base of the hill and along the slopes of Cam Long Down which joins the peak takes you through swathes of bluebells. If you fancy a visit, see my blog of 9th May 2017.

I’ll be posting more details about some of these places during the next week or so when I’ve had a chance to walk around them. So keep checking this blog…

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