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.

Just up the road from the pub is the entrance to Siccaridge wood, owned and cared for by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. It boasts carpets of both bluebells and the wild version of lily of the valley, plus a careful hunt amongst the trees can reveal a rare flower called angular Solomon’s seal. The wood is also home to dormice (not that you’ll see them during the day). Any visit to the Daneway pub must include a saunter around the wood (I’m sure there’s a bylaw to that effect) to admire the stunning, electric blue display which is at its peak at this time of year. Old maps and texts show there’s been a wood here since at least 1576 when it was called Sickeridge Coppice giving it the official definition of ‘ancient woodland’ (woods which have existed on the same site since at least 1600).

Bluebells are a wild form of the hyacinth that lives in shady woodlands and in damp places in the open. It’s a British speciality and 50% of the world’s population of this flower is found here. It can’t cope with conifer woodlands (the fallen needles turn the soil acidfic when they rot), and if you see bluebells in roadside verges or in hedgerows, that suggests the place was once covered with woodland as bluebells keep flowering even when the mature trees have been cut down. It spreads well though slowly as the seeds are large and heavy (in plant terms) so they can’t fall far from the flower.

Half way along the path running through the centre of the wood the trees stop to produce a clearing. This is where you’ll find the main area of lily of the valley. Plus there’s a track on the right, with lily of the valley on both sides, leading to a bench where you can sit awhile and enjoy the view over the valley. The flower wasn’t open when I visited on 5th May and looked like it needed another week or two before it would be showing.

When to visit: end of April and the first two weeks of May.

Location: opposite side of the road from the Daneway pub on the road from Sapperton to Tunley. OS 168 Explorer map 935037.

How much time to allow: 1.5-2 hours for a gentle stroll with time to stop and admire the bluebells, lily of the valley, views and the other flowers.

Terrain: the path from the entrance gate is generally flat with the usual soil surface you’d expect in a wood. 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, then is flat (but with big muddy patches) as it runs along the stream to entrance back onto the road.

Facilities: good food, drink, beer garden, and generally conviviality are available at the Daneway pub (http://www.thedaneway.pub/index). The equally good Bell Inn is further up the road in the village of Sapperton (http://bellsapperton.co.uk/).

Directions: from Stroud: from the A419 Stroud to Cirencester road take the turn to Frampton Mansell. Drive through the village and onto the edge of Sapperton where there’s a small cross-road. Take the left turn signposted to the Daneway. From Cirenceter: 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 just before the bridge and 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 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, take a little track on the right to find a bench with a view over the valley. 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. Turn right to walk along a track inside of a post and wire fence (not the canal towpath) and then right at the Glos Wildlife Trust sign. . The track runs along the edge of the wood, alongside a stream and eventually reaches an entrance gate leading onto a road. Turn right to walk along the road and then turn right again to walk back to the entrance gate where you entered the wood. A detour to stand on the canal bridge for a few minutes gives a good view of the old canal and the lovely Frome valley.

 

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