At 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.
Many of the paths could easily be manged by all-terrain prams and there are even some log ‘Eeyore houses’ nestled amongst the trees which make great dens for kids. The wood is large and runs all along the Cotswold escarpment here so there are plenty of paths and routes around the wood. A short walk into the wood from the car park is a bench with superb, long-range views down the Severn estuary and even to the Severn bridges (on a clear day). The path to this bench could possibly be managed by people with limited walking ability (depending upon the cause of the mobility problem) as it’s not far and the path to this point is flat. Note, though, that as you might expect, the path surfaces are earth with small stones embedded in so it’s not like walking around a park.
The wood has a long history as it originally formed part of the wood owned by Gloucester Abbey as far back as 1297 and in 1515 was recorded as providing 12 cartloads of beechwood a year. In 1842, records show it was owned by the lord of the manor with the National Trust buying it, plus Harefield Beacon, in 1931. Trees in the wood were cut down in 1914 to be turned into pit props for the UK’s army’s mining operations on the Front of World War One.
The woodland floor is carpeted with the vibrant, almost luminescent, blue of the ‘proper’, wild bluebell. As 50% of the world’s population of bluebell grows in this country, it’s important to protect this species. The ‘bluebell’ that people usually have in their gardens is the spanish bluebell which, in my opinion, isn’t half as attractive as our native form. It was brought to the UK as an ornamental plant in the late 1600s but having escaped from gardens, as garden flowers do, it’s now hybridising with its wild cousin to produce an inferior form which could see the demise of our beautiful bluebell and the joy of seeing such stunning bluebell woods each spring.
What’s the difference between our wild bluebell and the spanish one? The spanish one is much paler, the flower stalks stand upright so the flowers don’t droop over, and the flowers grow all around the stem. Our native variety has the electric-blue colour, the stem droops over and the flowers grow just along one side of the stem and hang down. The spanish type can also be white whereas I’ve never seen a white form of the native flower.
Whilst you’re in the wood, run some beech leaves through your fingers. At this time of year, they are unbelievably soft like velvet. Later on they harden to what we expect of leaves but enjoy this softness right now.
When to visit: the bluebells are at their best from late April until mid-May. The exact time does depend upon the weather and a warm spring will mean they flower earlier in that time period.
Location: Standish woods are a short drive from Whiteshill and Randwick villages, just off the back road from Stroud to Gloucester that runs through Whiteshill (but before you get to Edge village). The village of Haresfield nestles at the bottom of the escarpment with the wood on the slopes above it. OS Explorer Map SO 179 833086.
How much time to allow: How long’s a piece of string?! The benefit of visiting these woods is that you can adapt the route to whatever time you have and the bluebells are so widespread that you’ll see plenty of them wherever you walk. The bench is about 5 mins walk into the wood. You could walk along the top path for as long as you like and then walk back to the car park (note: it’s not a circular route). You can walk along the top path and then take a path to the right to make a circular, longer route. It’s up to you. Don’t forget to allow ice-cream time and ‘taking in the view’ time.
Terrain: the path leading from the car park along the top of the wood is flat. Ones leading off this path go up and down – Standish wood covers the side of a valley so if you go down, you have to also go up! The surface of the paths is earth, as you’d expect in a wood, and there are stones and occasionaly tree roots embedded in the surface. The ground is relatively free draining so muddy patches aren’t very common.
Facilities: there’s a National Trust car park (called Shortwood) though on a sunny day, this soon fills up so you’ll need to find somewhere on the roadside verge to park (remember to park considerately as the popularity of the wood does mean there are lots of people trying to park). There aren’t any toilets or refreshments other than the ice-cream van which is always there in decent weather. However, the nearby villages of Whiteshill and Randwick boast some good pubs with the usual facilities.
Directions: Drive through Whiteshill village (on the western edge of Stroud) along the ‘back road’ to Gloucester, take a left turn on a ninety degree bend (signposted to Haresfield) and continue along this minor road until you reach the National Trust car park on your left (called Shortwood car park, parking charges apply). The car park is adjacent to the road – look out for other cars. Park here and you’re right next to the wood.
The entrance to the wood is a gap in the dry stone boundary wall. In front of you are 3 paths – take the one that goes straight on (there are two that go to the right) which is signposted as the Cotswold Way. Ignore the path to the left which runs alongside the post and wire fence, that leads to Randwick village. Keep walking and you come to a cross-roads of path with a signpost pointing four ways. Turn right and walk down this path to almost the bottom of the wood. Turn right and walk along the bottom until you reach a path on the right sloping uphill. This will take you back to where you started, to the entrance to the car park.
Family route (young children) – keep walking along the top path until reaching a cross-roads with a wooden post with four direction signs. Take the right hand path (still marked as the Cotswold Way) and then a short distance further on, take a path to the right. This leads past the Eeyore house and then joins the top path you’ve just walked along so you can return to the car park.