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.
Conygre Woods on the edge of Kingscote village near Tetbury is a fine example and has the added benefit of being small with good footpaths so it’s easy to stroll around and doesn’t take a long time. There’s also a great pub just up the road – the Hunter’s Hall. The wild garlic stretches throughout this wood and there’s a nice circular footpath running along the edge of the wood and returning through the middle. Hart’s tongue fern is abundant and is one of my favourite native ferns. When the light shines through the leaves, their green colour become almost luminescent. Right now, the new fronds are growing and the uncurling tips remind me of the quif that rockers in the 1960s slicked their fringes into.
Wild garlic is a member of the same family as onions and leeks – the allium family to give it its proper name. It’s also called ramsons, bear leek, or bear’s garlic as the plant’s bulb is supposed to be a favourite food of bears. It’s used throughout Europe in herbal medicine as it’s thought to have blood-purifying properties and lower cholesterol. A liquid made from boiling the leaves was used as a disinfectant and its smell is thought to keep cats away – perhaps a used addition to wildlife gardens?! The leaves can be eaten chopped up and added to salads, used instead of basil to make pesto, or quickly fried with chopped-up culinary garlic and added to cream to make a quick and tasty pasta sauce. The bulbs can be used in the same way as culinary garlic, and the flowers are edible and make an eye-catching addition to salads. For some recipes, visit http://www.countryfile.com/wild-garlic-guide-plus-recipes.
When to visit: the garlic’s in perfect condition right now so don’t delay! Its peak flowering time are the mid-two weeks of May. The flowers start to appear at beginning of May but all flowers are out by middle of the month.
Location: Conygre Wood is on the edge of Kingscote village just off 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: here take the opposite turning to join the A4135 which is also signposted Newark Park. Or pick up the A4135 from Dursley. Hunters’ Hall is on this road, opposite the turning to Kingscote. Take that turning and follow the road for half a mile into the village. Park considerately on the roadside, somewhere near the church is probably best. There isn’t a lot of room for parking so another option, if you’re planning to eat or drink at the Hunter’s Hall, is to park there and walk the quarter of 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 and want time to gaze admiringly at the scene and to take photos.
Terrain: The wood is on a slope so the lower path starts relatively flat but then starts to slope downwards and has a few up and down bits. The return path runs along the top of the wood and is well-drained and flat. The surface of the footpath is, as expected in a woodland, made of compacted soil with a few stones embedded in it here and there plus the occasional tree roots. I have led a group of people on a nature walk around the wood and one of the party was partially sighted. He did manage the route with help and support from a sighted guide. It may be possible for someone with restricted mobility to manage the wood as entry is through a metal kissing gate and there are no stiles to climb over. Possibly they could manage walking a little way into the wood even if the full route is beyond them as the garlic carpet starts almost at the entrance to the wood so they’d still get the experience. The path through the middle of the wood is certainly OK for all-terrain prams, but the lower path along the edge of the wood does get very narrow in parts and I don’t think a pram could get through (having wheeled one of these prams myself for many years).
Facilities: there aren’t any in the village but the Hunters’ Hall pub is a great place to stop for a drink or something to eat, and to use the toilets. They 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. The church in the village is often open and makes an interesting diversion.
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 direction you’ve come, and in a short distance you’ll see the wood in front of you on the left hand side of the road with a big metal gate across the entrance. Go through the kissing gate next to this and walk straight ahead. When the path splits, take the right hand path which runs along the lower edge of the wood. Keep going, past a small lake in a field a distance away on the right, and eventually you’ll reach a sort of footpath cross-roads – turn immediately left here to double back and walk through the middle of Conygre wood along a flat, dry path which will return you to the kissng gate. There are other paths off the main ones and, because the wood is so small, you can explore these without worrying about getting lost.