The end of May and beginning of June sees the butterfly world start to really take off. There’ve been a few lovely butterflies pottering around during early spring (orange tip, brimstone and peacock mainly) but now the most showy members of the insects rock up to Nature’s party.
Adonis was the God in the Greek myths that we associate with exceptional handsomenss and beauty, and the butterfly named after him is a stunningly eye-catching one. During the last week of May and into early June, this electric-blue butterfly (few photos really do justice to its colour) shines brightly on sunny days as it flies around looking either for a female to mate with or one of its favourite flowers to feed on. The female isn’t blue but mainly dark brown – a common story as the female of many species is a brown colour to keep her hidden from predators – though there can be a blue sheen on where the wings are close to its body.
Just a short way from the busy A46, this ancient woodland feels as if it’s in its own world, miles away from anywhere. Its hidden valley, gently babbling stream, moss covered oak trees, bird song and tranquility make it an ideal place to forget about the cares of the world. It feels ancient as if it’s been here since time began.
The valley is old – and I mean mindblowingly old. It was carved out during the Ice Age by a stream flowing beneath the ice sheets which covered all of this region. Once the Ice Age had finished and all of the ice had melted, trees and plants moved in and covered the area, creating woodlands like Midger Wood.
Stroud is blessed by being ringed by three very special commons and we’re so fortunate that we can enjoy each one of them. No unfriendly ‘keep out’ signs here even though each common is a nature reserve, a site of special scientific interest and one is internationally important for its wildife.
Minchinhampton Common is one of these special places and abuts onto the village of Minchinhampton (funnily enough). The whole area has a story stretching back to prehistoric times and the ridges of land running along parts of the common are the remains of Iron Age defenses (called The Bulwarks by locals). Nearby is a neolithic long barrow which was a communal tomb for local people thousands of years ago. The common is now owned and managed by The National Trust so it’s protected for future generations.
May is bursting out all over – literally. You’re probably puzzled, thinking the old adage surely refered to June but, believe you me, May is the month when nature explodes onto the scene. After months of grey lifelessness when winter seems set to never end, nature accelerates from full stop to warp factor 10.
Nature’s activities in May remind me of the Rupert Bear story (which I loved reading to my daughter) about the ‘imps of spring’ – tiny, elf-like people who slept underground during winter and then, woken by their alarm clock, come above ground with their bottles of magic potion. They spray everything in sight and suddenly trees come into leaf, flowers bloom, grass grows and the animal and bird life appears from nowhere. There’s such a sudden profusion of life this month that part of me suspects the imps and their potion really do exist.
One and a half million of them and not a forked tongue in sight, thankfully. The snake’s head fritillary flower is nationally rare but 80% of what’s left in the UK grows in North Meadow, a national nature reserve at Cricklade near Cirencester. OK, I have to admit that this is nowhere near Stroud. Yes, yes, OK, I admit it’s not even in Gloucestershire but just over the border in Wiltshire. However, this spring spectacle is worth the 45 minute drive from Stroud – there really are hardly any other places in the country to see this and at least one and a half million of them really do flower every year in the meadow. Plus, the best bit is that you’re literally inches away from the flowers as the footpath takes you through the middle of this floral exuberance.
Cockchafer, May bug, spang beetle and Billy witch are all names for what used to be a common sight at this time of year. pening the curtains and switching on the living room lights after dusk to attract the cockchafers was wildlife watching made easy. But sadly, they haven’t appeared for many years now.
Spanish v English: the native, English bluebell is on the right, and the Spanish one on the left
The bluebell wood is a phenomenon particular to Britain – believe it or not, 80% of all the world’s bluebell woods are found in the UK! The sight of the glorious violet-bluey haze which carpets many woodlands (especially beech woods) begins in late April and lasts until late-May depending upon where you live. The flowering season starts earlier in Cornwall and gradually spreads up the country with Scotland’s flowers being last to the floral party.
Another bluebell came onto the scene when the Victorians introduced the Spanish bluebell, a close relative of our British one, into their gardens. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, it made the great escape over the garden wall and since then has been popping up in woods, hedgerows, and in roadside verges.
Box wood is twenty-five acres of glorious woodland covered with a carpet of wild garlic flowers during the mid-two weeks of May. This site differs slightly from the others I’ve written about as there isn’t a circular path through the site – the footpath is one-way leading from Box village down through the wood to the Avening road. The big plus about visiting Box wood, though, is the choice of not one but two fab eating places, one at each end of the wood: the Halfway cafe sitting on the edge of Box village with its views over Minchinhampton Common and incredible cakes, and the Weighbridge Inn at the other end on the Avening road and its delicious speciality, the ‘2 in 1’ pie.
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.
The stretch of cycle track from Dudbridge heading towards Stroud is looking glorious at the moment, its carpet of wild garlic resembling a layer of royal icing spreading out left and right from the track. However, whilst walking along the Dudbridge end, I noticed a unusual sight as if a strange kind of snow had fallen amongst the white pom-poms of the garlic. Had Stroud-based special effects company, Snow Business, been testing their latest type of snow ready to coat the film set of a new Hollywood blockbuster?