I am on my bike cycling to Duncliffe woods, the sky is a changeable hue of black and blue and I am bracing myself for a downpour. It is early Saturday morning and I am hoping to get there before the crowds who come to savour the bluebell display at its best.
Duncliffe Woods is owned and managed by the Woodland Trust. It is ancient woodland which rises 210m from sea level out of the Blackmore Vale like a green volcano. It is said that this unique landmark inspired Thomas Hardy to write The Woodlanders; a book of love, deceit, marriage and divorce. I can’t speak for Hardy, but for me it is a very special place that endeared me to the Dorset landscape even when I was still pining for Devon. It rises out of the landscape with its steep sides and beautiful views bordering the flower meadows. It has magical qualities for sure, and light that bounces off of the woodland floor giving it an airy and safe feel. I love it here and especially at this time of year.
It was in one of the adjacent fields where I first watched a pair of barn owls feeding their young. It became a routine of mine to cycle there after work and sit on the style watching the parents quartering the fields; swooping so close to me, I could look them in the eye. There are also two trees in the woods of which I am particularly fond. One is the eldest of three sister beech trees; its branches the size of tree trunks, scaling upwards and vast into the blue sky. There has always been a rope swing here which makes you feel like you are flying off of the side. It is a place that I can sit and contemplate with my back against its ancient strong trunk. From here anything seems possible. The other ‘tree’ is actually eight ash trees all stemming from the same root which appears in a perfect fairy circle that you can walk into and around. This takes time to find amongst the brambles and I suspect most people would not even notice how unusual it is.
Today though I am here for the wild flowers and the spring birds rather than the trees. After getting soaked by a shower, I park up my bike and walk up the ride to where I can take a left hand path up the side of the woodland. I remember from last year what plants live where. Of course the bluebells are exquisite and I take in their beautiful unique smell after the rainfall and try and capture their spirit with my lens, but I am more interested in looking beyond the sea of blue to find the other unnoticed, secret flowers that nestle against the woodland trees and on the forest floor.
First there is my very favourite wood anemone (or wind flower as they are commonly known) with white flowers and beautifully shaped leaves. Then there is wood sorrel with its clover-shaped leaves and tiny bowing white flowers. The woodruff has yet to flower but whose stems are adorned with the neatest of collars, amongst the remnants of celandine, primrose, herb Robert, red campion and stitchwort. Chiff-chaffs compete for partners and the very lovely marsh tit sits proudly above me. I find a nuthatch’s nest and watch the pair come and go and a tawny owl lurks beyond sight in the canopy. The woodland is alive with song. I make my way up and over the top carefully scouring the ground for one of my springtime favourites, moschatel. Moschatel is a strange tiny flower, difficult to spot at first but which grows in colonies at the base of trees. It has a triangle of three fleshy beautifully formed green flowers arranged like a lighthouse on top of a bright green stalk; easily missed but worth the search.
I cycle home before the next shower happy that I am reacquainted with my flowering friends.