Hail Britannia: A Blanket of Bluebells

England is home to some of the oldest wild bluebell woods in the world, and the British get pretty excited about seeing “a blanket of bluebells.” After walking through the woods of Ashridge Estate earlier this May, I see what they mean — it’s a wonderful sight, just a layer of purplish blue spread out as far as you can see, amongst the deadwood of the forest floor and the green trees glowing in the springtime sunlight.

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The English bluebell is very delicate, and if you walk on some, the crumpled leaves can’t rally and photosynthesize anymore, so the flowers die, and it can take years for them to grow back. It’s actually illegal to intentionally disturb or uproot bluebells in the United Kingdom. Since about half the world’s bluebells are found here, you can see why they’re so eager to protect the fragile flower.

The walk from Tring train station to the visitor center at Ashridge Estate isn’t complicated, but it’s also not very well signed, so we took a slight detour down one right-of-way path along a field of something green, rather than following the path along a different field, but that just meant we saw something a little different on our walk back to the train station.

 

The best part about all of this was that we’d been told the bluebells were past their peak and there probably wouldn’t be much to see — even the woman at the visitor center sounded doubtful that the woods were looking so good. All I can say to that is, this has got to be the most beautiful decline I’ve ever seen. The season is short, but if you’re able to get to a British wood in late April/early May, go looking for a blanket of bluebells — it’s worth all the superlatives attached to it.

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Living in London Adventures

Happy spring, dearest fellow travelers. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, here’s to longer days and budding greenery all around. Spring came very early for me this year, because England has a more moderate climate than the American Midwest, so in late February temperatures climbed up, trees started putting out little hopeful leaves, and daffodils cropped up en masse in parks and gardens across London. Of course, the flip side of a temperate climate means that now it’s still about that same temperature instead of getting any warmer, and in a few months I’ll be wondering if summer is a thing that actually happens here. But for now, spring!

I’ll be living in London for at least a year, and I’m going to take advantage of that fact as much as I can. Every month, I’m going to at least two new places in London I’ve never been before. Also, every month I’m going to at least one new place outside of London I’ve never been before. I will also try to get to some other European locations as well.

I’ve been busy with a lot of freelance projects the last few months, which is why the writing part of Stowaway has been so light. But now I’ve finished some of those and hope to get back into the swing of things with writing up my travels. I know I still have a few places from Europe 2013 (!) to cover, and much of South America 2014, and of course what I’ve been up to while in England.

So there’s much to do and time enough to do it in. Please continue to comment, and share on Facebook and Twitter (I’m @LisaStowaway). And if you’re coming through London, let me know–we can meet for a pint or a cup of tea.

Daffodils near my flat in London

Daffodils near my flat in London

Springtime in Shinrin-koen

I had no winter this year, but I still gloried in spring. It’s amazing the psychological effect a fresh breeze and budding flowers can have, even when you aren’t thawing from a long, cold winter. I’d been melting in the tropics, and as gorgeous as the flora and fauna of Southeast Asia were, it was a relief for this Midwesterner to be back in temperate climes just as everything was starting to warm.

Amongst the flowers at the national park in Shinrin-koen

Amongst the flowers at the national park in Shinrin-koen

shinrin-koen park

I went to the national park at Shinrin-koen in the Saitama region, one fine Saturday afternoon. It’s a sprawling park, and every inch of it is carefully manicured. There was no wildness at all there, so it felt more like a garden than what I think of when I think “national park.” It was a garden of wonders, one of the best-planned parks I’ve ever been to.

Hi kiddos!

Hi kiddos!

A walk near the castle ruins

A walk near the castle ruins

shinrin-koen park

Straight off, giant plush mascots greeted families as they entered the park, and posed for photos with children. This set the stage for the rest of the park, which was packed with frolicking kids and relaxed parents. This was a sunny weekend at the beginning of Golden Week, the biggest holiday week in the country, so it was no wonder it was full of families. Still, it was a big enough park that I was able to find my own patch of grass in a quiet corner and read a book for an hour.

Giant trampoline

Giant trampoline

Playing catch with artwork

Playing catch with artwork

I walked on broad, paved paths, while cyclists zipped by on separate paths (brilliant move). You can rent bicycles at several of the entrances to the park, or of course, bring your own. There was a motorized train you could pay to get from one end of the park to the other, since it was so large. Signs were placed throughout the park reminding visitors not to remove plants or animals. Most signs were in both Japanese and English, and I got an English map at the park entrance, which was very helpful. 

A memorial of some sort

I can’t remember what this is a memorial to

The park was made up of lots of different areas–sculpture garden, performance pavilion, cherry tree grove, barbecue grills, giant trampoline, tulip garden, pony rides, lake dotted with water fowl, snack shack, play structure, and a lot of other places I didn’t get to in the three hours I was there. I walked over what a sign said were the ruins of a castle, although by this point they were just indentations in the earth.

shinrin-koen park

The giant trampoline was more like a white dome of soft, bouncy material, and kids from toddler age on up to about ten were having great fun jumping around and sliding down to the ground, then clambering up again. I had my first Japanese soft-serve ice cream, which I found out later was a majorly popular treat throughout the country. Vanilla and rose flavor, delicious.

shinrin-koen park

I posed for photos in front of various trees and flowers, and smiled at all the kids throwing up peace signs in their photos. It was a lovely day for a walk in the park, and if I’m ever in the area again, I’ll go back.

Tiptoeing through the tulips

Tiptoeing through the tulips