Middleton Woods in Ilkley is well-known at this time of year (as I write it is April 2021) for its bluebells.
The English bluebell is a common sight in Springtime gardens, parks and woodlands. Its Latin name Hyacinthoides non-scripta indicates a relationship to the hyacinth. There are also Spanish and Italian varities of bluebell which have been introduced to British soil.
Flowering from April to May the bell-shaped flowers give off a subtle but sweet scent. As a perennial plant, they bloom every year, but are easily damaged by human feet or hungry deer. They flourish in damp conditions away from strong sunlight. so the woods suit them well. The presence of bluebells, denotes ancient woodland which means the trees have grown there for 600 years or more.
Past the centre of town, after turning right on leaving the train station, you walk down Brook Street, cross over at traffic lights and you head straight down Middleton Avenue – it is a fairly long walk if you are onfoot – but you are rewarded by views of the beautiful river Wharfe en route.
Continuing along Middleton Avenue, you pass the cricket club on your right and several suburban streets on your left until you reach Curly Hill. Turning right there will eventually bring you to the woods. There are better, more scenic routes to take if you want to walk by the river but I opted for the straightest route there!
Bluebells have always fascinated me. As a child I remember there was a series of stamps featuring British wildflowers and the bluebell was part of the ensemble.
As you would expect, there is a certain amount of mythology associated with bluebells. It is said that the flowers ring just like bells when the fairies are summoning their own kind to attend gatherings. If a human hears the ringing, it is a portent of death! Bluebells have thus acquired quaint nicknames such as fairy flowers and witches’ thimbles.
In previous years I visited Ilkley’s Middleton woods in May and always felt they were getting past their best, however there were large patches of them in evidence. By contrast, my visti this time, was a little too early. Some sources say bluebells flower from April 23rd onwards (St. George’s Day!)
Compare the photo from my visit in 2016 with my recent visit..you can see that the carpets of bluebells, the woods are renowned for, have yet to come into their own.
The bluebell’s Latin name used to be “endymion non-scriptus”, due to a Greek myth featuring a shepherd called Endymion who Moon goddess Selene fell in love with. Due to his mortality, Selene took the odd decision to send him into a deep sleep so that his youth and beauty would be preserved forever..though that wouldn’t be much of a relationship would it? I suppose there are some people who would be happy if their other half was permanently asleep.
Anyhow, accounts differ as to whether this Greek myth ever had to do with the bluebell, but some regard the story as all about love and constancy and this is what the humble bluebell represents.
The Victorians certainly believed so. They were into the meanings and symbolism of flowers. To them the bluebell represented everlasting love and according to some sources, humility, due to the flower’s bowed head!