Springtime Bluebells in Ilkley

An April Bluebell

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.

River Wharfe Ilkley April 2021 by Helen Sant

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.

Trees reflected in the Wharfe Helen Sant

Continuing along Middleton Avenue, pass the cricket club on your right and several suburban streets on your left, until you reach Curly Hill. Turning right there, eventually brings 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!

Postage stamp from 1979 Royal Mail

Bluebells have always fascinated me. As a child I remember a series of stamps featuring British wildflowers, the bluebell being one of them.

As you might 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.

Flower Fairies by Graham Smith
Helen in Middleton Woods May 2016
Middleton Woods April 2021

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.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells

In every little flower,

Each one its own sweet feeling breathes

With more or less of power.

There is a silent eloquence

In every wild bluebell

That fills my softened heart with bliss

That words could never tell.

Anne Bronte The Bluebell
Selene and Endymion by artist Ubaldo Gandolfi 1770

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.

Extract from Kate Greenaway’s Language of Flowers, 1884

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!

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