Woodlands occupy a special place in the hearts of many; they seem to make a direct connection with our emotions, without going through our centers of higher reasoning, almost! It is difficult not to be moved by the crunch of leaf litter and dry twigs as you tread slowly through them, or the brave chittering of a wren as you enter THEIR territory along with the slow, steady humming of bees at the height of summer. Woods are also at the very core of great literature, too - the name Mirkwood is used to refer to two areas in the books of J.R.R. Tolkein; the Great Wood - 'Puck of Pook's Hill' by Rudyard Kipling; Sherwood Forest - 'Ivanhoe' by Sir Walter Scott; and my childhood favourite, the Wild Wood - 'Wind in the Willows' by another famous Scot, Kenneth Grahame.
Woods have the power to soothe and heal, which is why I seek them out as often as I can. It is fortunate that there are plenty of others with the same thoughts as I, and there are many charitable bodies around the world dedicated the survival of woodlands. In the U.K., I particularly admire the work of the Woodland Trust.
This area of woodland is near the city of Durham (and near part of my family), in the north of England, and consists of mixed deciduous species, with the European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) predominating.
The ground cover is fairly diverse, but in spring - before the woodland canopy closes - it is carpeted with Common Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). Although the Common Bluebell was, well, common when I was young (half the Bluebell woods in the world are in Britain), the status of this bulbous plant has changed somewhat. Their beautiful inflourescences still indicate an area of 'ancient woodland' (before 1600 in England & Wales, or 1750 in Scotland), but hybridisation with the introduced Spanish Bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) has meant that this stronger hybrid strain (H. massartinia) has taken over in some locations. Since the Spanish species produces less scent, you lose the heady perfume of a typical bluebell wood in full bloom. In order to protect this quintessentially British landscape, it has been necessary to enact legislation, and since 1981, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (and a further prohibition to trade in bulbs and plants enacted in 1998) it is offence to remove these lovely flowers from their native habitat; the fine for taking these plants can reach up to £5000 for EACH bulb!
Rather strangely, bluebells don’t have to be blue. There is a very attractive, naturally occuring, white varient and these ‘whitebells’ can be seen mixed in amongst the drifts of flowers in many bluebell woods.
One further point, when I was young, my Mother decided that rather than spend so much time wandering around the woods which surrounded our village, I should learn to play the piano. One of the first melodies I tentatively picked out was, 'The Bluebells of Scotland' ('He dwells in merry Scotland where the blue bells sweetly smell...'). I remember that I complained to my Mother that the artist had painted the bluebells on the sheet music all wrong - they just weren't that shape or size. She explained that these were what we called Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), and that those flowers were called Bluebells in Scotland!
Despite the fact that many of the Victorian Romantic poets, such as Keats, had the opinion that the Bluebell symbolised loneliness and regret, they manage to lift my mood. Whenever you can, visit the woods; they will heal you more than you can know...