Bluebells of Helmeth woods
13:52 20 April 2010
Blue remembered woods
Josephine Mary Burtenshaw recalls a heavenly May-time walk through the bluebells of Shropshire. Pictures by Christopher Burtenshaw
The morning I discovered a little bit of heaven on earth was in early May. I followed the footpaths yellow arrow over a stile and gradually wound my way through the fresh grass ever upward in my hilly ascent towards Helmeth Wood, approximately half a mile east of Church Stretton. Owned by The Woodland Trust, this portion of paradise can be found in the heart of the Shropshire Hills.
Turning away from Helmeth Hill which lay before me, I spied the Burway rising with serpentine grace towards the heathered heights of the Long Mynd as cautious drivers slowly snaked their progress both up and down the narrow route with its few passing places.
Below, the market town of Church Stretton lay ensconced beneath the Victorian, restored tower of St Laurences Church, while further to the right lay the wooded hills, which eventually lead to Little Stretton, a village of delightful character, a happy escape for campers and walkers alike.
To the right of the Burway, the area affectionately known as Little Switzerland extended along the tree lined slopes of Church Stretton, creating a bridge of picturesque houses in assorted colours and shapes, sequestered beneath the Long Mynd where walkers from Cardingmill Valley can cross to Cwm Dale and from there into the attractive village of All Stretton, home to the Batch Valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty and scenic tranquillity. Here the buzzards circle on warm thermals of air calling to one another in high pitched mewls, which belie their body size. Heron are sometimes spotted following the stream in low flight, hungry for small fry.
Once I reached the top of the meadow I paused again to take in the panoramic view, tree trailed, in multifarious colours and shapes as the beauty of these hills is offset by a leafy accolade of shaded greens clouding the lower slopes. For these views alone I would still have been willing to make the climb. However, I anticipated further delights ahead and was eager to press on towards their discovery.
I entered the woods via a second stile to find myself in a different world. Above me the green boughs stretch in newness of leaves, through which the sun dipped long fingers of warm light into a sea of blue flora.
Momentarily, I stood in awe of the natural beauty bursting around me.
I took the right hand track towards Hope Bowdler, (the left hand path leads towards Caer Caradoc) and pursued its twisting turns through a woodland bed of ever deepening blue. The delicate scent of the bluebells suffused the air drawing me deeper into the woods.
The woodland path is narrow, tree-rooted and muddy in places, but lined with the most delicate spread of wild flowers. The yellow archangel appears a worthy specimen in this earthly Elysium, but the bluebells hold pride of place swaying and lilting in the breeze as if dancing to the rhythm of natures song, their intensity covering the woodland floor with vibrant shades and tones as their density thickens into deep blocks of sun-stroked colour.
I walked, happy in solitude, until I reached a farm gate, where, across a meadow and beyond a close-lying track, the rocky outcrops of Hope Bowdler appeared, rising steeply against a cloudless sky. I spent some time here, lulled by natures charms, before turning back into the wood, where I re-joined the trail following its looped formation as it criss-crossed the flowered, woodland floor, which rises and falls at times quite steeply. There are still-higher foot trails to lead unhurried walkers to the summit of Helmeth Hill, where further panoramic views to the east are waiting to be enjoyed.
Before long my happy wandering brought me back once again to the stile bordering both woods and field and marking my return to Church Stretton. With one long, last look behind me, I bade farewell to the bluebells, my climb over, and began making my way back down through the rich grassland, drawn on by the magnificent views before me and accompanied by the song of a skylark high overhead.