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Best places to enjoy bluebells in the National Forest area

Updated: May 23, 2020

By Sue Jerham

Bluebells at Moira Furnace in the National Forest
Enjoying the bluebells at Moira Furnace in the National Forest

There's something magical about discovering a woodland floor, carpeted in a sea of bluebells. The bluebell is a sign that spring has definitely arrived in the English countryside. The National Forest is coming alive and summer is just around the corner.

We love cycling or walking through peaceful woodland, enjoying the magnificent blue drifts of bluebells, accompanied by melodic birdsong.

Here are our favourite places to enjoy bluebells in and around the National Forest.

National Trust owned Calke Abbey is found in Ticknall, Derbyshire. With miles of woodland tracks twisting through the ancient woodland to explore, it's glorious in every season. It's easy to escape the crowds and find your own peaceful corner of ancient woodland to enjoy, both on foot or cycling.

Once you've soaked up the peace of the woodland, head towards the new Explore Calke cafe, set by a small pond, in the woodland. The winding bench is a great place to enjoy a cuppa, before continuing with your day. The courtyard cafe, close to the House at Calke is a delightful sun trap and offers an excellent choice of meals and cakes.

Although the bluebell woods at Moira Furnace are not as extensive as others, it more than earns its place in a list of best places to see bluebells in the National Forest. Park or leave your bike in the car park and enter the woodlands by the gate to the right of the road into the carpark. You'll see bluebells almost immediately, together with a collection of woodland sculptures. There are many different trails to follow from the furnace, either by bike or walking. We especially enjoy cycling the Conkers circuit, which links some of the heart of the Forest attractions, via woodland and waterside tracks.

Feeling hungry or thirsty? Hub Cafe is in the courtyard at the Furnace. It's a real sun trap on a sunny day. Alternatively, a short walk or cycle will bring you to Lakeside Bistro, which bustles with visitors throughout the day. If you're very lucky, you'll get a table outside overlooking the lake. Another favourite is to walk or cycle along the old railway line to the National Forest YHA, where you can also enjoy a delicious coffee and cake.

We love cycling or walking through peaceful woodland, enjoying the magnificent blue drifts of bluebells, accompanied by birdsong.

The woodland at Jackson's Bank, near Yoxall forms part of the Duchy of Lancaster's Needwood Estate. A site of special scientific interest, much of the woodland was replanted after the Second World War. In addition to a fine display of bluebells, wild garlic is plentiful in the Jackson's Bank woodland.

The entrance to the woodland is home to one of the 6 Noon Columns, found in the National Forest. Designed by renowned sculptor David Nash, the 3 metre tall columns are carved from oak and represent the different landscapes found within the National Forest. Each column has a small slit, through which a beam of sunlight shines at true noon every day.

The Meynell Ingram Arms in nearby Hoar Cross is the perfect place for lunch, after exploring Jackson's Bank.

Situated on the edge of Whitwick, near Coalville, this beautiful historic woodland is cared for by a community enterprise. The circular Ivanhoe Way long distance walking route crosses through the woodland, together with a network of permissible paths. Spring is an especially wonderful time in this peaceful woodland, with bluebells interlaced with stitchwort, creating a fabulous display. Future plans for Holly Hayes woodland include the restoration of an organic community garden, as well as the introduction of a variety of forest experiences. Keep an eye out for expert woodsman, Tony, when walking through Holly Hayes. Tony is the latest in a long line of woodsmen, who have been caring for local woods for over 200 years. St Joseph's Tearooms is a short distance from Holly Hayes and is situated next to Mount St Bernard Abbey. The Tynt Meadow beer, produced by the monks of Mount St. Bernard Abbey is the only trappist beer produced in the UK.

Part of the Bradgate Estate, this mature woodland comes alive in Spring. Situated to the North of Bradgate Park, the woodland includes both walking and cycling trails. At the heart of the wood is a large disused slate quarry, with aquamarine water and a sense of a forgotten world. A delight in every season, the bluebells make the woodland even more special. A special bluebell church service is held in Swithland Wood every year, to celebrate the arrival of spring. We especially enjoy combining Swithland Wood with a walk or cycle through the magnificent 850 acre Bradgate Park and a well earned lunch in the village of Newtown Linford.

South of Loughborough, you will find the wonderful ancient Outwoods, one of the oldest woodlands in the Charnwood area of Leicestershire. The 110 acres are crisscrossed with paths and the site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of the flora and fauna found here.

Visit towards the end of the bluebell season and you can enjoy the popular sculpture trail that winds through the woods. Works are created by a variety of artists and range in size and materials. Highlights in previous years have included leaping horses, forest gatekeepers, felt flowers, tiny tree people and giant spiders' webs. A new cafe will be available at the site soon.

Located just outside Ashby de la Zouch and cared for by the Woodland Trust, this lovely wood is a fabulous place for a short walk. Much of the area was once a mine and the woodland is a fabulous example of regeneration of the countryside. Some of the first trees of the National Forest were planted here nearly 30 years ago. For those arriving by car, there is a small car park on the road between Ashby and Donisthorpe, signposted Oakthorpe Colliery Picnic Site. Well marked paths take you from the car park into the woodland and around a lake. In addition to drifts of bluebells, the area is always full of spring colour, with a wide range of wildflowers.

Feeling thirsty after your walk? To the left of the entrance into the car park, on the opposite side of the road, you will see a gate and signpost for Hicks Lodge. A 15 minute walk, or 5 minute cycle, will bring you to the visitor centre, which is the perfect place to sit and enjoy a cuppa outside.

Grace Dieu woods are found north of Ashby de la Zouch, on the road to Loughborough. Sustrans cycling route 52 runs through the woods, making it a perfect place to enjoy the bluebell display on a cycle ride. At the edge of Grace Dieu woods are the ruins of a 13th century Augustinian nunnery, which visitors are free to expore. The Bull's Head pub is found at the entrance to the woods. Alternatively, we can recommend the fish and chips at the award winning Ruby's fish and chip shop.

Hyacinthoides non-scripta – The native Bluebell

It's estimated that half the world's bluebells are found in UK woodland. The native bluebell can be identified by it's habit to droop to one side and white pollen. It also has a light scent. The upright growing Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) was introduced to the UK in Victorian times. In some areas today, these have become established in woodland and cross bread with native bluebells.

We offer a wide range of gentle electric bike holidays in the UK's National Forest, with lots to see and do along the way. Discover the hidden treasures of the National Forest for yourself!


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