With the great British spring officially upon us, it’s time to get out and explore the landscapes and wildlife that are at their best this season. Whether you’re looking for the perfect stately gardens blossoming back to life after the winter, or you’re keen to coo over doe-eyed baby seals, here’s a roundup of the best of spring’s bounty and where you can see it.
Georgian Spring Gardens at Stowe, Buckinghamshire
The National Trust calls it Europe’s finest landscaped garden and Stowe certainly puts on a special display for springtime. From cheerful daffodils and crocuses to the gorgeous graphic prints of imperial fritillaries, every path at Stowe reveals stunning spring flowers.
There are 250 acres of Georgian-style gardens to explore, along with beautiful Greek-inspired temples and monuments dotted across the estate. Created by 18th century aristocrat Lord Cobham, and in part designed by Capability Brown, the gardens are a botanical interpretation of Lord Cobham’s views on morality and politics. So, don’t be surprised if you find yourself walking down garden paths named after vice, virtue and liberty, each with temples and monuments representing these themes.
Top Tip: Don’t miss the Grecian Valley for a nice circular walk that affords the best views of seasonal flowers. There are also pre-booked golf carts available for if you don’t fancy walking the entire distance.
Seal Pups at the Cornish Seal Sanctuary
Spring brings the arrival of grey seal pups along the Cornish coast. While you can see them in the wild from headlands such as Godrevy Point, there are many more to be found in the Cornish seal sanctuary in Gweek.
These cuddlesome pinnipeds often have a rough start to life when they get separated from their mothers during storms and rough seas. This is when the dedicated team at the sanctuary steps in and rescues distressed pups, aiming to rehabilitate them at the centre in Gweek before returning them to the wild whenever possible.
You’ll see how the pups are treated for injuries at the state-of-the-art seal hospital, rehabilitated, and where possible, released back into the wild. Spend an hour or two in the company of residents Badger, Flipper, Snoopy and Willow and you’ll come away with a renewed appreciation for the hard work of the staff and a lifelong love for these marine mammals.
Top Tip: Time your visit to coincide with feeding time to watch the seals at their active and noisy best when they jostle for fish.
Spring Walk from Ilam Park to Dovedale, Peak District
Limestone hills, fresh green fields and lambs skipping across the countryside are just some of the highlights of this two-and-a-half-mile spring walk from Ilam Park to Dovedale National Nature Reserve. Start at the stately Ilam Hall and make your way through Ilam village and the neighbouring fields to discover a breath-taking view of the Manifold Valley. It’s the perfect place to spot spring lambs and take in the views of the daffodils at the base of the magnificent Thorpe Cloud hill.
You can then follow the path alongside the River Dove, while looking out for its exciting birdlife, and finally culminate at the famed Skipping Stones. This mini-bridge has been attracting visitors since Victorian times and connects Derbyshire with Staffordshire. You can also spot fossils embedded in some of the stones.
Top tip – Don’t miss Paradise Walk within Ilam Park - a lovely walkway lined with lime trees and woodlands.
Birdwatching at RSPB Fowlmere, Cambridgeshire
Watch this wonderful wetland come alive in spring with the arrival of willow warblers, little grebes and turtle doves. A network of fresh chalk springs runs through Fowlmere – they were historically used to farm watercress - and the surrounding landscape of reed beds forms a perfect home for marsh harriers, kingfishers and greylag geese. The clear chalk streams are also a great place to spot trout and crayfish.
The entire reserve can be covered in a circular walk of about 3 km. Families with buggies will find the boardwalks and bridges handy and the helpful local volunteers are full of information about the resident wildlife to keep youngsters entertained.
Top tip: Be sure to visit at least one of the three hides and you may just be lucky enough to get up close to kingfishers and barn owls.
Spring Blooms at Castle Howard, North Yorkshire
The 18th century historical house and estate at Castle Howard is a stunning setting for the emergence of the first spring blossoms. Watch the delicate pink-white cherry and crab apple blooms start to unfurl as spring arrives in this picturesque 1000-acre landscape.
Explore the vast woodland and take in the sights of the surrounding Howardian Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the North Yorkshire countryside. The estate’s daffodils are also not to be missed around Easter time, and the walled kitchen garden is home to primulas and snowdrops that are at their best at this time of year.
And if all this wasn’t enough, there’s also the 120-acre Yorkshire Arboretum on the Castle Howard Estate. Here you’ll find 6,000 trees from every temperate corner of the globe. Highlights in spring include the fluffy white flowers of the Chinese Mountain Ash, the original seed of which was collected on a plant-hunting expedition to a remote mountain in China.
Top tip: Grow your own plant or tree by getting a sapling from the Castle Howard tree nursery or garden centre, where they sell a range of varieties all grown from seed at the estate.
With so many beautiful locations to explore this spring, it’s the perfect time to start planning your journey. Discover our advanced tickets and get 70%* off your next train journey.
*Applies to CrossCountry journeys only. Average saving calculated by comparing Advance standard single ticket prices, purchased before the day of travel, for 4,858 CrossCountry journeys to the equivalent price of an Anytime standard single ticket. Advance fares are subject to availability, terms and conditions apply. Please see website for full details.
Image credits: Spring gardens at Stowe by Martin Pettitt, Ilam Park Gardens in Spring by Michael Button under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License . Seal at Cornish seal sanctuary by Stuart Richards and Daffodils at Castle Howard by Andrew Stawarz under Creative Commons Attribution -No Derivs 2.0 Generic.