Wake Up to Spring – 5 of the UK’s Best Natural Spectacles
Friday March 23, 2018
With the particularly long winter we seem to be having this year, it’s hard to believe that the great British spring is officially upon us. It’s finally time to get out and explore the landscapes and wildlife that are at their best this season. Discover perfect stately gardens blossoming back to life after the winter or get stuck in during a farm’s busiest season. 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.
Getting there: From Oxford or Cambridge train stations, you can jump on a bus to Buckingham town which is 1.5 miles from the gardens. Take a stroll up Stowe Avenue for spectacular views to arrive at The New Inn visitor centre.
Be Farmer for a day at Dartington Estate, Devon
Spring is the busiest season on a farm, and the most magical. With the arrival of warmer weather, blooming flowers and bright blue skies, comes the birth of many baby animals.
What better way to experience spring time and all the life it brings, than by playing farmer for the day?
At Dartington Estate in South East Devon, you can spend the day with farmers Jon and Lynne Perkin, running the goat and Jersey dairy herds at Dartington Dairy.
Rise bright and early to start at 6.30am, ready for the first milking session of the day. Then it’s feeding, watering and bedding up the animals. As it’s spring time, there will be kids, lambs and calves, as well as cows, goats and sheep – cute!
The life of a farmer is an unpredictable one – you could find yourself up to your elbows delivering new arrivals, bottle feeding a newborn lamb, vaccinating animals, helping to move herds or getting involved in land management! You will have lots of opportunities to try your hand at milking in the parlour and grooming the cows.
Whatever you end up doing on the farm, the fresh country air, active lifestyle and squelching wellies are sure to keep you enthralled.
Top Tip: Whilst visiting the estate, don’t miss out on what else Dartington has to offer. The blooming flowers and bunny rabbits aren’t the only things to admire; Dartington Gardens boasts a host of features to explore, from a Henry Moore sculpture to a yew tree at least 1,500 years old. The Deer Park and Barn Cinema are also worth a trip.
Getting there: Dartington is approximately 1.5 miles from Totnes Station and takes about half an hour on foot. There is a footpath to Dartington directly from the station which travels alongside the River Dart for ¾ mile and meets with the Dartington drive. There is a taxi rank and bus stop (no.165) at Totnes Station, should you prefer.
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.
Getting there: Once arriving at Cambridge train station, you should walk to the Botanical Gardens just 5 minutes away. From here, you can jump on the number 31 bus and ask the driver to let you off at the Dunsbridge Turnpike (outside Country Homes & Gardens). This is the closest bus stop to the reserve; a pleasant 1 mile walk away.
Spring Walk to St Catherine’s Hill, Winchester
Pretty meadows, limestone hills and lambs skipping across the countryside are just some of the highlights of this five-mile spring walk from the historic cathedral city of Winchester.
Winchester’s multi-layered history stretches back to the Iron Age when the Belgae tribe built a fort on what is now St Catherine’s Hill overlooking the Itchen Valley.
Your walk will begin outside the west door of the cathedral, before passing through the tranquil water meadows and along the River Itchen. The route then climbs St Catherine’s Hill, a 58-hectare flower-rich chalk grassland with an abundance of wild spring flowers and butterflies. Your climb will be rewarded with stunning views across the city, the Itchen Valley and surrounding countryside.
As well as beautiful countryside, you will be able to see many ancient monuments. Look out for the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort cut into the 70m high mound and buried ruins of the Norman chapel that gives the site its name.
There are over 25 different butterfly species that breed on the site, so take the time to watch them flutter around you.
Top Tip: Shetland sheep eat the grass all year round and keeping it short prevents the flowers being shaded by taller grasses. See if you can spot the sheep browsing the hawthorn and bramble, reducing their spread over the open down!
Getting there: Hop on a train to Winchester and the route begins from the west door of Winchester Cathedral, just 10 minutes away from Winchester Station.
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 seeds at the estate.
Getting there: Hop on the train to York and it’s a 4-minute walk to the bus stop on Station Avenue, where you can take the 181 bus directly to Castle Howard. Show your bus ticket for discounted entry!
With so many beautiful locations to explore this spring, it’s the perfect time to start planning your journey. Discover our Advance tickets and get up to 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 4872 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, and Daffodils at Castle Howard by Andrew Stawarz under Creative Commons Attribution -No Derivs 2.0 Generic.Find train tickets