Frequently my mind needs a disciplined trudge along centuries-old byways, with a feeling of connection to those who have trodden the path before me and a satisfaction at ticking off the miles. Oftentimes, however, my soul needs a wander.
I usually visit the bluebell woods at Flitwick each Spring. This year I took a short drive out to Landpark Wood near Whipsnade. There was a sharp bite to the air as I crossed the picnic area at Whipsnade Heath and entered the wood. The night before had been unexpectedly cold. Frost had formed on the inside of my greenhouse and I was grateful that I appeared to have not lost any of the tender young bedding plants I had been nurturing for months. My ungloved fingers struggled to hold the camera to capture memories of the sight which awaited me.
I had determined to have no route planned, no ETA, no mileage to check and no plan of action – just to wander. Despite the cold, Spring had progressed well and I was cossetted under a canopy of hornbeam, ash and oak leaves. As I moved along bright showy gorse gave way to the muted yellow of the non-stinging Archangel and I felt more and more enveloped by the peace of the wood.
I could hear a woodpecker nearby drumming on one of the many tree trunks.
The loud repeating tune of a song thrush could also be picked out amongst other melodies I am not able to recognise. Not for the first time, I reminded myself to spend some time learning to identify birds and their songs.
Last Autumn’s leafmould was still decaying underfoot and the scent started to become warm and earthy as the sun finally appeared through gaps in the awning provided by the trees.
Aimlessly meandering in slow time I turned a corner to be greeted by a hazy carpet of shimmering sapphire bells.
Creation at its best. The dewy fleshiness of scent as the sun now warmed the earth was reflected in the fullsomeness of the petals. The bell heads looking almost too heavy to be supported by the green pencil-thin stalks. I sat on a nearby log for I know not how long and examined just one of the beauties closely. The bonnet-like head flared out and faint striations of Queen Mum lilac through to Everton blue culminated in an almost translucent shimmer where the light caught the rag curls. Those little turned up edges reminded me of rolled up chocolate decorations. The stamens being the clapper on the bell.
When my Grandmother passed away many years ago, my Grandad broke down at her funeral and cried out “Goodbye Bluebell, Goodbye Bluebell”. A stubborn, irascible, generous man – he must have loved her very much. The flower is said by some to symbolise everlasting love. I chose to believe that.
There is such a calmness in wandering, going wherever I am taken. The power of the majestic trees, the promise of the unfurling fronds of ferns and my ever-constant appreciation of nature’s art combined again to renew my spirit’s strength and joy.
“The road less travelled” by Robert Frost is one of my favourite poems and always reminds me of the difference between wandering and making a choice. I discuss this at length in my forthcoming book on my Gratitude pilgrimage but today I thought again how the act of choosing which path to take on so many occasions in our lives makes such a difference to our journey. Or does it? I believe that I am held and that I am now guided but I also believe that I have free choice. I have the opportunity to follow set paths and disciplines but also the chance to spend time exploring things in my own way from time to time, knowing that I have a firm base to return to.
I left the nostalgic exquisiteness of the bluebells which had been almost too much to bear and had an easy journey home.
Landpark Wood can be found midway between Kensworth and Whipsnade Beds. OS Explorer Map 182. Reference TL 016184
I have posted about my local walks in Beds, Herts and Bucks (including the Herts Way) and my adventures along National Trails, including the Ridgeway and the Pilgrims’ Way and wanderings in Wessex: Please add your e mail address in the box at the foot of the page to subscribe to my blog and also receive details of my forthcoming book “The Woman Who Walked through Fear” about The Pilgrims’ Way.