It being a bank holiday yesterday I fancied a bit of bluebelling. I've seen a fair few this year beside roads, in the odd corner of the Olympic Park and scattered across Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. But what I'd thus far missed was a proper carpet of blue, the kind of thing I'd normally head to the North Downs or the Chilterns for, or perhaps make do with Highgate or Bexley. So I walked to Wanstead and that did me just fine.
Wanstead Park is always a delight, blessed with a leftover landscape from a Georgian mansion and carefully tended by the City of London. But it's particularly delightful at this time of year so long as you leave the lakeside, step off the grass and walk into the woodland.
The place to be is Chalet Wood, a leafy triangle to the north of The Temple. You could easily miss it if you didn't know it contained a springtime treasure, but the steady flow of people ought to be a hint that something special lies within. I made sure I got there early before the throng of bank holiday bluebellers descended.
The clearing was larger than I was expecting although still with very tightly defined horizons. A five-minutes-to-walk-around floral showpiece, although with dawdling to admire the spectacle expect to take rather longer. And with a proper shimmer of blue from proper bluebells, that's Hyacinthoides non-scripta, it delivers the full-on carpet experience.
Originally it was good enough to look at them, or maybe point your lens across the clearing for a dazzling shot. Now the key thing is to take a selfie with the bluebells in the background or plonk your family in front and upload the best image. Prepare to wait your turn.
The springtime onslaught used to result in thoughtless trampling, so for protection's sake the park wardens have laid down logs to define the edges of paths. Nothing's really stopping anyone stepping over, but they seem to do the trick. So too do signs pinned up advising folk not to walk on the bluebells, and allegedly the one-way arrows help too.
I found myself in the middle of the wood before I found my first arrow, having walked what turned out to be the wrong way down a narrow path. A nearby mother promptly turned to her two toddlers and read out the notice ("Please follow the one way arrows so that everyone can enjoy the bluebells safely"). Initially I thought she was educating them, but I swiftly deduced she was passive-aggressively lambasting me.
It was lovely to be amidst the spectacle, indeed I was chuffed just to be walking through woodland again because there's precious little of that near me. And then I headed off north towards Warren Road past an increasing stream of people walking the other way. They clutched children and cups, they chatted to friends and partners, and they converged inexorably on the springtime delights in the shadowy clearing. If you can't get your bluebell fix in the countryside this year, there's always Chalet Wood.