From several feet of of powdery, crisp snow back to a greeny-brown drizzly mush. Returning to the UK from Switzerland last week was a bit of a shock to the system, even if it is quite nice not to have to take half an hour to dress the girls before venturing out the door! Patrolling the damp garden when we finally got home lifted my spirits though. Poking their tender green leaves up beneath the oak tree were the first intrepid spring bulbs, the result of an afternoon’s worth of knee-bruising, finger numbing gardening last autumn with the help of my mini under-gardener. Then, on my way back in, I spotted the first snowdrops of the year waving their innocent, nodding heads in the weak winter sunshine. Instantly it reminded me that Spring is just around the corner and that few places are better than home to experience this most optimistic of seasons.
Now you probably know by now that bluebell season is one of my most treasured times of year and I never miss the opportunity to find a new walk or two to enjoy the ethereal blue haze found in our wild woodlands at that time. Recently though I have come across quite a few recommended places to see snowdrops en masse. I’ve never really experience snowdrops in anything other than eye-pleasing clumps along hedgerows or garden borders before. Curious and inspired by my nodding solitary garden snowdrop, a flyer in the local library and a recent visit by Christine from A Family Day Out to a snowdrop spot not far from us, I got out the OS maps and planned a snowdrop walk at Swyncombe Church, Oxfordshire. Our route had the double advantage of also taking in a decent stretch of the Ridgeway – yet a few more km to knock off our long-distance challenge!
On the well sign-posted approach to Swyncombe we realised plenty of other people had the same ideas as us. Many of the visitors although merely wanted to hop out and take a look at the snowdrops in the churchyard. It was a beautiful sight, albeit a fairly small plot. The fragility and immaculate purity of a snowdrop, combined with its role as the early messenger of Spring and the rebirth it stands for, make this beautiful, humble little flower so strikingly appropriate for a graveyard that now wonder at all other churchyards not being carpeted in them also. It helps that Swyncombe Church is in a wonderfully secluded and beautiful rural spot, with the gravestones that the flowers weave through representing those from times long gone. The church dates back to the 10th century, possibly even earlier.
After a quick peep at the snowdrops we donned our wellies and walking kit and headed out down the track past the Swyncombe Church. A walk seems an apt thing to do here – Swyncombe Church is dedicated to St. Botolph who is a patron saint of wayfarers. We had been deceived by calm and sunny conditions back home, with the weather surprisingly windy and with a keen nip in the air at Swyncombe well before we even climbed up onto the Ridgeway. Without the extra layers we would normally take for windy conditions we decided to cut our original route short and opted instead for the short circular route that seems to be the standard wander for strolling visitors to Swyncombe and takes you back through the Swyncombe Estate. You can find details and a map of the route on the walks page here.
It was still a beautiful walk and if anything, we probably enjoyed better views than from the bit of Ridgeway we had originally intended to extend our route along. We played hide-and-seek behind the huge trees in the estate, trying out our best bird calls to give clues. Roo’s bird noises were pretty good though she gave it away a bit by standing in front of her chosen trees…
I always enjoy a walk through estate parkland too – something about the closely cropped grass and grand trees evokes a happy conflict between my inner five-year-old and inner-thirteen-year-old. The former wants to tear across the the short grass as fast as possible and climb the trees, whilst the latter floats along in a daydream, expecting to bump into Mr. Darcy at any moment. Under the careful chaperoning of my husband, this time round it was the inner-five-year-old who won the battle. I raced with Roo down the final stretch of our walk back towards Swyncombe Church with abandon. I’m not sure that Beth enjoyed the bouncy ride quite so much from her sling, but she got over any grumpiness quickly and babbled noisily at the sheep at the bottom with a big grin spread over her face.
The snowdrop walk at Swyncombe was a lovely wander despite the keen wind. Not only were the snowdrops out but we also spotted the first catkins of the year! This is a seasonal stroll I’m sure we will return to do in future years again and we will be passing by again when we reach that part of the Ridgeway regardless of the time of year, given the fact we failed to cover much of it this time. If you’re local to the area and thinking of visiting then its worth knowing that the snowdrops are late this year and only just coming into their full bloom, so you still have a week or so to catch them at their best. For future years, look out for the cake afternoons at Swyncombe Church on Saturdays during February. We stopped and chatted to one of people involved in organising the Swyncombe snowdrop Saturdays and the prospect of homemade baking after a quick walk made us sorry for the poor timing of our own walk!