Bluebells, 1

I believe the Japanese have a custom of viewing the cherry blossom when it is at the peak of perfection. There are two roughly equivalent English customs (at least among those who like walking in the country): looking at autumn leaves, and looking at bluebells in the spring. Autumn leaves are a bit different, since different kinds of tree reach their best at different times of year; but bluebells are only at their best for a short time, and it is about now, so if you want to see them, go this weekend.

I spent the bank holiday walking, and went to my favourite bluebell wood. I had expected that the best would be past, since already in March before I went to Lisbon the bluebells were beginning to flower. But the miserable weather we have had since then obviously held them back, so that they were not yet completely out. With slightly warmer and sunnier weather expected this coming weekend, that looks like being the best time.


Last year, we had hot weather in April, and the bluebells were earlier than usual; then the summer was dismal until the hot weather returned in late September. It seems that a hot March does not have the same effect on the bluebells as a hot April.

I have a standard “bluebell walk”. It starts at Cholsey and follows the Thames Path almost to Wallingford, where it crosses the river on the road bridge and then heads up Grim’s Ditch, an ancient earthwork (probably a boundary marker between early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms) to Nuffield. There are some fine bluebells on this stretch, especially in the woods at the bottom. The top of Grim’s Ditch is a good picnic spot if the weather is nice; otherwise it is a short distance across the golf course to the Crown, which does good food. From there I walk to Goring (the next station to Cholsey), passing both my favourite bluebell wood and my favourite Chilterns restaurant.

But for a change I decided to start at Goring and, instead of going down Grim’s Ditch, to carry on to Princes Risborough and come back on a different railway line. (One of the pleasures of living in London is that you are not restricted to circular walks.) In fact, the weather was cold and wet, so I decided that instead of taking minor footpaths in the Chilterns I would take the Ridgeway Path, which for most of this stretch goes straight along the bottom of the escarpment. This was a mistake: the path was mostly a thin layer of mud over slippery wet chalk where my boots could get no traction, punctuated by huge pools of sticky clayey mud. It was a very exhausting walk, and nothing special regarding scenery either (apart from one thing: a group of six or more red kites gliding or hovering gracefully over a hedge, with a flock of distraught crows beneath).

I am not going to tell you where my favourite bluebell wood is. I’ve given some clues already, and here is another one. I have taken the six-digit grid reference for the wood, converted it into 8 digits in base 6, and encrypted it with a one-time pad. The random key I chose was 04420320, and the ciphertext was 02535450. So you should easily be able to figure out the plaintext. Oh, but I haven’t told you which Latin square I used as the substitution table to do the encryption! I produced it by a random walk method due to Jacobson and Mathews, run for 10000 steps starting with the cyclic Latin square.

If anyone is interested, I may write a short exposition about this sometime.

About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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3 Responses to Bluebells, 1

  1. Adam Bohn says:

    Best place I have found for blubells in SE London (and in fact one of my favourite parks overall) is Beckenham Place Park. Living south of the river I don’t have to worry to much about giving my secret away, as it would take more than bluebells to get most “northeners” down here!

    Best weather for bluebells: warm sunny early spring before they’ve bloomed, and cool wet later spring – this gives them a boost while theyre growing, but later keeps the flowers from wilting early. Which means this year has been perfect! At least all these clouds have one small silver lining…

    • When the East London line reopened, there was a survey which concluded something like “50% of people north of the river never travel south of the river for business, 25% never travel there for pleasure, therefore 75% never go there at all”. I forget the details, it was actually even worse than that, but I can’t find the report now. (I think Diamond Geezer covered it.)

      But the East London line gets me very quickly to Crystal Palace or Penge West, on the Capital Ring, or Docklands gets me to Woolwich; from walking these paths I could get the impression that south London was mostly parks!

      • Adam Bohn says:

        hmmm…sounds likely (although I think even an “Introduction to Statistics” student might have some issues with the logical conclusion!).

        But yes, one of the few merits of South London is the abundance of parks. At the risk of making a lot of enemies, the rest of it seems to consist of some grim town centres (eg. Peckham, Lewisham), a couple of rather snobby middle-class bubbles (Dulwich, Blackheath), and otherwise fairly featureless suburbia!

        So no, not much reason to travel here unless you like walking and wildlife. There are some lovely parks along the “Green Chain” though, see here:

        I especially recommend Oxleas Meadow/Wood and Elmstead Wood – havens of old woodland in the middle of the city; quite unlike the mainly-manicured parks North of the river.

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