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.