Bluebells at Blackbury Camp

The bluebells at Blackbury Camp is probably one of the worst kept secrets among locals in East Devon. Seeing the Iron Age hill fort carpeted in bluebells has become an annual springtime pilgrimage for many. I have returned every year since I first discovered it in 2013.

The bluebells at Blackbury Camp on the last day of April
The bluebells at Blackbury Camp in the early morning sunlight

This year I had perfect timing. I got to see the bluebells at Blackbury Camp on the last day of April – the last sunny day for quite a while, according to the forecast!

Bluebells in front of the old trees at Blackbury Camp
Bluebell woods are magic

Bluebells and fairies

What is is about bluebells that make them seem so quintessentially English yet completely magical at the same time? I have always loved the fragile charm of these flowers, hence my excitement when I spotted bluebells on the side of Colmers Hill. Bluebells tend to grow in ancient, undisturbed woodland, and are frequently associated with fairies. In fact, the numerous common names for bluebells include fairy bells, fairy flowers and fairy thimbles.

You can totally imagine fairies living among the bluebells at Blackbury Camp
Fairies live here. Probably.

According to tradition, when a bluebells bell rings, it calls the fairies to a gathering. However, if a human hears the bell, they will be visited by a malevolent fairy and die soon after. And whatever you do, NEVER pick a bluebell! Not only are they protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which means it is illegal, but you also risk being pixie-led! There is an easy solution to such mischief, though: just turn your coat inside out. Simples!

The bluebells at Blackbury Camp surrounded by old tress with long branches
Bluebells thrive in undisturbed woodland

Those who wander into a ring of bluebells are likely fall under a fairy enchantment, which is fair enough. Bluebells can take years to recover from being trampled on. It takes a bluebell seed at least five years to develop into a bulb. A good bluebell wood can take almost a century to develop. No wonder the fairies are so fiercely protective of these places!

Bluebells and other wildflowers growing inside the Blackbury Camp hill fort
Don’t even *think* of walking on the bluebells.

Bluebell woods just feel sacred somehow. I didn’t hear any bluebells ring (phew!), but the birdsong was amazing! Also, I came upon two roe deer grazing among the bluebells at Blackbury Camp when I visited the site earlier in April. I wasn’t quite ready with my camera, so the photo below is quite blurry. It was a truly magical moment, though.

A roe deer in the middle of the bluebells at Blackbury Camp
A furry, blurry, magical memory
Sunlight making the trees cast long shadows on the bluebells at Blackbury Camp
The play of light and shadow on the bluebells is so beautiful

Bluebells and the Brontë sisters

In the language of flowers, the bluebell is a symbol of humility, constancy, gratitude and everlasting love. Naturally, this has inspired many authors and poets to write about bluebells. In my humble opinion, the Brontë sisters Anne and Emily did it best.

The bluebells at Blackbury Camp Iron Age hill fort
Dappled sunlight shining on the bluebells at Blackbury Camp

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
~ Anne Brontë

The Bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air:
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
~ Emily Brontë

Bluebells carpeting the ground inside Blackbury Camp hill fort
There is a carpet of bluebells at Blackbury Camp
A sea of bluebells inside the hill fort at Blackbury Camp
Or is it a sea of bluebells?

The history of Blackbury Camp

Blackbury Camp is an Iron Age hill fort. It was built during the 4th century BC, and it is believed that the Iron Age tribe that built it continued to use it for hundreds of years. There are many Iron Age hill forts in this region, but Blackbury Camp is unique because of the triangular earthworks in front of the entrance. They are still clearly visible. Blackberry Castle, as it seems to have been called in the 1950s, was excavated in 1954-55, and the finds included the remains of a hut, a cooking pit, an oven, potsherds and more than a thousand sling-stones. You can read more about the history of Blackbury Camp on the English Heritage website.

The bluebells at Blackbury Castle cover both sides of the path to the ancient main entrance
The path to the main entrance with the triangular earthworks either side
The triangular earthworks forming the barbican at Blackbury Camp
The triangular ramparts or barbican at the ancient entrance to the hill fort
Primroses and bluebells at Blackbury Camp
Primroses and bluebells growing on the outside of the ramparts to the right of the entrance
Bluebells covering the ramparts of the hill fort
The bluebells cover the ramparts as well as the ground inside the hill fort
The bluebells at Blackbury Camp
Inside the hill fort
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