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.
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 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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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
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.