Snowdrops opening their dainty white and green faces in the cold days of January are for many of us something of a miracle. How could anything so fragile push its way through frozen ground and survive our wet, cold winters? But they do, and not only survive. Given half a chance they multiply and flourish, bringing the promise that spring is not so far away.
Hodsock Priory at Blyth, near Worksop in Nottinghamshire is noted for its snowdrops – thousands of them - 12 acres of snowdrop-covered woodland to be precise, plus those that have found their way into the five acres of formal gardens. Imagine how beautiful those delicate white flowers look beneath the bare trees on a crisp, sunny winter day.
We were meant to visit in February 2013. Plans had been made and our accommodation booked in Hodsock’s Courtyard rooms. But, adverse weather conditions changed our plans. The five-hour drive on treacherous roads lost its appeal. We cancelled and asked if we could postpone till later in the year.
And then those lovely people at Hodsock (and they are lovely people) had an idea. ‘Why not’, they said, ‘come in May and see our bluebell carpet’?
So we exchanged February for May; and white for blue.
We had been disappointed at not seeing the snowdrops but the memory of those acres of drifts of bluebells beneath trees just coming into leaf lingers on. It was heavenly, especially when the sun broke through, turning the woodland into a living, shimmering blue and green tapestry.
It is pretty woodland walk too, with sweeping paths and some conveniently placed seats for anybody who wants to sit and linger awhile and drink in the picture.
Having taken our fill of bluebells we walked back through Hodsock’s formal garden, already in preparation for its full summer glory. We popped our heads into the house to admire the rooms where weddings and other events are held; and then strolled back to our very comfortable accommodation in the Courtyard.
Hodsock Priory, with its magnificent Tudor Gatehouse (one of only five in the country), has been the family home of the Buchanan family since 1765, and the present family since 1967. Over the years the estate had become wildly over-grown and it was something of a surprise to them as they began to clear the wilderness that beneath the growth were snowdrops. Over the years they have restored the Edwardian beds, created a feature fan lawn and repopulated the snowdrop wonderland.
They have also created The Courtyard from the old estate dairy. The Courtyard comprises 10 comfortable B&B or self-catering accommodation suites/rooms. But they are slightly out of the ordinary – the accommodation is both sustainable and eco-friendly with solar panels and ground-source heating system, insulation, double glazing and underfloor heating. Consequently most of the heating and hot water comes from renewable sources, waste material is recycled as far as possible and even the cleaning materials used are eco-friendly.
As we were only staying a couple of nights we went for the B&B option. And very glad we were too. Breakfast served family-style round a large wooden table was excellent – freshly and beautifully cooked to order - with many of the ingredients coming from local suppliers.
The White Swan and School of Artisan Food
In the evening we took ourselves down the couple of miles or so down the road to the White Swan at Blyth. We had called in there on our way to Hodsock for a bit of lunch and were so impressed by the lovely welcome, service and superb food we booked in for our evening meals.
During the day we visited local farm shops - there are a number; and Hodsock, who knew we were interested in learning to make bread, suggested we call in at the School of Artisan Food.
We tracked the school down in North Nottinghamshire, not far away in the heart of Sherwood Forest on the Welbeck Estate. What a fascinating institution. It is actually based in a 19th century former fire stables but there is nothing old fashioned about the class rooms or the equipment. The school teaches bread making (which we were interested in), cheese making, brewing, charcuterie, preserving and butchery (which I found so fascinating I nearly enrolled on the spot).
There was a real air of enthusiasm, fun and serious tuition. The School, a registered charity and not-for-profit institution, aims to teach enthusiasts, existing and aspiring producers as well as complete newcomers, skills suitable for home or work environments through a range of short courses and one-year Advanced Diplomas.
It was with genuine sadness that we said goodbye to everybody who had looked after us so well and made us so welcome.
But the lure of thousands of snowdrops or bluebells, the five-star Courtyard accommodation, The School of Artisan Food and the White Swan at Blyth will ensure that we wont be away for long.