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Forget daffodils or snow-drops - if there's one flower that sums up spring, it has to be the bluebell. Britain is home to nearly half of the world's bluebell forests, but there's one wood in particular that has a reputation for putting on a stunning display of bluebells, and that is Micheldever Wood in Hampshire.
The journey into Micheldever, a quaint historic village nestled between Basingstoke and Winchester, has a fairytale feel thanks to its gorgeous thatched-roof cottages complete with perfectly manicured gardens. Micheldever Wood is about two-and-a-half miles out of town, on the south-east side of the M3. There's a car park on Northington Lane, from which you can follow a marked trail (stout footwear required in wet conditions) that will guide you to sites of archaeological interest, including an ancient Bronze Age burial mound and several Iron Age earthworks.
The true treasures of the ancient forest are the soaring beechwoods. They dominate the landscape, providing the ideal environment for bluebells to flourish because the dense forest canopy casts a heavy shade, making it difficult for undergrowth to become established. With less competition for space, the bluebells thrive in the shade, spreading freely across the forest floor. Come April and into May a blanket of brilliant blue cloaks the forest floor in stark contrast to the emerald green of the newly emerged beechwood leaves.
The magic of Micheldever Wood doesn't end there, however. The forest is also home to hares, butterflies, dragonflies, roe deer and fallow deer, which can often be seen grazing among the trees. For the perfect Kodak moment, we recommend a visit in the early hours of the morning as the mist clears and the sun peeks between the beech trunks, casting long shadows across the forest landscape - just don't forget your camera.
In folklore it was long believed that damaging or picking bluebells would lead to a curse from the fairy world. Some even believed that fairies rang the bluebells to trap small children. Despite such deterrents, the survival of our native bluebell has been threatened by hybridisation, habitat loss, unsustainable collection and climate change.
In an effort to protect the native bluebell, the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act made it a protected species in the UK. Under the law, it is a criminal offence to remove English bluebells from the wild - so while you may be tempted to take a little souvenir for home, we would advise against it as you risk not only a fairy curse but also a government fine.
To find out more about Micheldever Wood, please visit the Foresty Commission website.
Photograph: Jane Rix/Shutterstock.com