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Gaze upon drifts of snowdrops

PUBLISHED: 17:10 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 07:56 02 July 2010

Simon Parkin

Wrap up warm and head outside with all the family for a brisk walk among the snowdrops. This time of year gardens are covered in blankets of white snowdrops and they are a beautiful sight. SIMON PARKIN looks at where to see them.

Wrap up warm and head outside with all the family for a brisk walk among the snowdrops. This time of year gardens are covered in blankets of white snowdrops and they are a beautiful sight. SIMON PARKIN takes a look at places to visit to enjoy the first signs of spring.

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The snowdrop is one of the most eagerly-awaited flowers, heralding the end of the British wintertime. Indeed, it is said to be the first flower of spring, symbolising purity and the cleansing of the earth after winter.

With this winter being colder than many in recent years - as evidenced by this week's snowbound cold snap, they're delicate heads have broken through the cold soil later than expected. But there are still plenty of places where you can visit to see snowdrops in all their glory.

NORFOLK GARDENS SCHEME

Every year, thousands of gardens throughout England and Wales get ready to welcome visitors through the National Gardens Scheme. Here in Norfolk, gardens range from the small and quirky to the large and grand. Very often you will have a chance to meet the owners, enjoy home-made refreshments, and purchase some exciting plants.

Two gardens in Norfolk will be welcoming visitors this February to enjoy the sights of the snowdrops.

At Bagthorpe Hall, in East Rudham, they will open their gates On February 14, from 11am till 4pm. Visitors can enjoy carpets of snowdrops through the woodland walk as well as an enjoyable snowdrop walk. You will also be able to get warm with a homemade organic soup, cakes and tea. Admission is £3.50 and children are free.

Lexham Hall, near Litcham, Swaffham will also be open for its annual Snowdrop Walk on February 7, from 11am to 4pm, when they welcome visitors to their parkland with lake and river walks. There is a formal garden with terraces, yew hedges, roses and mixed borders, a traditional kitchen garden with crinkle crankle wall and an extensive collection of scented, winter flowering shrubs and woods.

t The gardens welcome the first signs of spring with carpets of snowdrops and there will be light refreshments and teas available. Admission is £4 with children free. www.ngs.org.uk

BRINTON HALL SNOWDROPS DAYS

Put on your hats and scarves and head outside to Brinton Hall for a scenic walk across the parkland, around the lake and through the woods carpeted with snowdrops and aconites.

You can enjoy wonderful views as you walk as well as some spectacular trees before returning to homemade teas in the comfort of the church.

The gardens are open for snowdrop walks on February 12 and then again on February 14, from 12pm-4pm, Adults £3, children under-12 free.

t Brinton Hall, Brinton, Stody Road, Melton Constable, Norfolk, 01263 860247.

AUDLEY END

King Henry VIII gave Walden Abbey to Sir Thomas Audley, who transformed it into his mansion, Audley End. Despite ups and downs in its fortunes, it remains one of England's grandest country homes with over 30 lavishly decorated rooms to enjoy and explore.

However it is too early in the season to visit the grand house but the gardens are open to explore where you can wander round the beautiful 19th-century parterre with its magnificent floral displays and imagine yourself back in Victorian times as you take a turn around the organic walled Kitchen Garden growing original fruit and vegetable varieties.

On a visit to see the beautiful snowdrops this February you can enjoy the fresh air and the sight of scattered white flowers as you walk along the woodland path signposted from the house and see the snowdrops in the East Park.

You can also visit the shop and tea room which are open the same hours as the gardens.

t Gardens open for snowdrop walks on Saturdays and Sundays from February 6-14. Gardens only admission is £7.70 adult (£6.50 cons), £3.90 child and £19.30 family, 01799 522399, www.english-heritage.co.uk

WALSINGHAM ABBEY GROUNDS AND SHIREHALL MUSEUM

Set in the picturesque village of Little Walsingham, the early 16th century building that now houses the Walsingham Shirehall Museum was used as a hostel for important visitors and in the 1770s it was converted into the shirehall for the quarter sessions, which were held until 1861; the petty sessions continued until 1971.

The courtroom has survived unaltered since it was last used and is now part of the `handson' museum, which includes a comprehensive display on Walsingham as a place of pilgrimage since 1061, as well as local artefacts and photographs.

The building also houses local tourist information and a well-stocked gift shop plus the Abbey Grounds contain perhaps the most impressive display of naturalized snowdrops in the country during February.

Drawing crowds every year during the snowdrop season the Abbey Grounds are awash with an unrivalled and spectacular display of snowdrops. They appear nearly everywhere in the 22 acre gardens, but are at their best in the woodland areas, where they are often mistaken for a layer of snow.

t Walsingham Abbey Grounds and Shirehall Museum, Common Place, Little Walsingham, near Wells. Snowdrop walks daily throughout February, 10am-4pm, £3.50, (£2.50 cons), 01328 820259, www.walsinghamabbey.com

FAIRHAVEN GARDEN TRUST

There are over three miles of woodland walks - all easy walking with superb views across the private broad at Fairhaven Garden Trust.

The waterways leading down to the broad are crossed by 15 little rustic bridges and there are wonderful reflections of trees and flowers in the water, from the spectacular candelabra primulas in spring, to the lovely hydrangeas in late summer.

A winter visit to Fairhaven promises a scattering of snowdrops to admire as well as colourful berries and you might be lucky enough to spot a foraging deer and some kingfishers.

t South Walsham, Norwich. Open daily 10am to dusk. Adult £5 (cons £4.50), child £2.50, dogs 25p (includes poop scoop), children under-5s free, 01603 270449/270683, www.fairhavengarden.co.uk

RAVENINGHAM GARDENS

Raveningham Hall is the home of Sir Nicholas and Lady Bacon. It was Sir Nicholas' mother, Priscilla Bacon, who added snowdrops to the garden.

The 18th century Walled Kitchen Garden with its large glasshouses will be open and visitors will also be able to enjoy views across the new lake established at the turn of the Millennium and the contemporary sculpture in the gardens.

It opens for the snowdrop season from February 9-19, then February 21-26. Drifts of snowdrops in the main garden will be on display daily from 11am to 4pm (weekdays) and 2pm to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday (dusk if earlier). Visitors on Valentine's Day will have a special treat - tea and homemade cakes will be on offer during the afternoon.

t Raveningham Gardens is 10 miles south east of Norwich, signposted off the A146 at Hales, then B1136, adults £4,(£3.50 cons) under-16s free, all proceeds go to Priscilla Bacon Lodge, 01508 548152, www.raveningham.com

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