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Norfolk's snowdrops sign spring is coming

PUBLISHED: 09:45 08 February 2013 | UPDATED: 09:45 08 February 2013

Snowdrops inside the grounds of Walsingham Abbey

Snowdrops inside the grounds of Walsingham Abbey

Archant © 2012

They are the delicate and adored emblems of the emergence of spring — and one of the best reasons to get out in the countryside and enjoy the change in seasons. SIMON PARKIN brings you her guide to the best snowdrop walks.

They are often described as the last flower of winter, so when those snowdrops come into bloom it’s a clear sign that spring is not far away.

There are few things as uplifting as the sight of the delicate snowdrop emerging from the cold, frosty ground like a little ray of hope.

The blanket of white petals smothers the ground and brings light to the dark dull days as the natural world wakes up from its wintry sleep.

And here in our region, there are many stunning snowdrop displays to enjoy, whether they are decorating the vast gardens of a historic building or hiding among the trees and fallen leaves in a peaceful stretch of woodland.

The snowdrop (Latin name galanthus nivalis, meaning milk-white flowers) comes in hundreds of varieties, some of them incredibly rare.

The first snowdrops were believed to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans. One variety, the G plicatus, was introduced by soldiers returning from the Crimean war and the Victorians quickly fell in love with it, seeing them as emblems of purity.

The humble snowdrop shows how much dedication and fascination it creates among the flower’s enthusiasts — known as galanthophiles — who will happily spend hours on their hands and knees searching for the most minute variations in the precious little flowers.

The devotion the flower endears among enthusiasts sees single bulbs selling for hundreds of pounds.

Although snowdrops are not yet considered under threat, they are being carefully monitored to ensure wild populations are not endangered.

Their natural habitat is deciduous woodland, but they also grow in coniferous woodland, meadows, near rivers and on stony slopes, particularly on calcareous soils.

Perhaps the most famous place to see the delicate white flowers in Norfolk is at Walsingham Abbey, where they bloom in wild abundance every February, attracting thousands of visitors.

The origins of the snowdrops at Walsingham are unclear, however they are commonly found flowering at religious sites. Symbolic of new life and renewal, they come into flower around Candlemas which commemorates the purification of Mary, 40 days after the Nativity.

Carpets of snowdrops lay throughout the Abbey’s 18 acres of woodland and along the banks of the River Stiffkey which runs through the grounds and the ruins of the medieval priory seem to spark into life when they are in bloom.

The Norfolk National Gardens Scheme will also be kicking off its programme of events and open gardens for the year with a series of snow drop walks – beginning at Lexham Hall, near Litcham this Sunday.

Anthea Foster, the National Gardens Scheme’s county organiser, said: “I look forward to the start of the garden visiting year, and the gardens we have opening in February have some splendid displays of snowdrops and other early flowers at their best. They really do brighten up the cold days of winter.”

With more and more people interested in snowdrops, the ‘Snowdrop Trails’ are a great way of embrace the change in season and get outside exploring.

Here is our guide to some of the best snowdrop walks and events in the region during the next month…

WALSINGHAM ABBEY

Walsingham Estate, between Fakenham and Wells-next-the-Sea, open daily throughout February, 10am-4pm, £4, £2.50 children, 01328 820510, www.walsinghamabbey.com

The Abbey grounds and the Shirehall Museum in the Georgian Courthouse, are open daily for snowdrop walks. Woodland walks and paths can be soft and muddy at this time of year so stout footwear is recommended. Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead at all times. There is a special Snow Drop Walk charity day on February 16 (10am-4pm), when all proceeds will be in aid of Help for Heroes and the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

LEXHAM HALL

Litcham, off B1145, February 10, 11am–4pm, £5, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

In the grounds of a fine 17th/18th century hall there are some 12 acres of snowdrops and winter aconites to enjoy in woods and across the parkland, with a lake and river walks. There is also a formal garden, with terraces and yew hedges and a traditional kitchen garden. Dogs on leads welcome. Warming refreshments will be available in the adjacent tea room. Also open February 19 and 20.

RAVENINGHAM HALL

Loddon, signposted off A146 at Hales then B1136, February 10-March 1, Mon-Fri 11am-4pm, Sun 2pm-4pm, Sat closed, £4 (£3.50 cons), under-16s free, www.raveningham.com

These incredible gardens, were the labour of love of former own Pricilla Bacon, who lived at the hall for 50 years. The gardens feature an 18th century walled kitchen garden, Victorian conservatory, Edwardian rose garden, huge herbaceous borders, a colourful herb garden and an orchard and arboretum. There are swathes of snowdrops throughout the main gardens. Proceeds go to Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

ST PETER’S CHURCH

Buxton Road, Spixworth, February 10, 11.30am-4pm, £2.50, children free, 01603 898190

Enjoy a walk around the churchyard, woodland and farmland with different routes up to three miles long, starting at the church. Dogs on leads are welcome and strong footwear is recommended.

HOVETON HALL ESTATE

Hoveton, off the A1151, February 10/17, 10.30am-3.30pm, £8, £4 children, under-4s free, www.hovetonhallgardens.co.uk

Hoveton Hall hosts special winter wonderland walks this Sunday and next. Enjoy the glorious display of snowdrops in the woods followed by hot refreshments. Take the Estate at your own pace or join one of the guided walks at 12pm and 1pm, please turn up 10 minutes before the guided walk commences. Waterproof boots are essential, dogs on leads welcome.

BAGTHORPE HALL

East Rudham, off A148 near Fakenham, February 24, 11am–4pm, £3.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

A woodland walk full of masses of snowdrops along its scenic glades. Home-made soup produced from vegetables grown on the local farm will be available as refreshment after your winter walk.

HORSTEAD HOUSE

Mill Road, Horstead, off the B1150 between Norwich and North Walsham, February 24, 11am–4pm, £3.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

Millions of beautiful snowdrops carpet the woodland setting which has also been recently planted with scented winter flowering shrubs. One of the most stunning features of this gardens are dogwoods growing on a small island in the River Bure which flows through the garden. There is also a small walled garden.

BRINTON HALL

Stody Road, Brinton, near Holt, February 24, 1pm–4pm, £4, children under-12 free, 01263 860247

The hall is set in mature gardens with specimen trees, beside the church, with parkland sweeping down to a lake. There are many marked woodland walks through the snowdrops, which have increased recently with further planting. The event is to raise funds for St John Ambulance.

CHESTNUT FARM

Church Road, West Beckham, Holt, February 28/March 3, 11am–4pm, £4.50, children free, www.norfolkgardens.org

A garden and small arboretum, with more than 60 varieties of snowdrops, there is a snowdrop walk, and drifts of single and double snowdrops. The garden also has many very early spring flowering shrubs, Hellebores and heavenly scented Daphne Jacqueline Postill. It draws snowdrop enthusiasts from as far afield as German.

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