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A sea of bluebells in Cumbernauld Glen. c. Tracy Lambert/Cumbernauld Living Landscape

Cumbernauld seems to be an island sitting in a sea of violetty-blue at the moment. Whichever direction you walk in the woods the bluebells are out. Surely one of our best-known and best-loved wildflowers, they signal the height of spring like nothing else, arriving with that other harbinger of the season, the cuckoo. It’s from this co-incidence that they get their Gaelic name of ‘bròg na chutais’ – cuckoos’ shoes – a much more evocative name than the rather prosaic ‘bluebells’.

Although we mostly think of them as woodland flowers, it’s apparently not the shade of the woodlands they love, but the humidity. You’re just as likely to see them on treeless islands and rough hillsides out west. Where you’re not so likely to see them is in other parts of the world. Our tiny island of Great Britain is home to over half of the world’s population of cuckoos’ shoes, mostly due to our mild, damp climate.

We love them for their unmistakeable scent as well as that weirdly undefinable blueness. On warm, humid spring mornings they make a walk in the local woods smell truly exotic! Seems like insects think so too – bees in particular are attracted by their perfume, delving deep into the upturned cups, which provide them with a rich food source before the rest of the coming season’s flowers are out in force. Mammals are not so keen. The bulbs are poisonous, and the flower’s other Gaelic name is ‘fuath-mhuc’ – ‘the thing that pigs dislike’ – perhaps a reference to a time when people put their pigs into the woods to feed.

Whatever you decide to call them, they make every walk we do seem special at the moment, a celebration of spring like no other!


Sue Walker