On The Fairy Path

Trees arching over a path

Regular readers may remember that I’ve mentioned a fairy path that tracks a leat draining the meadow above the southern edge of Sunnyhurst Wood in Darwen. Oak, chestnut, birch, beech, sycamore, ash, holly and elder are scattered among tall evergreens. Somewhere between a park and a wood, it is laced with main paths that run down to Sunnyhurst stream at the bottom of the valley. This isn’t one of them. 

The name ‘fairy path’ didn’t come from my imagination, as some of you might suspect. While it’s a fairly well-travelled route, it’s not signed from the main path. You have to know where to scramble up (see below).

Path between tree roots to leat

And you have to pass what I think of as a guardian tree where the path begins.

Branch stubs look like eyes on a tree

Branches overhang this root-riddled way. I love how two or three slender paths often split off to present wise or unwise choices around a tree, or a particularly muddy or uneven place, together forming an irregular twist.

The path is liminal – it’s quite literally a place where light and darkness meet. Looking out from dappled shade created by branches of leaves, a bright meadow is just a few strides away, accessed by crossing one in a series of small stone bridges that arch over the leat. You might not sense anything in the least unearthly from this brightly lit scene.

Arched bridge with bluebells

I’ve walked along the path since childhood and ought to be very familiar with the route but each time it seems to have a few more turns than I’m expecting.

Woodland scene with bluebells growing beside water

Even if you have no truck with fairies, it’s a quiet, atmospheric place. Bluebells lift the mood, and I’ve tried to present the fair side of the fairy bridges, but from most angles there’s a bit more, well…

Wild foxglove with ferns


Close ups of a particularly hoary tree along the way might help you get the feel of the shady, woodland side of the path.

I’ve had some experiences I’d classify as magical here. I’ve peered out, watching the barn owl lope low over the meadow, like a huge, pale moth, and I’ve marvelled how people walking the roadway above seem oblivious. I’ve been stilled in a moment by a roe deer jumping the gate from the meadow ahead of me, pausing on one of the fairy bridges to hold my eyes, then turning all white tail and plunging in to the wood.

Path between trees

Even when the path looks empty, you can hear songbirds calling out, cautioning or inviting each other.

Some time in late April or early May, I’d crouched down to admire the dainty nod of a bluebell stem on the edge of a shimmering blue haze. Warning myself not to trample the leaves or young bulbs in my pleasure at them, I was listening to the birdsong when I was amazed to catch the clear, thin, wavering sound of a bell ringing.

Bluebells in Sunnyhurst Wood

Eerie and unmistakable, the ringing travelled over the bluebells towards me.

There are legends about bluebells ringing and it is not held to be a good sign.

It had not rung loudly or for long, stopping as suddenly as it had started. With only the birds singing, a flurry of conflicting ideas presented themselves. Could I have imagined a bell? Could an everyday bell ringer (?) be walking in the woods?

Narrow woodland path

Some weeks later, on another walk along the path, I reluctantly confessed to my sister and my sweetheart that I’d heard a sound very like bluebells ringing. I did not go into the scary folklore. They seemed to take it in their stride.

It took several more weeks for one of them to crack and reassure me (amid sideways glances that indicated much private hilarity) that I had not heard a magical ringing, but the echoes of the bell traditionally rung to celebrate a hole-in-one at the golf course on the far side of the valley.

Am I chagrined? Not much.

I try – and sometimes fail – not to be superstitious. I prefer a celebration above an ominous warning any day of the week. But I’d love to hear the bell ring again at bluebell time to understand how my senses being steeped in the atmosphere of the place tricked me.

Links and more information

Becky’s making a huge effort to run her much-loved Squares Challenge throughout November.

I’m joining in with Jo’s Monday Walk as I’ve long been meaning to share this favourite haunt with her. Readers missing their horticultural fix will enjoy her post on The Autumn Mediterranean Garden Fair.

And this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge is Flights of Fancy.

For those interested in the folklore of bluebells, I offer two options:

The National Trust, one of our venerable nature charities

Hypnogoria is a well-researched cornucopia of lore plus details of sources.


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