Dreaming in Wandlebury Ring


Wandlebury Ring, Cambridgshire

I love the atmosphere at Wandlebury Ring, near Cambridge. Standing in its deep ditches it is easy to feel slightly lost in time. I can dream of giants (Gogmagog), warriors (Romans),  knights (see Gervase) and of Kings (James II).

Way back when, Wandlebury boasted an Iron Age hillfort overlooking the ancient Icknield Way. It was built on one of the chalkland hills that make up the Gog Magog Downs. The fort was protected by huge concentric ditches and ramparts of chalk and soil. It remained a structure of some significance for a long time with the Romans occupying it well into the first century AD. Later it was used as an Anglo Saxon Hundreds (administrative councils) rendez-vous point. King James II rather ruined all of that in the 17th century, when he levelled the fort and inner defences to establish a house, garden and racing stable.

It is the stable that is all that remains today, except for that deep outer ditch. The area has become a Country Park, protected from development by Cambridge Past, Present & Future.


Satellite overview of Wandlebury Hill from Google maps

I like to visit at this time of year because a large part of the Ring is swathed in aconites and snowdrops. When the sun is out, oblique sunbeams make the flowers sparkle and gleam and there is a sense that the mellow light is filtered through the history of the place.


Snowdrop and aconite strewn ground at Wandlebury Country Park

The aconites were probably already past their prime, but the snowdrops were looking lovely. I  am not a galanthophile, so my enjoyment of the flowers is driven by the fact that I simply love their clear drop shapes.


Classic drops!

The honey bees were out and about in considerable numbers, visiting the clumps of snowdrops and aconite …


And anything else they could find in flower: In a small orchard area there were more nectar sources in the form of mahonia and plum blossom.


Bee on Mahonia aquifolium


OK, I missed the bee here!

Some of the snowdrops were not bulk standard Galanthus nivalis as even I could see!


More like a wind turbine than snowdrop

Back in the ditch fortifications, I was trying to get a good shot of the yew roots. The trees look like they could be mobile don’t they? Ready to uproot and re-arrange themselves.


In fact, I heard from a friend that there is a debate going on about whether to remove the yew trees to restore the fortification feel of the ring. It is an argument between historians and ecologists I think. I’ve seen barren hill forts like Maiden Castle (admittedly very impressive), but I think that Wandlebury feels special because of the trees.


I would be heartbroken if they did decide to give the yews the chop. They are an intrinsic part of the atmosphere and interest for me. The Ring is surround by woods anyway, so the context isn’t bare Downs landscape any longer.

I didn’t head on through the woods to Roman Road this time, because the weather had taken a change for the worse. Instead I went back through the walled garden to the Stables, admiring more pools of snowdrops under each specimen tree. These clusters seem to be equal part nettle to snowdrop and I was thoroughly stung in the process of taking the photos.


I headed back to the car park through a small tract of beech woods. The beech wood has a completely different feel to it, a clearer quality of light and brighter colours, but it still had classic snowdrops!





About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
This entry was posted in Flowers, History, Nature, Out and about, Trees, Walks, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Dreaming in Wandlebury Ring

  1. Chloris says:

    Lovely Allison, what a great post. I really must make the effort to go and see this wonderful place for myself. Beautiful photos, your nettle stings were in a good cause.

  2. susurrus says:

    I’ve loved tree roots ever since I was a child when I used to play on them as if they were steps. I still feel the urge, but I resist as I’m a bit heavier these days – and a bit more worried about whether the trees really need someone clambering on their roots!

  3. nexi says:

    This is beautiful – we’re also near the remains of a hill fort on the Icknield Way in the Chilterns.

  4. Eliza Waters says:

    What a beautiful place. All those snowdrops must have been quite the sight!

    • The nice thing about Wandlebury is that the snowdrops have naturalised and are in patches all over. I’ve seen a few places where you go to the snowdrop dell and that is that. I know they have to start somewhere, but it is wonderful when the spring flowers have spread in to the wilds.

  5. Julie says:

    Really lovely post, I’d love to visit here, I hope they do not chop down the trees either, I can see why you love them so much.

    • Thanks Julie. It sounds like English Heritage and Natural England are asking for the removal, because the trees are damaging a scheduled ancient monument. 😦

      • Julie says:

        We live very near to Ampthill park, where vast areas have been cleared recently in an attempt to return it to Capability Browns original plan. There was local opposition particularly from bird watchers who despaired as trees and under storey habitats were cleared leaving ‘vistas’. They have a large lottery grant, sometimes ‘progress’ does not seem like progress at all, more like box ticking. I hope common sense prevails and your Yew trees are preserved.

  6. Tina says:

    Great post, I enjoyed learning about this fascinating place. Those yews are really something to behold!! The early spring bloomers are really lovely.

  7. inesephoto says:

    Beautiful and interesting post. I see that your rings don’t have any trees growing on the bottom – only on the sides of the ring. The same here.

    • That is interesting. Given that they are largely yews, I had assumed that they were planted that way. It is bone dry in the middle of the ditch.

      • inesephoto says:

        It is dry, but still there should be some life, some flora typical for forest floor. Last year I posted a blog about fairy rings, and visited one to take pictures. I was very surprised that no weed was brave enough to get down the slope.

  8. The opening image is so atmospheric, just right for conjuring empathy for the yews and the exposed roots are interesting. It’s wonderful to see a mass of snowdrops in this sort of setting, thank you.

  9. Oh, what a magical place! If I lived in the area I would want to visit often. And those Snowdrops and Aconites! Plus the history is awe-inspiring.

    • I often think that there is nothing but flat fens around here, but that is actually completely wrong. Writing these post makes me realise that. I should make a point of visiting more often, because I always enjoy it.

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