Spring is one of my favourite times of the year when nature wakes from its winter’s slumber.
The first green shoots peek through and the wild flowers start to bloom in profusion. It’s an invigorating season as everything starts to come alive.
Farndale is renowned for being the best place in Britain to witness one of spring’s great spectacles – a carpet of daffodils and wild flowers.
After winter’s chill it’s great to see the first signs of spring starting to burst through so it seemed a good time to capture this colourful spectacle with a countryside walk.
Moors and valleys
After a stunning trip in the camper van over the moors and down into the valley, we parked up in the village car park at Low Mill in Farndale, part of the North York Moors National Park.
With the sun shining and temperatures hitting 14 C, it was the perfect day for a country walk.
There was just one problem – we’d remembered to bring the posh camera but nobody had checked that the SD card had been packed.
There were grimaces because we wouldn’t be able to take any decent photos – it would have to be an iPhone job.
After a huffy moment, Tammy checked the Farndale website, only to discover that the wild daffodils don’t generally bloom till late March. We were two weeks early!
There was a good chance we wouldn’t see a single daffodil on the famous ‘Daffodil Walk’. So we decided to turn the walk into a daffodil safari to see if we could spot any signs of the wild flowers.
At the start of the walk (by the car park), there was an eccentric sign that made me laugh after the realisation that we were extremely ‘early birds’.
If you’re planning to do this walk, I have good news – it’s not too strenuous. Most of the short walk takes you along the easy riverside path which is mostly paved.
Naturally, my partner Tony wanted to go off piste and complete the rougher route at the top of the river loop so our trip ended up being the longer 5-6 mile version.
As we started the walk to the nature reserve, I noticed one solitary wild daffodil on the river bank – but would this be our only sighting?
As we walked further along the valley bottom, there was plenty of evidence of spring starting to burst through. Some of the trees already had catkins on them so I got hopeful that we’d see more daffodils.
After all, the weather had been glorious and warm for the last five days so perhaps the daffodils had sprung up earlier than usual.
Everywhere we looked there were clumps of daffodils which were still in bud. But there was just one problem – they hadn’t bloomed yet. There was a carpet of green not yellow daffodils!
As we walked along the River Dove, there were plenty of signs of nature reawakening after what has been a very wet winter.
Across the fields there were game birds strutting their stuff from brightly coloured pheasants to the gorgeous, rare black grouse and the commoner red grouse feeding on heather shoots.
It’s a treat to spot the black grouse with its fluffy jet-black plumage and scarlet red eye markings. The more common red grouse is a browner bird which reminds me of the image on a certain famous whisky bottle.
Looking back down the river there were plenty of early wildflowers blooming, especially snowdrops, always the first to burst through at the end of winter.
But the daffodils were still proving elusive. Normally, you’d expect a host of golden daffodils beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Perhaps I had been dreaming too much of a scene reminiscent of William Wordsworth’s famous daffodils poem?
But all was not lost. As we walked onwards, there were a few groups of wild daffodils in sunny spots lining the river banks.
They were poking their heads into the air, their yellow trumpets craning towards the sun’s warmth.
At last, we had a proper sighting of the wild daffodil which resembles the pretty narcissus with its delicate flowers and petite size.
This is a much smaller flower than the large daffodils that spring up in my back garden every year.
Rumour has it that the medieval monks from nearby Rievaulx Abbey planted the first daffodil bulbs in Farndale.
These wild daffodils (Narcissus Pseudonarcissus) flower along a seven mile section of the River Dove which has been carefully managed as a nature reserve to protect the bulbs.
Local landowners and the National Park Authority look after the local habitat together to avoid damage to the leaves or roots of the daffodils while they are growing.
They also cut back scrub and branches to allow in light to enable the daffodils to thrive.
As you walk further down the river, more and more daffodils are starting to bloom especially around the middle section of the walk.
Don’t forget to look down the river as you stroll along because this is excellent territory for kingfishers who build their nests in the banks.
Halfway round the walk there is the brilliantly named Daffy Caffy where you can grab a cuppa and rest your weary feet.
It’s a good place to stop to review your progress and decide on whether to continue around the top loop of the walk or return back along the same riverside path.
Sitting in the garden next to the cafe there’s some good bird watching opportunities – the trees, bushes and feeders are popular with small birds.
We were surprised to see a large flock of cheeky chaffinches at close quarters – on tables, chairs and bushes, begging for food and photo opportunities.
They’re regulars in the spring and summer months when tourists outnumber the local population by 200:1.
Only 200 people live in the Farndale area but up to 40,000 visitors arrive during the spring to go on the Daffodil Walk and the wild trails.
After a few refreshments we carried on to complete the circular loop of the walk which takes you up through Church Houses and beyond.
The top end
The walk continues along an attractive area of farmland, reaching the small village of Church Houses which is as sleepy as you can get.
If you missed stopping at the Daffy Caffy, there’s a chance to drink something stronger and tuck into some hearty nosh at the Faversham Arms pub.
We were full of cake and tea so took a right turn and staggered on up the hill past the pub. It’s not like me to walk past a public house but I was now into my serious walking stride.
Although there are fewer wild flowers along this section, it’s a pleasant country walk with panoramic views across the landscape.
Admire the local dry stone walls as you make your way up the bank. I’m always amazed by the technique that locals use to construct these walls. They look precarious but are as sturdy as a solid brick house.
At the top of the hill, look out over the landscape as you look out over the moorland with its dramatic change of scenery.
It’s much wilder than the surrounding, manicured farmland with its heather and bracken. If you’re lucky, this is a good time of year to see the farmers burning the heather, an annual ritual designed to rejuvenate the landscape.
Take a right turn and follow the signs across a series of farmers’ fields where you’ll encounter a number of stiles.
Listen and look out for game birds on the moors and fields. They tend to get spooked as you come by, flapping loudly and emitting a cackling alarm call as they fly off overhead.
I was amazed at the numbers of pheasants and grouse roaming the whole area. No doubt, many will end up on somebody’s dinner table in the coming months.
A word of caution at this point. This winter has been very wet so expect the fields to be boggy and muddy. Don’t fall in – something I nearly did several times!
If you’re finding the going a bit tough, there’s the option of taking a less boggy parallel route back to the main riverside path.
We persisted on through a number of farms and then finally appeared back on the main walk back to the car park.
The sun was starting to go down and the sky had turned a lovely orangey-hued colour as dusk crept in.
Far in the distance I heard the first warbler of the year, a chiffchaff repeating its distinctive song, a sure sign that spring has sprung.
As we left the reserve, I spotted one final clump of daffodils in bloom, waving in the gently late afternoon breeze.
Although we hadn’t seen the yellow carpet of daffodils, we had enjoyed a completely different experience – the first signs of spring breaking through.
Spring’s first buds and blooms are special. It’s a treat to see the season’s reawakening.
So why not go on a spring safari? By the end of March the daffodils will be in full bloom and you’ll be able to enjoy one of Britain’s nature spectacles in its full glory.
Tammy’s travel tips
Farndale and the Daffodil Walk are located near Low Mill car park, 4 miles north-east of Hutton-le-Hole in the North York Moors National Park.
The best time to see the daffodils in full bloom are the last week in March and the first two weeks in April, although timings can change depending on the weather.
There are numerous places to stay in the surrounding area from holiday cottages to guesthouses, small hotels and camp sites.
We opted to stay in Hutton-le-Hole, one of the most picturesque places in the National Park where there’s an excellent small motor home and caravan site in the centre of the village.
Hutton-le-Hole is about five minutes drive from the Farndale Daffodil Walk. It has a decent public house called The Crown Inn, serving food and drinks.
Also in the village is the Ryedale Folk Museum with its interesting collection of old houses, shops and farm buildings.
Worth a trip nearby are the town of Pickering, with its castle, Rievaulx Abbey, Dalby Forest and the North Yorkshire Moors scenic steam railway.
Nature lovers shouldn’t miss taking one of the many wild walks from the village over the moors where there is dramatic scenery and good bird watching.