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Hello Harcourt Arboretum bluebells!

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I wrote about this little gem of an arboretum in South Oxfordshire a few years back when I first started Muddy Stilettos (arrrrr, them were the days). I loved this arboretum then and having revisited it last week,  I’m still of the same opinion.

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The great thing about the Harcourt Arboretum is that it’s do-able. By that I mean you don’t have the hassle of packing for a day trip, a long car journey, the effort of a whole day out, the pretence of ‘knowing’ the names of all the deciduous trees, and watching your kids for interminable hours in the communal play area while your other half queues for 30 minutes for a shrivelled buffet lunch.

This Arboretum is part of Oxford’s Botanical Gardens and can be found about 20 minutes South of the city in Nuneham Courtenay, near to Abingdon and Dorchester. But if the Botanical Gardens themselves are neat, pristine, ordered, the Harcourt Arboretum is like it’s let-it-all-hang-out funky younger sister, a bit more wild and woolly and natural.

There are acres of meadows which come into their own in the summer (and I can vouch for their simple beauty, having watched my kids, then toddlers, totally overexcited by the flowers).

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Then there’s the Arboretum itself which is large enough to stretch small legs, but not big or hilly enough to fatigue. Branches to climb over, ducking and diving under canopies to navigate.

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And right now, there are the bluebell woods. And OMflippinG, they are stunning. They’re easy to get to, just minutes from the car park, the walk is flat, wide and suitable for wheelchairs, and the flowers are incredible. They seemed almost flurescent as I walked around, my photo (below) doesn’t do it justice at all I’m afraid.

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Bluebells are at their prime at the mo, a little earlier than normal due to the warm weather, so now is definitely the time to get out and about and see them.

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There’s not much else to do at the Arboretum other than look at the shrub flowers and trees and let your kids off the leash, but that’s the lovely bit really – it’s very safe, and the kids can really roam without getting lost (or perhaps more to the point, them can roam without you being worried that they could get lost). The Arboretum does stretch to Play or Find rucksacks for kids on a first come first serve basis for kids who like to do such things though my kids are roamers so I probably wouldn’t bother.

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There are loads of peacocks strutting around and shouting at each other, which is of course great fun (thanks white van for totally ruining what would have been a rare Muddy photo triumph, above), and you can bring a picnic if you want to hang around for longer.

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One word of warning – the bottom end of the Arboretum is right next to a busy road, so though it’s not particularly intrusive, you do hear cars going by down the bottom end of the Arboretum. If you like your nature experiences to be filled with birdsong and nothing else, this might not be for you.

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Practicalities: there’s no cafe, and only a token nod to kids play with one or two wooden constructions but I kind of like its boldness – as if it’s saying, ‘Dare you to come here to enjoy nature, no distractions required.’

There are however toilet facilities in the lodge building (above), a full bladder being one distraction we can all do without, and if you fancy a pub lunch at either end of the trip to the Arboretum, you are just 2 miles from the safe pub option of The Mole in Toot Baldon, or a 10 minute drive from Abingdon or Dorchester.

I end with an arty shot of bark. I’m deep like that.

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