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Wild Daffodils in Cumbria

By Peter Wilde

     Wild Daffodils                

       A fine clump of wild daffodils on Rawfold Bridge, spanning the River Duddon.                          


                                   "Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
                                    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze"

Wordsworth's words have generated a mini-tourist industry in its own right in Lakeland. He was actually walking back to Grasmere with his sister on 15th April 1802 (and on the shores of Ullswater near Gowbarrow Park) when they came across the scene that gave rise to "I wandered lonely as a Cloud..." - so a bit of poetic licence there, with the "I wandered lonely" !!

Personally, I think Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy, describes the sight much more evocatively in prose when she wrote in her Journal..."We saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. They grew among the mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness; and the rest tossed and wheeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind, that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever glancing, ever changing."

In fact, the wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus)  is much more common in the southern Lake District and around Morecambe Bay and probably only native there. Rather than join the crowds visiting Wordsworth's scene on Ullswater, it is far more satisfying to walk the lanes and footpaths of south Cumbria and be taken by surprise when they appear in both large and small numbers in a variety of settings.

In current climes, the wild daffodils in Cumbria are usually at their best some two or three weeks earlier than Wordsworth saw them. The textbook description of true wild daffodils has solitary flowers 5-6 cm in diameter on stems up to 50 cm tall. The flowers have 6 very pale perianth segments and a deep yellow inner cup (corona) 2-3 cm long. Being shorter and sturdier than most cultivated forms of the plant they hold up well in what can often be a windy month in these parts. The flower seems somewhat large for the stem but that is just why they toss and wheel and dance!

The species thrives best in former coppiced woodland (as in many parts of High Furness) or sparsely planted woods (as at Willington Wood near Ulverston). In woodland that has matured, the lack of light causes them to flower poorly and seed is not set - they occur then only in small bunches in gaps in the trees (as at Sea Wood, Bardsea).

For the same reason they are often found alongside becks and rivers (most splendidly along the lower Duddon or by the beck at Colton) where some light can penetrate from at least one side. They also occur on many open grassland slopes, especially those that were previously wooded (as alongside the A590 near Greenodd) and along the lanes around Cartmel Fell.

Whether by accident or design there are often good displays in old burial grounds (as at the 16th century Cartmel Fell Church, the 17th century Tottlebank Chapel, and the 18th century Penny Bridge Church) and old orchards (as at Howe Ridding and other places around Whitbarrow) where they have been able to multiply and set seed in relatively open situations for centuries. If planted, many would have been put in place well before the rise in popularity of the taller and showier cultivated forms that, sadly, now threaten to take their place.

Wild Daffodils Penny Bridge

Wild daffodils besides Colton Beck and in Penny Bridge Churchyard.  Photo Peter Wilde


As an ardent wildlife watcher (with a bad leg) I can certainly share the sentiment of the last verse of Wordsworth's poem:

                 "For oft, when on my couch I lie,
                  In vacant or in pensive mood,
                  They flash upon that inward eye
                  Which is the bliss of solitude;
                  And then my heart with pleasure fills,
                  And dances with the daffodils"


See wild daffodils in spring on the Trust's reserves at Howe Ridding Wood near Witherslack and Ivy Crag Wood near Keswick



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