A POPULAR beauty spot is rolling out the blue carpet after the completion of £60,000 of improvement work.
Bluebell Wood on the outskirts of Morpeth has been enjoyed by generations of town residents who have meandered along its tracks and admired the awesome floral displays.
But in recent times it has become more difficult to access.
Now, however, the ancient woodland is once more ready to reveal its spectacular show of flora after the Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT) cleared its paths.
The work, which was supported by a grant from Natural England, is the latest in a series of environmental improvements carried out under the Castles, Woods and Water initiative, which was started by the former Castle Morpeth Council. Over the past decade, riverside and woodland walks have been improved all along the Wansbeck Valley, from Mitford to Bothal.
GMDT Environment Director Ro Matheson said: “What we have done in Bluebell Wood is the latest chapter in a success story that is making the most of the natural treasures we are blessed with in and around Morpeth. We have some absolutely wonderful amenities on our doorstep and Bluebell Wood in particular is an ecological gem.
“Access for the public, however, had become somewhat difficult with overgrown and waterlogged paths, but that has all been put right now in readiness for the most stunning displays of bluebells.”
The wood, which is situated close to the Morpeth to Pegswood road, is famous for its beautiful bluebells, but its extensive social and industrial heritage is perhaps less well-known.
The woodland is at least 9,000 years old and over the last four centuries it has accommodated a variety of uses.
There is evidence that it was once a burial ground for Morpeth residents who succumbed to the plague in 1665, coal was mined at Howburn by monks from Newminster Abbey nearly 500 years ago, a windmill was built in the early 1700s, and a clay pit, tile and brickworks were producing much of the material to build the town’s older houses, while a gasworks at the edge of the woods supplied homes and businesses.
Horse racing was taking place more than 300 years ago at the old Cottingwood Racecourse, with a four-day meeting held every September until 1883, and the Easter Field was the setting for the Morpeth Olympic Games from the 1870s to 1958.
St George’s Hospital was built at the edge of the wood in 1859 and by the mid 1960s was accommodating more than 1,000 patients, with 500 members of staff. In 1941 a German bomber crashed in the grounds and all five crew were captured by hospital attendants.
Information about the history has been included in new interpretation panels, which have been placed beside additional footpaths, seating and signage.
Ms Matheson said: “A great deal of local history is locked into the site and the interpretation panels, produced with the help of historian Alan Davison and artist John Caffrey, will help people understand everything about the woods.
“Generations of local people have enjoyed a walk through Bluebell Wood and what we have done will ensure very many more can continue to do so for many years to come.
“This is the first phase of work at Bluebell Wood and we hope that when people see the improvements and the quality of the project that we may be able to attract further funding to complete a second phase.”
Adrian Vass, of Natural England, added: “We are delighted to support such an important project for the natural environment of Morpeth. It is a project that is driven and very much inspired by the local community, which shows the concept of localism at its most effective.”
The work, which has been nominated for a Northumbria In Bloom award, has also been supported by Northumberland County Council and the Homes and Communities Agency.