A Very Good Year for Bluebells - And A Glance at a Favourite Scent.

Bluebells at Culzean Country Park in Ayrshire

Walking in the woods at Culzean Country Park this morning, I realised that it's a very good year for bluebells and our recent spell of warm weather has made it even better. Culzean, by the way, is pronounced 'Cullane' - because that z wasn't originally a z at all. It was a letter called yogh - ȝ - like a z with a tail, pronounced like a y. So Culzean was Culyean and eventually Cullane! Not a lot of people know that.

When I'm in a bluebell wood, I always find myself thinking of Matthew Arnold's poem, the Scholar Gypsy, of which I only remember one line: 'dark bluebells drench'd with dews of summer eves.' It's a wonderfully evocative line, although it always strikes this reader at any rate as anomalous, because bluebells are such a springtime flower.

Here in Scotland of course, harebells are also called bluebells, and they are very much a summer flower, and very much blue, bell shaped flowers. But I still think Arnold was writing about the springtime bluebells that in late April and early May throng the woods and turn them into a haze of dark, sweet scented blue, especially in the evening.

I was going to write 'sea' there, but it didn't seen like the right word. The drooping flowers are suspended just above the ground, and whole stretches of woodland look as though they are covered in a blue mist, or as though some natural artist has gently dabbed brush strokes of blue over the early green growth.

All the woodlands hereabouts are full of bluebells right now, and there are some lurking at the bottom of our garden, in the hedgerow. Their scent is extraordinary. But of all the bluebell woods, Culzean is probably the best and most extensive - well worth a visit, if you are prepared to walk away from the most popular areas, and head off through the woods.

I emerged from my walk this morning saying that I wished I could bottle the scent. Then I remembered that somebody has, and - moreover - that I have a bottle of this extraordinary perfume myself: Penhaligon's Bluebell.

I've just sprayed a little to remind myself! This scent was first created in 1978 by Michael Pickthall. There are other fragrances in the perfume: heart notes of hyacinth, lily of the valley, cyclamen, jasmine and rose but the fact remains that this is a bluebell wood perfume - and I'm a big fan of vintage scents. I used to save up and treat myself to the very occasional bottle, back in the late 70s, when I was visiting my agent in London. Then, for some reason I stopped wearing it, with the sad feeling that I was too old for such a fresh, innocent scent. Until this year, when I found myself rediscovering it, and defiantly returning to it like an old and much loved friend.

Incidentally, there are a few carping reviews out there, but perfumes are very personal and I love this one, in spite of the fact that it was - allegedly - Margaret Thatcher's favourite scent! Make of that what you will. It seems a very weird choice for the Iron Lady!