In search of wild garlic on Longworth Clough

PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 February 2019

Wild garlic has a wonderful smell

Wild garlic has a wonderful smell

not Archant

Longworth Clough is a paradise on the West Pennine Moors, where nature has reclaimed old mills. There is plenty of wildlife but Lancashire Wildlife Trust's Alan Wright notices an interesting smell

A Lancashire wood full of ransoms (Picture: David Chapman/Alamy)A Lancashire wood full of ransoms (Picture: David Chapman/Alamy)

The first time I noticed the smell of wild garlic, I was sitting in a car in a country lane in Scotland. It was overwhelming and exciting to think that I was surrounded by these wonderful plants. In the same area I also spotted an embankment, white with this striking spring plant.

But ransoms can be found all over the country and one of our best carpets is along the path from Egerton Road into The Lancashire Wildlife Trust Longworth Clough Nature Reserve, close to Belmont.

You actually walk down into the Eagley Brook valley and catch that garlicky whiff as you descend. I suppose it’s even stronger on the way back up as you are gasping for air on this quite steep climb up the steps.

Longworth Clough is a portion of the former Longworth Hall estate. This was a small hotbed of industry throughout the 1800s because of Longworth Mill, fed by the waters of Eagley Brook.

Dartmoor ponies are used to manage Longworth CloughDartmoor ponies are used to manage Longworth Clough

Bits of the mill are visible but it has been submerged under the greenery of nature, which now makes those walls and stones look like natural features. The reserve was already a Site of Special Scientific Interest before the whole 100 square miles of the West Pennine Moors was designated more than a year ago.

It is important because it marries an “outstanding mosaic” of woodland, wetland and grassland habitats rich in wildlife, according to our conservation team. So it is a perfect moist woodland habitat for wild garlic, ransoms, buckrams, wood garlic, bear leak or bear’s garlic, whichever name you prefer. A relative of the onion, it spends most of its time as a bulb under the woodland floor.

In March, it appears as shiny green shoots, then, in April and May, white, starry flowers explode across the woods. Coming just after the bluebell carpets, the white expanses are just as spectacular.

Those star flowers and that whiff of garlic attract pollinating insects like hoverflies, butterflies and longhorn beetles. And under those plants there may be millions of bulbs in one wood alone.

A broad-bodied chaser at Logworth Clough pictured by Alan WrightA broad-bodied chaser at Logworth Clough pictured by Alan Wright

All very exciting but can you cook with it? Indeed, chefs tell me that wild garlic can be used in many dishes but it’s the leaves rather than the bulb that is used. One word of advice is not to use too much because it is strong.

Longworth Clough isn’t all about that garlic smell though, there is plenty to see. I spent a day there in summer and photographed roe deer, dipper and a huge broad-bodied chaser dragonfly, sunbathing on a plant.

A wide range of plants make it a perfect spot for butterflies like small skipper, large white, green-veined white, red admiral, peacock, comma, gatekeeper and meadow brown butterflies. Birders won’t be disappointed either, with woodcock, tawny owl, tree pipit, wood warbler and long-tailed tit thriving in Longworth Clough’s woodland areas.

While it is an easy reserve to find, its steep paths make it difficult for some visitors particularly in the wet, but if you want to find a wilderness it is worth the walk.

As I mentioned before, Longworth Clough sits in the West Pennine Moors and the views to Winter Hill are lovely. Get your backpack and some sandwiches and wander along to visit an area where nature has proved it can return, no matter how much heavy industry we drop onto it.

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