Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Foraging in the Forest of Dean

A violet-grey mantle of fog prowled through the trees as we drove deeper and deeper into the Forest of Dean. It cleared briefly on the crest of a small hill, then hurriedly gathered us back into its murky moth jar, adding three new specimens to the dawn collection as it did so. At the moment at which we reached our destination (the aptly named Clearwell) - it was gone.

Our guide Raoul Van Den Broucke opens the boot and checks his kit. Walking stick. Hat. Knife. Basket. Hand-held vacuum cleaner? He explains that its primary use is to gather Garlic mustard seeds once they have fallen to the ground; the dry pods are so fragile that even the the slightest of touches sends them scattering. The thought of an unassuming pair of ramblers chancing upon Raoul as he hoovers the forest floor with a vacuum cleaner keeps me amused for the rest of the day. Raoul has a mischievous twinkle in his eye and a gift for anecdote; its easy to warm to his enthusiasm for life, wild food and the natural world.

Over a pint of ale in the village pub, we examine our bounty. Wild garlic, Hop shoots, Nettles, Wild onions - more than enough with which to fashion a tasty lunch. The pub overlooks an old churchyard filled with Yew; Raoul explains that unlike the deadly poisonous needles, the berry (Aril) flesh is sweet, and edible (always spit out the seeds though). As we walk quietly around the church afterwards, sunlight glances through a stained-glass window, covering a nearby tomb with kaleidoscopic patterns of gentle colour.


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