Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Kentish Forage with Carol Hunt

Having been a Bushcraft Magazine reader for some time I finally got to meet Carol Hunt, who supplies a lot of the foraged food articles and the like, for the said publication at the May Meet in Kent.

As part of my work sabbatical I had dawn up a sort of rough bucket list whilst planning it, and sorting something with Carol was on that list. Now this is my fourth forage in eight weeks with the others being in differing locations with Joe O'Leary, John Rentsen (Forage London) and Fraser Christian (with the last three being on a 1-2-1 basis), and all good experience to go with my ongoing Paul Kirtley Tree and Plant masterclass learning.

I'd chatted to Carol at the Meet and I loosely arranged a programme and a meeting place (not too far from my recent Elmley reserve visit) via email, text and social media and took it from there...

I met up a little way through the Dartford Tunnel and I had a little look round as I was early. When Carol pulled up I mentioned that I'd bought a few provisions and a little equipment with me, even a towel in case Cat Tail harvesting was to happen. Before we started Carol offered me a caremalised Grasshopper to try from a tub which Will Lord had given her (I think his dad John got them in Japan). They weren't too bad but a quick swill with water did help the last pesky bits of exoskeleton wash away.


Carol suggested that we do a two centred foraging walk, one that started near the area where we were parked, which was by a farm and then work the perimeter of a field and an area just beyond, and then re-locate at an estuary which I was more than happy with. 

We chatted about regular names, local names, edibility, medical uses and anything in between. As well as snapping plants (and insects) I saw I soon had to dive for my notepad as I was seeing varieties of plants that were new to me, and information that my pea brain would perhaps not hold until I got home. I was rather taken by this rather fine example of Fat Hen which photographed rather nicely, and the well spaced Jelly Ear on this Elder.

After scoping the field margin we made our way through a gate into a coppiced section of Edible Chestnut wood to the other side.

Carol pointed out how much nearer the chalk was on this side of the wood and of course the aspect was different too.


I learnt about yet more plants; some I hadn't seen before, and some that I was seeing for the first time this year. Interestingly I thought the flower on the left was White Campion but my cursory glance hadn't noticed that it was the slightly plumper Bladder Campion. Another moment to remind myself to slow down and be more studious.


We also saw an umbellifer that we couldn't quite nail, well at least not enough to nail the name 100% so I have to look this up. The foliage to the right is one of the new species to me which is Vervain.

One easily recognised umbellifer was Hogweed and I tried the seeds for the first time. It is said that it tastes somewhere between burnt Orange and Cardamon and I got the former. We did find several Hogweed plants that had rather larger than expected stems that you might expect...

And two more selected to finish off with, on the left Hops which are of course associated with Kent, and a non-edible in the form of Black Bryony. We decided to call it a day in this location to allow us time to drive to the second location and forage...It was later than either of us realised.

Carol spotted this unusual grass as we approached the cars and the shimmery look to it turned out to be hundreds of little winged insects! I let some land on my arm and they weren't midges, but some more investigation is needed.

We got in our cars and we quickly swopped rolling Kentish countryside, for a flat Kentish estuary a short distance away, and squelchy ground of a different kind.


As I live in a fairly similar place to the first location I did have some knowledge and experience of some of the flora, but with a few exceptions I was on a steep curve at the second. Prickly Lettuce, the aromatic Sea Wormwood... 


Perenneal Rocket and Sea Spurrey...


Sea Purslane and Sea Lavender... 

And Orache were all added to the memory banks.  Incidenatlly I asked if Orache was pronounced 'Orache' or 'Orache' and it's 'Orache' just so you know. I'll be adding a lot of these to my #treeplantid photo album on Facebook.

There was one plant I knew but haven't foraged since I was a kid living in Skegness. This is Glasswort which is usually known as Samphire. You can buy it in supermarkets but it really can't hold a candle to the real thing which is juicy and gives you a satisfying salty taste of the sea. To be honest I couldn't get over it as I had an extended childhood flashback.

After we'd harvested some of the stuff we needed from the above list (plus a few tender Sea beet leaves we found in a sheltered spot) we had a quick look a little way inland. As well as seeing the plants and trees we did have a brief burst from a Cuckoo, as I did at Elmley the other day.

And this was our haul so without further ado it was on with the prep. Carol had come prepared with the necessary extra ingredients but we used my stove and pan.

Whilst we sorted the food we shared a concoction that she had made with just three ingredients and I'm pleased I worked out two and highlighted one ingredient that you might expect but that wasn't added.


Lunch came together smoothly and as we cooked several intrigued walkers came over to see what we where doing and some had a real chat.

 Venison sat atop the Tom Yam foraged greens on a bed of noodles. Sadly I had to go easy on the venison due to my iron man status and just had a bit more than a taste.

We had a few greens left over so they got wilted briefly in the pan and had a very faint Tom Yam taste but it was more like a hint of seasoning or stock than a full blown taste. We'd chatted away and again when I checked the time it was way later than either of us realised so we tidied up and headed off. I was expecting to be in the countryside so the estuary visit was a nice surprise which lead to a great bit of food and an up close re-acquaintance with Samphire.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

A Paid Work Sabbatical (no really)

I am a lucky lad, my employer runs a long service reward scheme that sees those doing twenty five consecutive years get awarded a six month period of paid leave from work. I have done just over thirty one years. So why did I delay taking it? Well outdoorsy stuff often involves traveling or indeed nights away, and deferring the taking of it has meant that my kids are that bit older and therefore if I'm later back it's not a biggie (I just bark at them to do their school work later in the day).

I'm actually off for about seven months as I've tagged some holiday onto the front so that this week sees my first official 'man of leisure' week. Well I've already started/ done some stuff beforehand as it was stuff that was happening just outside of my period. 


The first thing I did in the new year was to do the early bird sign up to Paul Kirtley's Tree and Plant masterclass, it starts before the sabbatical would as it runs through the seasons and the idea id that I can use the time off to do it justice. I also attended the Bushcraft Magazine May Meet for the first time, attended a John Rhyder bark workshop at the Weald and Downland museum and went to Wiltshire for a forage with Joe O'Leary in some gorgeous woodland.

That's not a shabby start for sure, but I am going to attend a 1-2-1 forage with John Rentsen, a World of Bushcraft workshop, see Tristan Gooley at the National Maritime museum before rounding off with a visit to the Bushcraft Show and the chance to see a talk by Ray Mears...and that's just the first official week!

I have other stuff lined up, plenty of family holiday and some 'spontaneous' time spare, even a walk in the country will be a new experience without the kids shouting 'hurry up'. I know I'm lucky and I'll be striving to use every minute wisely.

Elmley Nature Reserve

I visited Elmley nature reserve years ago (pre kids) and despite it being a rather cold day my wife and I had several good sightings including a short Eared Owl. The drive in takes you through large tracts of land that are interesting in themselves. We had a Yellow Wagtail land in front of the car after about two minutes, a bird I've never seen before, and then we got held up by a cow in the middle of the path.

Whilst held up we saw an Egret and several marsh harriers which when I've seen them in the past they keep their distance and often just appear as a distance blob skimming reeds. Well we were lucky enough to have a decent close encounter.

In due course the Marsh Harrier had a close encounter with a Lapwing, and then a wader of some kind, gave it a hard time and drive it off pretty smartish. Once the action had abated I decided it was time to move the 'offending' cow out of the way. I grabbed a coat and went round the car in front and persuaded Bessie to move on, as we then did.

Those sightings had made the hour or so trip a success in my mind but there was more to come. Just onto the reserve path we stumbled upon a rather chilled out Hare which casually moved across the stony path, occasionally looking back before doing a left into the long grass. There's just something about Hares isn't there?


The industry and nature in close proximity reminded me of the RSPB reserve at Rainham Marshes, and the dense reed beds harked back to my recent trip to Wicken Fen. With the site being so flat you really get a 360 degree big sky feel.

There is a lot floral variation and one highlight for me was the 'Goatsbeard'. It is nicknmaed Jack-Goes-To-Bed-At-Noon because it opens in the morning and shuts at dinner...but most of these flowers were shut. When I chanced upon an open one it threw me as it was purple as opposed to the expected yellow. Upon getting home it turns out that it's either Purple Goatsbeard or Purple Saxifrage depending where you look on the internet.

The highlight of the reserve birds was probably the numerous Avocets and we had a good view of a nesting bird surrounded by Black Headed Gulls. What neighbours to have.

We also saw a Marsh Harrier dare to show it's face over the water and it was quickly intercepted by a pair of Avocets and it was soon it's more customary distant speck before you could blink an eye. 

We also saw a decent amount of butterflies and moths with this Meadow Brown and Small Magpie moth (the latter looked up on my FSC laminated ID sheet). If you look at the moth picture background you'll see that it was on a hide window, we were the first in them and they were baking hot in the sunshine.


We had our youngest with us who huffed and puffed so we didn't make the last hide, but that said we had some ominous dark clouds scudding in so it was probably for the best. The Vetch was quite noticeable on the return leg so a picture was necessary, and I saw my first Toadflax of the year too.

We saw this little bird hugging the edge of the path on the walk back, I think it's a Corn Bunting but further investigation reveals it to be on the red list...So have I?

My wife hasn't heard a Cuckoo this year and as we got near the car park I heard one briefly do one 'Cuckoo' but my wife missed it so I suggested hanging around the car for a few minutes which gave me a chance to have a nose at the flora around the edge. Seconds after snapping this Fat Hen and Scarlet Pimpernel the seasonal nest disturber obliged.

On the way out we saw several Yellow Wagtails but this time I managed to get a slightly superior shot to those when I came in. A quite beautiful bird.


And then another laid back Hare which made it's way down the track 'fleeing' from an oncoming car until it decided to swing into the grassy verge, and to finish off, a Marsh Harrier not getting mobbed! Elmley is a reserve with a lot of walking involved but it was worth the trip.