Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Here are some of my favourite literary inspirations to get close and personal with the wilderness….

  • ‘Walden’ by Henry David Thoreau – in depth account of one mans personal decision to live in the woods, very philosophical musings on the nature of humanity intersposed with brilliant observations of animals and people he meets on Walden pond.   Though he is a bit santimonious and bangs on a bit at times…
  • ‘The Woodlanders’ – Thomas hardy – Ive already wittered on about this previously, if you like your history and traditional craft with a twist of doomed romance this is for you.  I do!
  • ‘The Cottage Economy’ – William Cobbett – an antique but still relevant tome on DIY farming and micro brewery, also a great rant on how beer is better for fattening pigs than tea, and my favourite, a sexist monologue on how attractive the sweat on a womans brow is as she prepares fresh bread and small beer for her husband!  I guess at least the focus is on her talents not her flesh!!   Interesting also how the brewing industry was gradually brought from being something every family did to breweries under corporate control.
  • ‘Waterlog’ by Roger Deakin – wild swimming around the British isles, from the Broads to the chalk trout streams of Gloucester
  • ‘Rabbit Stew and a Penny or Two’ – Maggie Smith-Bendell – a Romany gypsy’s memoirs of travelling life in the 1950’s…gypsies made good use of the hedgerows and many classic recipes involved nettles and other plants and the rabbits and pigeons they hunted.

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Books with a Bushcraft Soul

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Last Sat me and the littleun trekked to Tring to see what collidge Lake nature reserve has to offer and if its possible for me to run workshops there.  after a fairly pleasant half hour walk pushing the buggy over a stony towpath to the second bridge (nr Bulbourne’s Grand JUnction Arms) i fled Marty the last hundred metres down a road with no pavement to get to Collidge Lake’s entrance, which seemed to be the only way in!

Once inside the quiet gift shop which reminded me of a hermit’s cave strewn with garden sculptures and soft toys, the receptionist even looked faintly shocked that someone had come in.

Marty woke up to this view….

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We discovered a Woodland theatre, a small bender shelter such as the ones yrs truly has lived in for a number of years (except i cheated by covering with advertising tarp as i didnt want to freeze to death being a purist) also a Shepherd hut which Marty proceeded to trash.

as for edibles, plenty of Plaintain and Biting Stonecrop, which is a succulent alpine type plant which is great on a green roof and also gives a peppery hot flavour to dishes.  Cowslip is also edible and was used to make wine (as was nearly everything in the British Isles as our ancestors were such sots) but as it is now so rare its poor taste to harvest it and you will earn well deserved glares if you try!

Guelder Rose is medicinal, the prepared dried bark relaxing cramped muscles including period pain.  not too good to eat though…

Beech trees will provide tasty fatty nuts every four years or so.

From top clockwise..Cowslip, Biting Stonecrop (with Marty!), Wild Strawberry, Salad Burnet atop my hand, and Guelder Rose.

Salad burnet grows on chalk as there is here, it’s a nice addition to any salad as, duh, the name suggests!  Last time i soujourned on chalk was when i slept out on the North Downs trail and i never went hungry for greens..you will find completely different edibles on chalk than on clay.

Whats more I found a copy of Bruce Parry’s ‘Tribe’ which is a darn good read, though some parts can even gross ME out, which is impressive.  I couldnt eat half the things that guy ate.  and the nice lady at the desk said i could pay next time as id spent all me change on a coffee. (Pricey..mental note bring thermos next time)

Collidge Lake..forest huts and edible flowers…

Health and safety with wild foods

Great, your’e about to start shovelling handfuls of luscious wild greens (and reds, purples, yellows and browns) into your foraging basket.  But wheres the best place to start?  It might not always be where you think.

Busy roads dust nearby plants with heavy metals and fumes, so stick to quiet country lanes, which you would probably rather do anyway!  Canals and rivers are good bets as chemical spraying of weedkillers is banned on the banks of watercourses, as is disturbed ground near allotment sites (but if in a garden or on an allotment, check they havent been sprayed with weedkiller!)

Surprisingly, the best [places are often thin strips of land in cities and towns, municipal planters that have been left to rack and ruin gracefully with the fronds of tender juicy chickweed (Stellaria media),  the grounds of abandonned buildings, and graveyards.  These useful plants need us to disturb the soil so they can root, spread their seeds in the treads of our shoes, and fertilize the soils they need to grow with our waste so they can then feed us in return.  If you do have a habit of fence-jumping to pick tempting samples from abandonned building sites, its worth checking the history of the site to ensure what happened there before wont have an effect on what youre eating.  I found the tastiest cherries with hearts of burgundy fire on the site of an aniline dye factory, for example…

So the country fields must be chock a block with wild food, right?  Well yes, but fields are often sprayed too. though im not sure what difference it makes as often we are then eating the bought commercial crop that has been sprayed too!

Tree and bush fruit and nuts is generally safer than annual/perennial plants, the most risky part being the root as its in close contact with the soil.

And remember to get a good ID guide so you know the difference between your Anthriscus sylvestris (Cow parsley) and your Conium maculatum!(Hemlock)

Hemlock is shown below.  Dont get it wrong!

 

Health and safety with wild foods