All in a Day's Walk

A month-long slow food walking performance

Archive for gardening

This little piggy went to market

A walk to Ruardean again to buy vegetables and meat. We have another friend – Jessie – coming for dinner later and I want to see what new produce is springing forth from the Crooked End garden since the last time I visited. In terms of local produce, I seem to have timed this summer version of the performance perfectly as a walk up a seasonal produce see-saw: it was nearly at rock bottom when I started the uphill climb but now I’ve passed the fulcrum and it’s tipping me downhill into overabundance. (Though I’m still struggling to find enough stodgy carbohydrates to support a long distance walking practice – or my own metabolism’s pace and eccentricities – but more on that anon.)

I’m walking without the dogs this time, so I’m much speedier (stiles and sniffing slow you down with hounds). But I seem to ‘read’ landscape according to my very first encounter with it, so this second walk along a route I first encountered with dogs I’m remembering the stiles that were impossibly hard to throw a hound over, or the fields of sheep where I keep them close to me (dogs chase sheep), or cows where I don’t (cattle chase dogs and I’ve been told it’s best to let your dogs off the lead to avoid being trampled yourself).

I also realise that, when I’m focused on the young dogs (are they safe? are they within sight? are they chasing something they shouldn’t?), I am experiencing the landscape more through the things their multiple senses (eyes, ears and snouts) alert me to. I have a lesser sense of the topography and terrain and my own physical or emotional response to it; it even subdues my awareness of the immediate discomfort of nettle stings. But walking this route again, which takes me up over Lea Bailey and into the Forest of Dean proper, I am more aware this time of leaving the familiar pastoral landscapes of South Herefordshire and entering labyrinthine woods with a concomitant sense of wildness and enclosure but also, paradoxically, vastness. (I remember a reading in a John Wylie paper a Gaston Bachelard quote: ‘we do not have to be long in the woods to experience the always rather anxious impression of “going deeper and deeper” into a limitless world’.)

Thinking again of landscape empathy, I realise that (of course) our true ‘sense of place’ is much more closely allied to our personal awareness of or relationship with topography and scale and the ‘recognisableness’ of landscape than administrative (county) boundaries (which I tend to be geekily hyperaware of, having worked as a landscape mapping officer for two local government authorities over the past decade). Even though we live in South Herefordshire, my partner always says by way of explanation to others that ‘we live in the Forest of Dean’. It used to intrigue my pedantic self, because strictly speaking we don’t, but now I get it: it is a highly characteristic and more recognisable and descriptive landscape area which I already feel an affection and affiliation towards. Landscapes are, of course, better defined by the perceptions of the people within them.

I also realise that it’s by situating ourselves firmly in our own filltir sgwar (a Welsh phrase, literally translated as ‘square mile’ but meaning that place which you own through familiarity and which ‘owns’ you [and] needs your vigilance), that we can begin to address wider concerns, because it gives us a context: while such a localised practice as mine could be accused of parochial tendencies, I feel that by settling in, I’m better placed to look out. As long as I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that this rural idyll is all there is. (It’s OK, they sell the Guardian in the village shop.) Having recently watched Quadrophenia for the first time (I’m a few decades behind when it comes to popular culture), it makes me think that as we become separated from landscape, we become artificially tribal: inventing difference to cultivate an ultimately flawed sense of belonging to something, anything.

These musings aside, it’s when I’m passing the stile that I remember as most hideously dog-bothersome, that I see some beehives in a next door garden. I also see some people, and stop to ask them about bee-keeping (we are thinking of getting a hive for the garden). They – Steve and Sarah – are immediately helpful and welcoming. We get talking about bees, but also the project more widely, local food and meat: it turns out they have pigs, hens and a whole smallholding of wonderment. (Even peaches in the greenhouse.) Sarah kindly takes me on a tour of the pigs, the fruit canes, vegetable garden and, finally (and most surprisingly) ‘parma’ hams hanging in the cool under a tree in their garden (though, as Sarah explains, they can’t be sold as parma ham because this is an EU PDO…  and we’re full circle back to our allegiance with place and landscape). She muses, they might call them ‘Harechurch Hams’ and you can hear an audio walk through the journey from farrowing pen to tree here:

Lea allotments sign Lea allotments view Lea Bailey honey Hidden cows crossing Forest signpost Closed road Reclaiming the road Cider press at Hom Grove Farm Cider press at Hom Grove Farm 2 Cider press at Hom Grove Farm 3 Fly tipping Bartley's Oak holloway Harechurch Hill Harechurch preserves Harechurch preserves 2  Harechurch Ham

Carless and carefree

Old Lane, Gorsley

After walking the dogs, I leave them in the house with Callum and walk along the many, meandering lanes through Gorsley and over the old Hereford and Gloucester canal at Oxenhall  to Brown and Green, an award-winning farm and local food shop at 3 Shires Garden Centre that my internet searching has turned up. (Word of mouth is slower to work; though writing this retrospectively, it would have come onto my radar soon enough from the number of people who seem to be aware of it.)

I am, unsurprisingly, hungry this morning, but to the worrying extent that I am hyperaware of all signs of food, including that which has already passed through other creatures: I find myself photographing cherry stones and wheat husks in poo – the latter badger, the former I’m not so sure. An unripe crab apple, fallen onto the road and squashed makes me feel momentarily mournful.

I’m also thinking more and more about foraging. Having read both Food for Free (Richard Mabey, of course) and Wild Food (Roger Phillips) years ago, I’ve long been obsessed with scanning hedgerows whilst riding and running, particularly in the spring when the first succuluent greens start coming through. I have been making all the obvious things for years: nettle soup and tea, Jack-by-the-hedge salad, elderflower fritters and cordial, blackberry crumble and sloe gin and giant puffball steaks. But otherwise, my interest in foraging has been more of an academic one: feeding my brain rather than belly. Revisiting those books now, I’m struck by how many of the recipes require significant amounts of additional produce – potatoes, butter, milk, eggs, flour, meat and fish – to make the foraged leaves into meals substantial enough to be filling. Quite often they’re more about flavouring and interest, and possibly texture, rather than calorific sustenance. (This is an observation that JoSh also wryly makes in his video blog, after a very difficult week of trying to survive purely on foraged (‘bitter’) leaves. I write an email in response to his blog, offering sympathy and agree ‘Like you say, foraging for sustenance came before we had full-time jobs – foraging WAS a full-time job, together with resting to preserve energy! ). Nevertheless, today I find myself drawn – by its scent, very sweet and almondy in the hot sun – to meadowsweet. I’ve just been reading about its use as a flavouring and sweetener, in tea, puddings and custard. There is something about its frothy heads of flower that is redolent of the richness of cream. A kind of synaesthetic olfactory-visual onomatopoeia.

After a quick duck under the shade of Cold Harbour Bridge on the disused Hereford and Gloucester canal at Oxenhall (sections of which are currently under restoration), I plod on to the main road and pass a series of sprawling garden centres (including Gloucestershire’s most inspirational plant centre apparently: I walk past). I arrive at Brown and Green. It’s like a traditional delicatessen-cum-farm shop, personal and homely and well-stocked but somewhat incongruously set in a massive, department-store style garden centre. I explain to the sales assistant what I am doing and she is instantly friendly and takes time to talk me around all the produce, making recommendations and knowing where every single thing has come from and how it was grown.

 

It’s very impressive and I fill a basket with as much as I think I can carry back: mushrooms, carrots, beans and peas, apple juice, May Hill ale (though I later realise that possibly the hops weren’t grown quite within my walking radius, sigh) and nettle-coated Charles Martell cheese (May Hill Green), made up the road in Dymock with their own Old Gloucester milk. I sit on a bench outside and wolf down the cheese with my salad leaves and broad beans.

On the way back, I fall into step with another walker, who’s joined my route from a different footpath. Slighlty awkwardly, we fall into conversation and she tells me she has lived rurally without a car for over three years. She cycles everywhere and when she can’t she walks, as she explains in the following audio (apologies for the poor audio quality; there was a breeze and I forgot my wind-jammer):

And finally within a few miles of home and passing back through Withymoor Farm, a dairy  at Aston Crews, I stop to ask if they sell any of their products on the farm. They don’t, but we fall into conversation anyway and I find myself being shown around the space-age tardis-like wood-chip water heater that runs two houses and a whole dairy unit. Now an audio documentation geek, naturally I record it:

Cherry poo Orchard near Gorsley Meadowsweet in Gorsley hedgerow Honeysuckle in Gorsley hedgerow Stoney Road, Gorsley Squashed apples Meadowsweet again Butterbur? Butterbur? 2 Three Choirs Way Hot sheep Last year's corn Last year's corn 2 Badger scat in the wheat Hereford and Gloucester canal above Oxenhall Really? La la la... Brown and Green Fresh local berries Between Newent and Gloucester May Hill ale

And then walk the dogs again when I get home…