Thursday, 2 April 2015

Spring into Action

It's 7:15am, my train has been cancelled and it's raining. Another train will come but I choose to cycle the 11 miles to my employment, through April's finest showers. A"man" in a black Audi tries to run me over halfway through my journey; hopefully he is still stuck in traffic somewhere. As I work, I sit in my boxlike office in the midst of the massive, soulless industrial estate that is Segensworth, near Fareham. I occasionally gaze wistfully out of my window at what is possibly the most uninspiring view I have ever had to tolerate.
Toward midday the grim grey clouds gradually break and the sweet azure begins to brighten my mood. Suddenly my heart is dramatically lifted as I spot and instantly recognise a Kite, slowly gliding over the drab grey buildings opposite. Lunchtime looms and as always, I get out of the building. I jog out of the estate, dodge the speeding motorists and slip through a hedge. Within 10 minutes I am standing in a field and my tightly coiled mind begins to unwind.
I find a footpath and follow it. I spot Plum blossom and Blackthorn too. Most of the white flowers in the hedgerows now are Blackthorn, so I predict a good year for Sloes. I make a mental note to add the locations to the fruit map. Further into my walk, I spot some old neglected Apple trees, or are the Pears? It's hard to tell in Spring. I also note several Cherry trees about to burst into bloom. After a brisk 10 minute walk I reach my intended target, a ruined abbey that I have noticed on a map, it is pretty impressive. In the grounds I locate several fruit trees, one of which is covered in delightful flowers, I think/hope it is a Peach tree.
After a short explore and a wander about it is time to return. I retrace my footsteps back to my office and work but now I am rejuvenated and refreshed. I'm looking forward to my journey home - It's a Bank Holiday weekend coming up. I'm looking forward to stepping off the treadmill, ricocheting about with the family, cultivating our allotment and hopefully scoffing an Easter egg.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Choose the Best Jacket

Well the solar eclipse was a bit of a damp (cloudy) squib where we were, but never mind there's a lunar eclipse in September and another solar one coming to the UK in 84 years or so...
Meanwhile, something that requires more immediate attention is choosing your favourite book cover from the 3 images below. 
Please leave feedback and select your favourite, there will be a free signed book in the post for the most helpful comments, when they actually arrive.
Number One, Seasons

Number Two, Cherries

Number Three, Illustration
We hope you like the look of these book jackets. 
Please do leave comments, it really helps. 
I think it is a difficult choice, but that is a good thing.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Eclipsing the Equinox

There might not be much to harvest from the hedgerows at this time of year but there is still plenty to get excited about.
The weekend of the 21st 22nd is when the Vernal (Spring) Equinox occurs. This is the first time of the year when the days and nights are of equal length; the second time is the Autumnal Equinox. The Vernal Equinox is also the time of year in the UK when the clocks get moved forward, so we loose and hour of sleep, which I could do without personally.
More excitingly, this week on Friday morning 20th March in the UK we will experience a partial solar eclipse, (almost total sounds more fun). In Southampton (where we live) this will occur at about 09:28 with about 83% of the sun covered. Do not try to use sunglasses or anything else; looking at the sun, even during an eclipse is very dangerous and can damage your eyes. The simple and safe way to watch the process is to make a pin-hole camera, or use a small mirror to cast the image onto a wall.  You can download the Royal Astronomical Society leaflet here.
You will need your eyes to be working at their best during the coming months to spot all the beautiful blossom that is bursting out all over the trees in Spring. This bloom will hopefully be the precursor to vast amounts of free fresh fruit, which you will then be able to access and eat. If you can’t eat it all at once you can transform it into pies,cakes, puddings, jams, cordials, chutney or anything else that comes to mind.
You should also be adding the trees locations onto the FallingFruit map, this way you and other people will be able to locate them more easily in future years.
The Urbane Forager Book Update…
Swift progress is being made during the Spring on the Urbane Forager book and we are now in the final stages of the design work.

If you want to receive updates on the progress of this project, please notify me via the contact pages here or on our community website. Then we can invite you to the book release party and you can be among the first to own a signed copy.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Spring is Sprung

At last! I have spotted my first Plum blossom of the year. It’s far from abundant at the moment, but in the warmer sheltered places the delicate creamy white buds that cover the branches are now opening to reveal their petals. Soon we will begin to see whole swathes of this ivory bloom along the roadsides and in the hedgerows.
 Remember though, it is not only the flowers of the Plum that herald the onset of Spring, the closely related Blackthorn will also bloom at the same time. The plums will develop fruit that will ripen in the Summer but Blackthorn bushes supply the Sloes and these will not mature until late Autumn .
Now is the time to begin spotting and identifying blossom, wherever you are and record its location. Once you have done this, you should also take a moment to indicate it on the Falling Fruit map.
During the chilly month of February, we took a trip to discover a stone circle near Oxford. The Devil’sCoits are situated in the beautiful village of Stanton Harcourt. The original landscape was shamefully destroyed by gravel extraction and then replaced with landfill but thankfully, the henge and stone circle has now been restored.
While we were in the Cotswolds we spotted lots of beautiful Kites. These large but extremely graceful birds of prey are a delight to watch as their distinct silhouettes circle above the villages, scanning the landscape for food.
The Urbane Forager Book Update…
Swift progress has been made during the Winter on the new Urbane Forager book and we are now in the final stages of the design work. We have a few early versions of potential covers for the book jacket and will post them here soon for your approval. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

February Feelings

Winter is always a lean time for foragers, especially if (like me) their specialism lies in fruit and nuts. February can seem like the harshest month but the plants show the truth is otherwise. Even though there have not been a huge amount of new posts during the cold season, it does not mean that I have not been busy…
What does that strange aura around the moon mean?
In fact I have been busier than normal editing and proofing my latest book. This exciting new volume will be based on the Urbane Forager project and is currently with a designer, so the first editions will not be too far away now. Don’t worry dear readers; you will be the first to know when and where it will be available.
I have also been busy packing up my work office (yes, I have a day job too). The company is moving, which for me is a shame. I have always cycled most days from Southampton, where we live, to Hedge End, for work, but now the office is moving to Segensworth (Fareham), which is twice as far to pedal, so I will need to carefully consider my travel options.

During my time in Hedge End the Urbane Forager project took shape and became popular. My endless lunchtime walks brought me into close contact with the trees and I began to recognise the blossom and then the fruit. From there the whole thing grew organically and I identified a great abundance of fruit trees in the area.
I will also miss the cycle ride, my Winter morning and evening rides are brightened by the drifts of snowdrops and crocuses that I spy in the roadsides. 
I always hear a nightingale in West End thicket as I take a short cut to the A27, and I even saw it once. Not that these are glamorous birds at all but it is rare to actually see one.
I will have start to walking around the Segensworth industrial estates now, and begin to map fruit and nut trees across a whole new area.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Wrap Up Warm

It might not seem like it, as you dig your way out of several fathoms of bone-cold snow, but the wheel of the year is inexorably tuning toward Springtime. Winter though, is always a lovely time to go for a wild walk and picnic, just be sure to wrap up well. So, dig out your boots, woollies and waterproofs. On recent expeditions to the New Forest, we found several ancient apple trees to add to the map and of course some truly splendid oaks.
Just Look at the Girth on That (photo by Kevin Jenkin)
The days are getting longer; we are one third of the way from Mid-Winter to the Vernal Equinox after all. Soon I may not need to turn my bike lights on as I cycle my chilly, wet way to and from work. 
There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather-Only Inappropriate Clothing

Today I noticed the bright jewel-like buds and flowers of crocuses, just beginning to poke their heads above the frosty grass parapets - always a sight to brighten the heart. 
My Mum has daffodils in flower in her garden but I'm sure this is just a freak occurrence. Catkins, the dangling flowers of the Hazel tree are also making an appearance, much to the delight of children everywhere.
A Frozen Shower of Catkins

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Walk Out in Winter

I hope all our readers got what they deserved from Santa this year. We were busy making wreaths for the home and even found Mistletoe on the local Pitch and Put golf course. Our Mulled Cider and Elderberry Wine seemed to go down very well at various Christmas celebrations.
After a while though, I was getting cabin fever and so we had to get out for a couple of hikes, to blow away the cobwebs and burn off the mince pies. The New Forest is always very convenient for us and we ended up marching out for a brilliant frosty walk with friends around Bramshaw.
We also braved a blustery day and scrambled up and around Old Winchester Hill in the fantastic Meon Valley. This ancient place was once a Bronze Age Enclosure, then later an Iron Age hill fort. It has burial mounds on top and the incomparable view stretches for miles, out over the Solent to the aforementioned New Forest and the Isle of Wight.
There is an abundance of interesting landscapes to be enjoyed on the South Downs but the Meon Valley and especially the area around Old Winchester Hill, are too interesting not to explore in greater depth. Our trip took in beautiful villages, fields of Watercress and the meandering Meon River that was once the main transport route to London from the South coast, before the silting up of the estuary (now an important nature reserve) allowed Southampton to take the lead.
On the way up the hill, we took refuge from the wind's icy blast by spending a while clambering around in a grove of  Yew trees, which for all I know, could have been there since the first human occupation. Then it was out onto the crest, to admire the view and attempt to cling on to a wildly flapping kite.
While the kids were enjoying being dragged about by the howling gale, I discovered a plantation of Juniper bushes, hunkered down and clinging resolutely to the side of the hill. These shrubs are the only native UK fir trees and are now seriously endangered due to disease and also because of their spiny leaves being nibbled up by sheep and rabbits. Interestingly I also found Juniper on Danebury, another local Iron Age hill fort
I gathered a pocketful of ripe, black Juniper berries to take home; their exotic aroma adds a unique spice to many meat recipes, as well as being the main flavouring in Gin. It was a good job I was wearing gloves, as the needles of this bush are quite savage. By the time we got home, we were thoroughly tired and all of us had a ruddy glow in our cheeks.

So readers, what have you resolved to do differently in 2015? Personally, I'm going to finish and publish, the Urbane Foragers Field Guide. Actually, I think I'm going to need a more snappy title for this forthcoming book, so please, send in your suggestions...