Monday, 22 August 2016

Caught Red Handed!

The Red Hand Gang
Blackberries are out everywhere now in the UK and our kids have been munching them by the handful when and wherever they spot them. We also made some rather tasty Blackberry Muffins.
Beautiful Blackberries
However, our favourites, for this time of year, are the more difficult to find, Mulberries. Many people have never even had the pleasure of tasting a Mulberry and people often ask us what we are picking when we go out hunting for them.
Marvellous Mulberries
Apparently the trees were introduced into the UK by King James, in an effort to break the grip that China had on the silk trade (silk worms eat the leaves of the White Mulberry tree) but something got lost in translation and so hundreds of Black and Red Mulberry trees were imported and planted in estates and gardens all over England. This was unfortunate for King James and the hungry silkworms but very lucky for us!

It can be difficult to harvest these juicy berries without getting coated in the sweet syrupy juice but walking home, looking as if you may have recently committed murder, is all part of the fun really.
You do need to be careful not to get the juice on your clothes and your footwear will inevitably clogged with crushed fallen fruit, so you need to be cautious on arriving home.
Picking Mulberries in a Southampton Park

A large proportion of what we pick gets eaten straight off the tree but I do manage to bring some home for baking and other experimental processes. This year my daughter helped to create a Mulberry Clafoutis (basically a giant oven-baked pancake), which made an exotic and very tasty seasonal pudding.
Mulberry Clafoutis 
I always like to steep a jar of Mulberries in gin and this produces an irresistible and very attractive ruby red liquor - the only trouble with this drink being that it tastes almost too good.
Quick, call security, someone is stealing the University's Mulberries!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Wild Swimming in Eerie England

We have been on our holiday and we managed to spend a few glorious days on Dartmoor, one of my favourite places, with a seemingly limitless array of stunning locations to walk to. This time we took a  walk North, following a branch of the Dart river, from Two Bridges to visit Wistman's Wood.
Wistman's Wood is fairy small, and yet, it is a truly spectacular place; stunted dwarf Oaks, huddle together and cling to the sides of the steep valley amidst a chaotic carnage of vast granite boulders. The curious feature that makes it seem like a set from a Harry Potter movie, is that the whole place is positively draped in dense layers of thick green spongy mosses and ferns.
You need to be careful, as you clamber through the boulders, partly because it is slippery and dangerous terrain, partly because you want to preserve this unique environment and partly because there are various legends that indicate that the Devils ghostly Wist Hounds abide in the area, as well as nests of writhing vipers. 
We found it a truly splendid place and it fulfilled my slightly obsessive quest for English Eerie. After eating our sandwiches in the Druidic grove, we trekked back over the nearby tors to the Two Bridges Hotel for tea and scones. Finally, on our route home, we stopped off at Merrivale to visit the fascinating array of stone rows and circle there.
On another day we took a lovely woodland walk from the village of Holne, again along the river Dart until we found the legendary Sharrah Pool.
This idyllic spot is perfect for a picnic followed by a bit of wild swimming. The Dart has carved out a massive groove through the ancient granite landscape, which is deep enough to dive into in several places (if you are brave enough) and longer than 100 meters. 
There are several delightful places along the river, where it is deep and accessible enough to swim, and these natural Jacuzzis are becoming more popular with the recent trend for wild swimming in the UK but Sharrah Pool is astounding and an absolute must.
The dark peaty water gushes down-hill via boulder strewn white-water rapids and sluices into the main pool via a narrow waterfall and channel, "the Sharrah Shoot". The bold can plunge into the shoot and get swept into the pool for further swimming and frolicking. After exhausting ourselves in the pool, we hiked back to Holne for the best cream teas in Devon from the local community shop, the perfect conclusion to a brilliant day out.