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...