The weather has hampered all attempts to go out rambling and foraging so far this month. With fierce rain and wind, enough to run paths to streams and blow over trees and close the Forth Road Bridge. That is until today where I awoke to the crispest of mornings with the sun low over the hills, shining its yellow -orange light across the top of the Orchard. So after an amazing breakfast of poached eggs and spiced potatoes it was off outside with myself, wrapped in hat, white woollen jumper, jeans and hiking boots to go rambling and see what i can find for foraging.
The air was crisp and you could see the breath form in front of you and the wind slightly biting as I walked out the castle estate gates, a big Scottish hound running around sniffing squirrel tracks. There are no large plants in the hedge rows from the gate past the castle wall, they are all now brown and passed, but there is still a lot of grasses and green brambles, their berries rotten and no good hanging over them. Every now and again the path side is punctuated with the bright red of rose hips attached to the now leafless dog rose. These things are like sweeties to the local Deer and I notice the deer fences just past the normal fences and dry stone wall around the fields and I look forward to meeting some one day. Chickweed however is abundant as is Yarrow, some of the
Yarrow is still in flower and there are plenty of Yarrow leaves coming from between the grass fronds. Looking along the road as I turn into the path , surrounded by the skeletal limbs of trees who have all but lost their leaves, I notice Crows flying around above the field and make a mental note to find their roosting tree when I have a chance.
Walking down the path between fields there again is a profusion of Rosehips and bramble plants, but the old traditional hedgerows are still in place here and surround the path on both sides with a profusion of old Hawthorn trees. There leaves are all gone except on a few tress but there is a myriad of Hawthorn berries everywhere. Between the Hawthorn tree there is Blackthorn, but nowhere near as many as the Hawthorn. Their sloes are evident but we haven’t had a frost strong enough to sweeten the fruit as yet, I try a few sloes fresh from the tree and they are still very sour. I make a note to come back after the first frost to see if they are still here to put them into a sloe gin recipe.
Again lots and lots of roses hips, in fact I have never seen so many! The blackbirds are flying about as I come to a cross-roads path, each corner marked by a large stone. I go right, towards what I think is the woods. This is over the brow of a hill and there is very little hedge row here, the wind is really blowing across the arable fields, growing some sort of grass on one side and cabbage on the other. I finally come to a horse farm, you could tell a mile away from the particular smell a stud farm has :)
The horses are all in their winter jackets, literally, as they stand in the fields eyeing me with curiosity. The farm is surrounded by Scots Pine and other large Sycamore and Ash trees, now bereft of their leaves. I see what is termed by some a “devils plantation” or a piece of the field left uncultivated, supposedly left for the wild spirits of place as I turn the opposite direction into the woods. The smell of the trees and woods is immense, the smell of petrichor and damp earth smell, I just love it! Like fresh patchouli, it’s so great, I take deep breaths of it in until I get so used to it and can’t smell it anymore and start to wander the woods.
Scots Pine and Ash and Birch with a few Sycamores seem to be the main trees here. Some of the Scots Pines don’t look very well and perhaps suffering from some sort of needle cast disease. The forest floor is alive with Ferns, Nettles, Ivy and brambles and looking further the forest floor is covered in Sweet Woodruff and I think Ground Ivy, both great flavourings for wine and other fermentations, but I’ll have to go home to identify the Ground Ivy for sure. There are also a lot of fungi in the trees and on the forest floor in the clearings away from the evergreens. Regrettably I’m not very good at identifying fungi, but here’s hoping by the time next year comes round I’ll at least know a few that may be of use.
As I get deeper into the woods I hear the cry of a Common Buzzard above me, I think it’s telling me I’m on its turf as it circles me above the trees. I see great tits and chaffinches darting between the evergreens and I rest for a bit in a pine needle covered clearing. I can see the white resin of the Scots pine running down a few of the trunks and have a scratch at it, releasing that fresh pine scent as it sticks to my fingers, delicious, and would make a great incense component. The buzzard seems to have calmed down and I head out to wander round the rest of the woods. I come across fenced off small squares and realise that this forest sits on top of an old mining system, I’m immediately reminded of Silent Hill. Mining was once a lucrative business in East Lothian but ended a long time ago. I worry with fracking, this area may again become of interest and ruin all that is here and I physically shudder at the thought. Having wandered around the woods taking in as much as I can I head home across the fields.
There is a light rain falling and its caught in the sunshine making a rainbow across the field. It’s really beautiful as its frames the castle in the background. I love sunshine on a rainy day, even at this temperature. The fields are water-logged because of all the rain we have had and really muddy but I stick to the edges. Jumping over a wee burn I find a small patch of burdock, some dead now having reached its second years growth but the young first years are still green, the burrs still fresh looking on them. Further along the field is, again, another fenced off area of a mining shaft and I finally hit the old dry stone wall of the path I was originally on.
This part of the path is not only surrounded by Hawthorn and Brambles but also Gorse and the occasional Elder tree punctuated regular with Rose hips. One Gorse bush still has its flowers and I sniff some of the weirdly banana vanilla scented flowers. I think they may be great in some sort of alcoholic drink so I make a promise to come back when they are in full bloom next year. The fields either side of the path here are ploughed with no signs what might be next to grown in them anywhere, I hope it’s not Rape Seed as it makes me sneeze so much. I finally come back once more to the cross roads. I took towards the woods and note how each path runs parallel to the compass directions. The stones marking out the 4 quarters of the intersecting points, at the base of the stones very young Cleavers are just poking up through the earth and Plantain around this in patches, all great foraging.
Finally on the home stretch I thank the plants I see for a great walk and I stop to pick up as much litter as I can manage with no back pack, its sad that folks just toss stuff with no regard for where it ends up. With my hands stuffed with as much as I can carry I throw it all in our recycling bins back at the castle and notice that we have lots of Nettles and again Yarrow in flower around each side of the castle walls near the bins. Rosey cheeked I look forward to a great big cup of warm tea as I head inside as I pick the Burrs stuck on my jumper off.
I apologise for the lack of pictures taken myself, i had to leave my phone at home and my camera wasn’t charged. Next time this wont happen but i hope the stock photos are ok as a form of illustration.