Foraging: First steps…


I guess there are a few reasons why have decided to take up a more agrarian lifestyle (or at least the start of one).

Weary of the bloatedness that accompanies eating meat in significant volumes has led to a pescatarian diet over the last six weeks has already reaped rewards in a two kilo weight loss, and its a more sustainable way to live. Spending time during the same period rambling across the green and pleasant lands of England, and getting back to nature has given a fresh appetite to put materialism to one side (after the basics hunter-gatherer equipment has been bought and delivered from Amazon – naturally), wanting a life of less that gives me more as a result, and its a more sustainable way to live. Detoxifying the body by reducing alcohol and sugar intake, flushing out unfriendly bacteria and negative Covid knots via the esoteric practice of kundalini yoga and with it a new vigour for life outside the norms of society.

Sadly, I am a hypocrite (and my nineteen year old learned and wise-beyond-his-years offspring concurs this on a daily basis without the need for prompt) and I acknowledge that. Working in an industry which is doing precious little to address global warming and investing in renewable energy sources burns deep within my eco-citizen higher self. With over twenty years invested and with retirement just around the corner (albeit a long, long corner), I have too much invested to just walk away.

My mission is simple, do what I can to be more sustainable now as an individual and as a family (even though on the grand scale of things that is insignificant). Try to improve sustainability and promote green issues in the workplace (knowing that a cultural shift from within will help change the mindset of others on a larger scale than the self or the family). Once I do eventually retire, look towards an off-grid lifestyle, becoming self-sufficient by living off the land and via renewable resources, and if possible go a step further set up a new family (an eco community), starting off small and growing over time, with mind, body and soul at the core.

I’ve admired Jacque Fresco for so long and his Venus Project vision, but it stagnates in this rule-bound material world and having a fully operable and autonomous collective which sits outside the taxation system in the US is in my opinion a tall order to achieve.

I may face the same obstacles in the future here in the UK, but there is hope. One Planet Development in Wales is starting to allow applicants to set up sustainable small holdings to help reduce the countries carbon footprint, something Westminster hasn’t done yet across Offa’s Dyke and may not do, ever.

My recent micro-expeditions over the last six weeks has pushed my retirement thinking further forward, to the extent where it is all I’ve been thinking about for the last seven days since returning from Roman Northumbria. It’s clear to me that not only will I need to detach myself from most of the day to day operations I do now, but I will need to acquire brand new skills and an improved physical prowess should I succeed in what will be the final chapter of my Book of Life.

So like Alice, peering down the rabbit hole into an unknown world, I have started to do some research on what skills I will need. Although the list will be long, it will need to be exhaustive and complete by the time I exhaustingly hit fifty five.

Thumbing through the pages on the internet last week, I decided it was time to get back to basics, real basics, and with that I tried to get an understanding of prehistoric history of Britain, and more specifically the Wirral where I currently live.

Whilst I intend to craft a full post which addresses those historical knowledge gaps from the Palaeolithic age, through the Mesolithic and on to the Romans era, what I have uncovered thus far is that the first Homo sapiens remains in the UK were found (rather remarkably – coincidentally?) at Kents Cavern in Devon where I took the family a few weeks back. These remains carbon-dated to around the year forty thousand BCE and exhibits found revealed our true hunter-gatherers forefathers (and mothers); animal bones, archaic tools and means of illuminating the deepest and darkest caverns by using flints, dry mosses and shells (ancient Yankee Candles).

The trip to the caves fascinated me as did the lifestyle, free from the problems we have today, although they had entirely different problems and dangers to face of course.

Survive they did and we are all evidence of that, but how did the sustain themselves and their tribes, what methods did they use to succeed?

Leaving the hunting aside for another post, my focus turned to gatherering, and what we call foraging today.

Buoyed by my mid-morning blackberry breakfast in Northumbria last Sunday, I did a bit of research and was delighted to find that there was a foraging course in Ruthin (small market town in North Wales) which just happened to coincide with my sisters birthday in a couple of weeks from now. So with debit card already in hand, I dutifully booked us on the course (including my eco-wife to-be), and acquireds a few beginners guides and tools, ready for our first foray into foraging.

Annoyingly, I was off ill from work this week, the kundalini yoga on Tuesday seemed to release many built-up toxins and with it a serious migraine ensued which lasted all of Thursday and Friday, and with it an unwelcome return of my tinnitus, turned up to eleven. Already sprouting cold sores on the lips, I put myself into a dark room and nestled under a duvet for two and a bit days, unable and unwilling to focus and concentrate on the deployment of intelligent IT monitoring systems at work (A.I. won’t get ill, one of the benefits of my work for my employers further down the line after my presence becomes redundant, a victim of my own success).

During my bed-bound sabbatical, I did manage to watch some YouTube videos on foraging, sometimes drifting back off to the land of nod.

There were a few videos that stood out for all would-be pickers:

1. Ray Mears Wild Food

2. Ray Mears Bushcraft

3. Ray Mears Wild Britain

4. Wild Food UK Back To Basics

I guess when it comes to cult of personality and living off the land and it’s resources, Bear Grylls instantly springs to mind. I have liked watching his shows over the years, but find them somewhat contrived and of course a little extreme, sensational not educational.

My quick bimble through some of the online guidance revealed some important principles before taking the first step outdoors:

1. Acquire advice from professionals first

2. Acquire reference books to validate what you forage and if it is safe to eat and don’t taste test

3. Acquire some basic foraging kit (waterproof clothes, gloves, bushcraft knife, foraging bag)

4. Acquire a diary to catalogue where and when you forage

5. Only acquire what you need for yourself/family. Only take a third of the fruits available

6. Don’t take on the edge of agricultural land, especially if the foolishness is brown, likely due to pesticide spraying

7. Don’t trust identifying apps like Google Lens

8. Don’t uproot plants on common land or agricultural land unless permission is granted

9. Sample small amounts during initial forays to make sure one isn’t allergic to the plant

10. Give plants a good wash before consuming to remove dirt and bugs, especially at ground level

Feeling a little better this morning (although looking a whole lot worse due to the “scabification” process on my bottom lip), I headed out towards the old beach line on the coast.

As I passed houses and front gardens with a more watchful eye than usual, I found quite a few interesting trees and bushes, all of which were bearing fruits. On one road alone (all with one hundred yards) I found what I believe to be hawthorn bushes, rowan bushes, a cherry tree, a pear tree and an apple tree.

The road itself has a lot of history. Wellington Road has a set of sea-facing villas, built one hundred and fifty years ago by James Atherton, a local luminary and merchant at the time. The villas still stand strong today with majestic views across the Irish Sea, each unique and picturesque. They are all built on an old tunnel system which dates back hundreds of years when bootleggers would use them as stores for forbidden fayre, the sandstone caves providing good hiding hold for non-taxable contraband.

Taking a fruit from each bush/tree for validation when I got back home (except for the apple and pear trees which were pretty obvious), I headed off to the old cliff line, known locally as the Red Noses (due to them being sandstone proboscis that stretch out to sea). These are now set back from the beach down to the creation of the UK’s longest promenade, built over one hundred years ago, leaving the cliffs a few hundred metres back from the shoreline and with it a thick growth of vegetation.

My old faithful and now off-lead comrade loves it there, as all of the long grasses, bushes and shrubs provide him with plenty opportunities to sniff around and roam for critters.

The main source of foraging here appears to be nettles and blackberries, the small stretch of greenery also lies next to a train track and the bushes grow wild up to the protective railings and are mostly impenetrable (except perhaps with a set of fishing waders which may look a little odd).

Whilst this brief outing was more a “recky” rather than a gathering for breakfast or replacing the “Friday Big Shop”, I did take a few blackberries on the way for sustenance, some sweet and some sour, but sweet anyway in the knowledge that I know they are there and my empty jam jar at home sits waiting for the first foray into preserve making.

Returning home through the back streets, yet more nettles and blackberries grew at the side of the local nine hole golf course, giving me even more evidence to suggest that even in urban areas, opportunities are out there, one just needs to look…

1 thought on “Foraging: First steps…

  1. Good old Ray Meers. Love his programs. If I wasn’t so lazy and ossified I’d go on a foraging course too. I agree about Bear Grylls. I find him rather absurd. You have a very exciting journey ahead. Wish I had the energy!

    Liked by 1 person

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