For me there are several components that constitute a good forage; A knowledgeable lead, plenty to see, lots of information, stuff to try and a parachute covered fire to sit round. My recent Polaris Bushcraft day ticked all the boxes.
There were roadworks last time l visited my afore mentioned 'homework wood' which necessitated a large detour so even though it wasn't far l gave myself plenty of time. Typically there were none and l breezed through to the site in double quick time.
The instructions said that the turning is easily missed and as l approached l spotted it but decided to overshoot just to double check it and then found a place close by to turn round. When l did so and pulled in there was a vehicle in situ by the gate, it was instructor Graham.
I nipped up to the driver window to say 'Hello' and explain why l was early and once l was parked up Graham pointed out a large expanse of the 45 acre wood l could mooch about in whilst he and wife Natalie got the base camp ready.
Pretty soon others arrived and after doing a bit of filming for the accompanying YouTube vid l had a quick chat with them. Whilst doing so l was getting a faint whiff of camp fire smoke which was making me keen to get in. Soon enough both of them appeared and it was a very short walk to a handsome parachuted base camp with a substantial field kitchen and various debris shelters from other courses about the place.
There was a Muntjac gate guardian and I was also the only one to bring a chair but there are wooden stumps to sit on. We had time for brew whilst Graham did a rundown of the itinary and then we were off.
The first stop was just a few metres from the base camp and Graham, ably assisted by Natalie, then went from flower to plant to tree and gave some background to their edibilty, toxicity and uses. Graham often referred to a well worn journal and often produced facts and figures that he'd researched and there was a nice injection of light humour in proceedings too. It was also noticeable that we'd been out for a while and were still just skirting the edge of the camp which told a great deal about the health and diversity of the flora.
During the morning several ancient woodland indicators were pointed out which included Wild Service trees (Sorbus tormentalis) which is a favourite tree of mine and indeed l did an article on it in the Winter 2016/ 17 issue of Bushcraft magazine after studying it closely in my 'Homework wood' (tree blog here).
After a morning that provided plenty of species we reconvened at basecamp for our packed lunches and another brew before a short walk to the camp edge, this time armed with digging sticks to mainly forage Pignuts (Conopodium majus) which were munched there and then and Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) which would need roasting in the embers. One find that caught my eye was a recently discovered patch of Solomans Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum)...Another ancient wood indicator.
Thereafter it was a mix of trying different concoctions and treats that Graham and Natalie had bought along, everything from Dandelion syrup to fried Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) at the basecamp. The roots of the Lesser Celandine where quite fiddly to roast and I elected to wrap mine in a Ramson leaf before inserting into the ashes, which worked but of course it added garlic taste to the roots!
I had harvested some Few-flowered Leek (Allium paradoxum) and brought it along for them, I was also going to bring some Alexanders stems but decided me just rocking up with an Apiaceae lacking most of it's ID features perhaps wasn't a good idea. They had put some teaser posts of the stuff they were bringing on social media and I re-posted it and a neighbour saw it and offered me a Duck or Pheasant to bring
Overall I think the day was well pitched to cater for both keen hobbyists like me as well as not overloading a curious newbie, the woods are gorgeous and the pair of them had really put a lot into it including the baking and preparation. I can't really do the day justice in this short blog writeup but you can get more of a flavour watching the accompanying video and even that is about 90 minutes of video distilled into circa 17 Youtube minutes and also includes a quick Q & A with Graham. During the video I get ribbed as to why it took me so long to find them and I realised the irony of Polaris being a navigation guide and yet it took me a decade-and-a-half to get there.
The link to the foraging video can be found by clicking here, and I've also included the full Q & A I did with Graham which is nearly eleven minutes long which details the genesis of him and his bushcraft school here