I recently embarked on an exciting adventure in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, England. I stayed overnight in a hut in the magical forest, which is on the English side of the border, but right next to Wales. The Forest of Dean is maintained by Forest Holidays, who run 9 of these forest retreats in England and Scotland. There were so many highlights from my time in the forest and I have written about them all separately, including the night vision forest tour and the cooking lessons and stuffed partridge meal.
After breakfast, we head out for a foraging tour of the Forest of Dean. Despite having backpacked through over 100 countries, this was the first ever time I have been on such a tour. I’ve eaten wild food on my travels of course, but we never foraged for it in a group and with such experts and enthusiastic food and travel writers from the U.K.
As well as the experts from Forest Holidays, we were joined on the tour by park ranger Gerry and expert celebrity chef Nick Weston, who runs Hunter, Gather, Cook. Gerry gave us an introduction to the forest itself, the wildlife and nature of it all. We have learnt that there are over 1,000 wild boar roaming here. We didn’t see any live wild boar during our 2 days here, but Gerry brought the next best thing – the skin of the boar.
Nick Weston tells us his story. He was once a gourmet chef, he used to live in the big city, buy and cook his own food. Then one day he decided to live in a hut in the wild, scavenge and forage for his own wild food and cook it in the forests of Surrey. A plan was hatched, Nick then wrote a book about it and now runs the successful Hunter Gather Cook food experience – the only one of its kind in England. I actually had the joy of sharing a cabin with Nick and hearing all his stories by night. Also on the tour, and sharing my cabin was photographer Sean Tucker.
We walk through the gorgeous Autumnal Forest of Dean.
Nick takes us to an area with lots of leaves and plants growing in the ground. These are not the fallen Autumn leaves in the photo above, but these leaves and plants below.
Little known to me, but we could eat most of the leaves around us. Some tasted like apple, some tasted like lemon and there were also mint leaves and deepish rooted garlic plants. It was all news to me.
I carried a basket (we had three baskets out of a group of 10 writers and 6 of the organisers with Sophie from Propellernet, Ruth and Michelle from Forest Holidays, Nick, Sean and Gerry). Nick and Sophie also brought their dogs along. Thanks to an electricity power cut that morning, it also meant some welcome non-WiFi time. I don’t like sitting on my laptop and mobile phone all day when we are here in nature. Yes, the cameras were out snapping, but that was it.
Gerry tells us a bit more about the wildlife in these parts. How the wild boar tear up the soil which apparently is healthy for spreading seeds and helping vegetation. We are told about the different deer breeds in the Forest and in the U.K. Gerry is a vegetarian and an animal lover (alive). Nick on the other hand will hunt and cook anything that he feels will taste good – from rabbit to partridge to boar to deer. So it was a good mix.
I reminisced about my time in Australia eating wallaby bolognaise and kangaroo curry, my guinea pig Christmas Dinner in Peru and my dog eat dog experience with the famous Millwall Neil in Seoul, South Korea. Truth is, I’ll eat anything once.
We then find some nettles and we mostly all get stung (couldn’t find a docken leaf to neutralise it!). It was my first time in the nettles since I was about 13 or 14 playing football down Linear Park in Bangor. We are told that you can make herbal teas and even alcohol from the nettles. We are also given a recipe for Nettle Beer!
On our continued foraging walk through the forest we find more regular food types including chestnuts (lots of them as it was Autumn), blackberries and loganberries.
We also find some wild mushrooms which can be used for cooking. It’s all a hole new experience for me – this is basically free food we are eating.
At the end of the foraging tour and when our baskets are full, it’s time to light some fires and drink some good old pine leaf tea. So we start the fires in the same way demonstrated by Nick and Gerry and there are pine trees all around us.
We have tins to put water in and we boil the water and add the pine leaves.
I wasn’t sure if I had tried pine leaf tea before. But as soon as I tasted it, I knew I had. Perhaps in Moldova, China, Taiwan and Estonia. I’d had it a few times and it tastes good.
We all had a cup of it and then it was time to take our baskets back to the ranch after a pleasant time foraging through the forest. Later in the afternoon we got a full cookery demonstration from expert Nick on cooking a deer feast.
Then Chloe Gorman (editor of Gastronomic Gorman) and Helen (editor of Hels Bels and keen ten pin bowling pro) and I got together to trim some partridge meat and make our meals, the story of which is here – stuffed partridge breasts.
The bush skills foraging tour currently costs £10 per person and can be arranged on arrival at the forest retreat. It is fantastic fun for the whole family! Thanks to Gerry at the Forest of Dean and all at Forest Holidays for such a nice couple of days in the Gloucestershire countryside. Here are some videos from the foraging tour: