Author Archives: dibnah

the naked garden

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I wish I had a greenhouse, I wish I had a patio for that matter, the area directly outside the house is more Steptoe than Gardeners world. The house and garden are still in a state of flux, extension possibilities, renovation work unfinished and a general accumulation of stuff all make for a rather stressed area. Money is a major factor, could I do it myself? possibly, can I afford it? no. Materials are another, I want to produce a house and garden than has been sustainably and holistically designed, however sometimes that means waiting longer to do something as that material needs to researched and sourced. The only way I can keep positive about it is to keep it productive, if it’s producing food then at least it’s doing something. I’m not looking for homes and gardens perfection but I also don’t want it to look like an allotment, I do have to look at it everyday.

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Foraging the Wharfe valley

Yesterday we decided on a whim to get the train to Harrogate and then walk the 14 miles back to Horsforth, traversing the Whafe valley. As usual we were armed with carrier bags, pen knifes, etc just in case. It was a beautiful day to walk through an equally beautiful landscape with hardly a sole around. We had not planned to forage but came across some edibles so decided to snap them up, what better way to remember a landscape, journey or view than eating it! Today I’ll make a simple wild garlic and sorrel pesto not the most exciting of foraged food but the greatest way to celebrate a brilliant day.

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Wild gooseberry bush

Though it’s a little early for gooseberries hopefully I’ll remember this bush and use it to plan another trip.

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wild garlic

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common sorrel

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Lines to River Cottage

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Often a journey begins in stillness, an anti-action, a passage in a book, an overheard conversation or a program on TV sparks a wish to explore and experience. The journey is traced out in mind or map, fingers crossing miles, tracing flat planes and pressing down contour folds. The map is as distracting as the landscape itself, lines draw out the gaze, shapes on the horizon encourage tangents to be taken but when you have a goal in mind a map is the key to it.

I wanted to find the original River cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s first location of his experiments to live off the land. The TV series had inspired me a great deal in my early twenties and at that time Dorset had seemed a very distant place, an old England with an ancient landscape of crazy paved fields and endless hedgerow. Growing up in the industrial landscape of North Lincolnshire it has always seemed a world away from the landscape I knew.

Industrial farming has left much of the flat lands of Lincolnshire open, hedgerows no longer border fields, points of reference are lost as farms seem to drift in a sea of ploughed earth. There is very little topography to speak of and what is there is so over used it cannot hope to hold any secrets. The landscape has been opened like a map and like paper lies flat for all to see.

It had not been a planned journey, Liz and I had decided to go camping for a fortnight and explore Dorset will no real itinerary but to just drift from place to place letting one place inform the next. The idea of finding the River Cottage had come to me as I sat in the car navigating through the winding Dorset roads, with a road map on my knee. As we traveling east my finger mimicked the direction on the map and I noticed Chideock was to be the next village we were to pass through, which I remembered was one of the places mentioned on the series. I’m not sure I mentioned it to Liz at the time but it started me thinking that the cottage must be somewhere close by. It was purely by good fortune that we decided to go next to Britport choosing a campsite north of the little town. The campsite was an industrial affair like a golf course housing refugees from the city, we took ourselves as far from the madding crowd as we could, hiding our tent behind a hedge in the hinterland between lawn and the fields beyond.

I had been given a small printed map, which gave little information other than the main road in and out of the site with places to eat being the main points of reference. However luckily for me whomever drew this little map had added a clue in the form of a single line with the words River Brit written along it. I had a clear memory that this was the river to which River Cottage got it’s name and that in one episode Hugh had traversed this river by canoe down six miles to the sea. It instantly struck me that this campsite must be four or five miles from the sea and so the cottage must not be far away.

Having explained this good fortune to Liz and armed only with a road map and the little printed map we somewhat foolishly set off there and then down to the river in the beautiful warmth of a late summer afternoon. By another stroke of good fortune we found a small bridge and footpath which led to the other side of the river, the wrong side for the cottage but an easier route than pushing our way through the mass of overhanging Willows. The path led through a timeless meadow lit by the low sun and dancing with flies, lying in the long grass we found a full badger skeleton, I took the skull as a momento of our journey.

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We seemed to have walked for at least two miles and be getting further from the river as we went and I was becoming increasingly anxious as the sun was beginning to set over the hills, it would soon be dark and we would soon be lost within it. Finally the path skirted around to the left and another bridge took us back across the river and into a steep stubble field, in the bottom corner was a gate through which you could see a lane and beyond that the sun setting behind the rolling hills of Dorset. It was one of those views that shires of this typography have in abundance and never fails to grasp the imagination of this Lincolnshire lad from the flat lands.

Beautiful this view was but a cottage it was not, the lane seemed to imply that we had somehow missed this elusive abode, my natural irrationalness had clouded my perception and it was Liz who pointed out the little house through the hedge to our left. There it was, River Cottage, leaning up against the hedgerow as if in a game of hide and seek, we had found it. The little porch was unmistakable and I was so taken in by the details I had remembered from the series before I knew it I was at the front door. I don’t know why I went through the gate and up to the door, I had found the place but I needed to get closer, the door was ajar and the light was on inside, as if welcoming travelers. If it had not been for two loud blasts of a gun coming from the other side of the house I think I would have gone inside but the shock brought me to my senses and I turned and joined a grinning Liz in the field, where she took a photograph of myself looking rather shocked.

In a country where every square mile has been mapped, every inch turned, chopped or grazed, there seems little to explore but for exploring’s sake but setting out to find a location is no less a task because of it. Distances, contours and spot heights may all have been collected but the landscape still is in constant flux, it is still new to new eyes and surprises can still be found when we peer through hedgerows.

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holloway

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I leave my house and walk down the hill, looking west towards Hunger Hills, I can see my destination in the distance, across from me on the other side of the shallow valley, a Holloway, an old lane or possibly a drovers route and some say that it is the remains of a Roman road due to it’s flagged track way. The more likely explanation is that it is the old cart track used to transport coal from the long forgotten bell pits down to Lee lane, supplying 18th century Horsforth with fuel.

The lane sits at an obscure angle to the street, perhaps an architects attempt to ignore what is an undevelopable place. It lies at the end of a row of 1950’s semi’s, refusing to conform or update itself refusing to develop in anything other than it’s own speed. Visually the lane sinks in between the middle class pretensions of a spotted laurel and the wild free nature of the hedgerow, snugly sitting where urbanity admits defeat and relaxes into the rural.

I duck my head and plunge feet first into the void I cross a number of thresholds, the first from light to dark, the entrance has a gleefully sinister enticement about it, just enough of a view to allow me to peek inside without spoiling the whole surprise. There is a threshold of sound, of changing environments even of changing times, the street carries the industrial sounds of the twenty four hour twenty first century but within the confines of the lane, with it’s green walls of Holly, Hazel and Elder sound is diffused, muted. The sounds of the city never disappear but the Holloway allows me to readjust my focus, I can hear the rhythmical clucking of a blackbird who has perceived a threat to his domain, a bumble bee with it’s slow drone working on the field side and the scuttle, slip, swish of an unknown creature, unknown to me only, as they all belong to this Holloway, this covered passage, this green route from one world into another.

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Drying sage to make tea

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It’s a good time of year to cut back sage stopping it getting woody and lanky, it’s also a great excuse for drying sage. We just cut the plant back to a few inches from the ground, remove the most woody stems then blitz in a mixer and leave out to dry. Chopping it up first allows it to dry quicker which is useful if you are air drying it. You can also do this in summer meaning you’ll get a fresh flush of leaves for autumn.

This year it is going to form part of my wild and garden teas experiment. We drink loads of tea, black and fruit but we make very little of it ourselves which seems strange as we have a go at making most other things. I’m going to be trying out different herbal teas and also experiment in making my own black tea. I can see the sower faces I will be pulling in the near future but hopefully I can find some alternatives to shop bought teas that will become new favorites.

Sage Tea (Salvia Officinalis).  As a herbal infusion it has many medicinal properties. Sage acts as a relaxant for nervous disorders and depression, also as a disinfectant / antiseptic in the treatment of mouth ailments and stomach pains, it’s also good for brain function.

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-sage.html

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The taste is not as strong as I’d first thought but I can’t seem to get the taste of a roast dinner out of my head, not entirely a bad thing. I shall wait for the brain function to begin.

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