Easter gave us an opportunity to use the garden for a childish grown-up family Easter Egg hunt and to see Jessie, Jurrat, Ella, Sam, and celebrity Rottweiler Maisie. I got accused of indolence in laying the chocolate eggs on behalf of the Easter rarebit as too many of them were found close to the house and too few in the furthest reaches of the garden. I did try to be more balanced but the chocolate was easier and safer to hide in pots, shelves, ledges and around the terrace. We also hung a piñata loaded with mini chocolate eggs from the bough of one of the oak trees. This was battered down by a blindfolded Alli after being softened up by Joe, George and Jurrat to the enjoyment of all. In the end, many of the eggs that I had laid in the verdant nettlebed depths were not found on the day. This means that small bits of milk chocolate wrapped in gleaming silver foil probably lie in nests, hollows and crevices all over the place, brought there from where I put them by the large host of animal foragers in the garden, from magpies to foxes, squirrels, field mice, and deer.
Talking of which, Jessie and I went on a fascinating guided wild food foraging walk (my birthday present from her) around the Poynings village end of Devil’s Dyke. It was an inspiring morning. I have obviously missed my true vocation for a genuine skill that takes years of study and practice but yields the unquestionable dividends of cheap, sustainable, and healthy eating. This is now even more relevant as I am now removing fish from my diet. I never realised that so many common plants found practically everywhere were not just edible but also good to eat – from blackthorn and hawthorn flowers to cow parsley and nettles. On one foray, Jessie found an authentic Cadbury’s Easter Egg nestling in a verdant causeway of wild garlic on the steepest and woodiest part of the dyke. Our group (of six) finished the session with a tasty outdoor picnic of exclusively foraged food – herb frittatas, pickles, ferments, salad and wild garlic. Our guide and host was the well-named Mike Cutting, who introduced himself in his leaflet as a ‘seasoned outdoor cook’. He has a local rival, Fergus the Forager, who works around here but drives over from Frinton on Sea. Apparently he once spent the best part of a year living entirely on foraging. Between them they have the local market well covered. It has encouraged me to look harder for the seasonal wild garlic that is never far away on my walks. I have located several places and gathered some to make wild garlic pesto and to add to scrambled eggs, stews and salads. I have also started cooking dinner for the assembled household on Thursdays with tolerable results.
One Sunday I drove Jessie and Jurrat to Chichester where they saw their friends Jenny and Darren with their new-born baby Harvey, brother to Amira, who is Jessie’s god-daughter. The dogs came with us and I found a pleasant trail in Hanlaker but was taught a lesson to research thoroughly beforehand when it turned out that I missed a notable, popular, and well-known walk not a mile from the village to the Hanlaker windmill through a hollowed path in a tunnel of trees. The previous Sunday, Jessie and I went to her local garden centre so that she could buy some plants. Nanny Miles had her first discretionary shopping trip in many months, also at a local garden centre. In other family news, Gwen spent some days with her boyfriend Laurence in Whitby; nephew Joe turned 20; and I went for a pint or two at the Oak Barn in Burgess Hill with Ella and Sam, whose acquisition of Maisie from Battersea Dogs’ Home was lengthily featured on the first episode of Paul O’Grady’s new series For the Love of Dogs. Not to be outdone, Jessie was interviewed by Dermot O’Leary in his Radio 2 programme, speaking confidently and coherently before wrongly guessing the identity of the Mystery Voice. It remains a mystery.
Notable local walks this month have included: a stroll on the rabbit-run network of old paths that surround Danny House in Hurstpierpoint; a new permutation of southern fell walking on Devil’s Dyke with wild horses and men in lycra on speeding bikes; discovering the unkempt and old-fashioned fields south of Ditchling Common; a ghost-inhabited ex-golf course surrounded by diggers and condemned to future redevelopment as a housing estate in Hassocks; a dizzying climb up Westmeston Bostal to the top of the Downs; and a steady pace through mature bluebell woods on primrose paths around the comfortable byways of Plumpton. It is the season for bluebells and there seem to be many more this year. England is home to over half of the world’s bluebells, and a fair proportion of these seem to be in Sussex.
Walking downhill back through Plumpton, I saw clearly the ‘V’ of trees on the side of the Downs, planted to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. The ‘V’ comprises Scotch pine, Australian pine, Spruce, Larch, Beech and Sycamore. The 3000 trees cost twelve pounds ten shillings and fourpence while the whole operation, undertaken by a local farmer and his hands, cost £38. Apparently there is also an ‘E’ on the Downs near Firle to commemorate the more recent Jubilee of the current monarch. This may not have cost too much more since it was done expediently by clearing trees rather than planting them. Autres temps autres moeurs..
Yours clearing the decks,