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Blog, Foraging, Photos

Scary Monsters and Super Ceps

‘You can’t mess around with wild mushrooms. Some of them can virtually kill you even if you look at them’.


I’m afraid to say that my own feeling about untamed fungi wasn’t far away from the quote, above, overheard on one of my own (wild plant) foraging walks. But recently I decided it was about time to dispel all this nonsense and get some proper information.

In his book ‘Outliers’, Malcolm Gladwell posits the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practise to become an expert in a subject, on top of a natural aptitude for that subject in the first place. Well, then, there can be no better way to find out about the vast, complex subject of wild fungi than to go to someone who trod down that magic number of hours under the soles of his hiking boots long ago….a man who travels to obscure places to take part in festivals devoted to morels, for example, and who can talk about Alice in Wonderland, obscure methods of catching reindeer and why Father Christmas insist on coming down the chimney rather than simply walking through the front door….and all of this related to fungi *

Daniel Butler can accommodate a relatively limited number of keen fungi foragers during the weeks when the wild mushroom harvest is at its best; if the current mellow autumn inspires you to want to know more, contact him now (details below) but if the remaining days are all taken then don’t hesitate to book for next year. I had one of the most inspiring days ever with Dan and his partner, Helen (who is also an expert’s expert in the subject).

Like many Brits, I was a bit scared of wild mushrooms, alarmed from an early age by well-meaning parents to the point where I ALMOST believed that the poisonous ones could kill you if you so much as looked at them. Spending time on this foray, however, has shown me that mushrooms are to be respected and enjoyed for their beauty, variety and, of course, deliciousness, rather than feared.
The only slight downside is that my daily dog walks are now taking twice the time since I’m now intent in my search for porcini, hedgehog mushrooms, honey fungus, violet deceivers and, above all, the delectable, almost floral-flavoured chanterelles!

The day itself is almost ridiculously good value for money. We worked out that it would have cost us more to actually purchase the mushrooms in a shop than to find them ourselves, and as well as the fungi we also enjoyed
Expert advice from both Dan and. Helen, a walk in the magical countryside of mid Wales, a 3-course fungi- based meal at their home (including lashings of wine, home-made sourdough bread, and a scrummy fruit crumble), a demonstration on how to preserve fungi, a taste-testing of all the various types of fungi that we found, and a choice of either a pack of beautifully-produced fungi ID cards or a specialist mushroom knife. Above all, though, was the opportunity to be able to ask Dan and Helen anything at all to do with mushrooms…..

*to find out what the heck I’m on about you’ll have to make a trip to Rhayader…


Daniel holding forth about the fly agaric…a fairy-tale appearance but NOT for your risotto


Lots of honey fungus, which turns out to be a favourite at the mushroom tasting despite some initial reservations. Something this common can’t taste that good, can it? Oh yes it can!


Christina, thrilled to find tasty hedgehog mushrooms


Whoah! The sharp-eyed French Canadian foragers found a shedload of chanterelles….yum! (My personal favourite)


Sarah has a list of 50 things to do during the 2 years surrounding a big-ish birthday. Finding out about fungi is on that list…and she found the best-looking porcini!


Helen dishing up lunch…


Lessons in preserving fungi…


A small selection of what we found

And finally…cheers!


Blog, Events, Foraging, General, Photos

Forgotten Landscapes foraging at the Abergavenny Food Festival

Enjoying a cup of coffee in the backstage bit of the Abergavenny Food festival, got chatting to a girl called Denise, who proved to be the most widely-read food blogger in Wales. The next day she came along to the forage at Clydach Gorge and subsequently wrote this fab piece. She is the only person who has even guessed, pretty much outright, the secret ingredient in the chocolate truffles that I sometimes make!
The pics on my page here are by the amazing Julia Horton-Powdrill who founded the Really Wild festival in Pembrokeshire (



The Clydach fig tree…how did it get there?


An interesting tree…


Blog, Events, Nature

A Good Day Out…with hedgehogs


About a year ago, a woman I’d got to know, Julia Blazer, told me about an idea she’d had. ‘You know how brilliant it is when people buy you an experience as a present instead of just another THING? Well, wouldn’t it be great if you could buy someone an experience – something really really different – that had an added value? What if you could offer something that was a good day out in more than one way?’

Julia’s idea was to compile a selection of experience days based around good causes. My initial reaction was one of scepticism, on two levels. Could this be construed as being too goody-goody to be fun? After all, charitable giving tends to err on the side of duty rather than pleasure. My second concern was for Julia herself. Something of a maverick genius, and an artist herself, I was worried that she could end up spending a lot of time and effort putting something together that just wouldn’t be commercially viable.

A few months later, though, and the website for A Good Day Out was up and running. Seeing all the different experiences that Julia has put together suddenly made me ‘get’ the appeal. You can choose from a diverse range of experiences selected to appeal to all interests, age groups and price ranges: to be perfectly honest I’d like to have a go at all of them. Bushcraft and Falconry, Canyoning, mountaineering with navigation? Yep. Sculpture, pottery or needle felting? Yep. A cruise with music, lessons in astronomy or even having a go at hedgelaying? Yes, yes and yes!

When i was a kid I reckoned myself as a hero to wildlife. That is, I’d rescue spiders and re home them away from plugholes, had hand-reared orphaned birds, and, best of all, had a ‘pet’ baby hedgehog whose life I was convinced I had saved when I’d found him cornered by cats. So when it came to buying myself a birthday present I opted to make my dreams come true (for a few hours at least) by opting for the Hedgerow Helper experience.

At Howey Hedgehog Rescue, me and 2 other rookie hedgehog helpers are given a warm welcome by Nigel and Elaine, proprietors of the organisation, and Leslie, one of their essential volunteers. And we’re pitched straight into the action, cleaning out the den of 6 orphaned baby hedgehogs. It’s a smelly job, to be honest, but not that bad and we are given disposable gloves and tabards.

‘These came in just a couple of days ago’, Nigel tells me. ‘A litter of 6 is unusual. We’re not sure what happened to the mother, but she did well to keep these little ones alive’. If you like cute, you’re in trouble with baby hedgehogs. I did think about slipping one in my pocket but that would have been wrong, all wrong.


Here’s one of the babies being weighed. There are currently 18 hedgehogs, including the babies, at the sanctuary. Each is weighed every day: this is a key indicator to the health of the animal, and all the hoglets had put on a little weight, testimony to the diligent care of the team.


Here, three of the babies cautiously come out from underneath their heat mat, wrapped in newspaper, to slurp up a bowl of goats milk. Warmth is imperative to the survival of young hoglets, and cows milk makes hedgehogs ill… If you have to feed hedgehogs at any point, use chicken flavoured dog or cat food rather than the traditional bread and milk.


Next, we go outside to tend to the hedgehogs, many of them about to go into hibernation, who are recovering in the safety of the Hedgehog Hotels in Nigel and Elaine’s gorgeous garden. Each hog has its own custom-built dorm, with a sleeping area and a food area. And each animal is weighed, its room meticulously cleaned and fresh food – consisting of dog food, a sort of muesli, water and a bowl of high-protein mash – put out.


Nigel gives one of the hedgehogs -Joe, I think it is- a cuddle


Kenzo, a big beautiful chap who is a permanent resident, pops out to make sure room service has delivered his breakfast

Nigel tells me that the hedgehog population level, always a difficult thing to measure, is declining. He cites concrete, tidy, fenced- in gardens, pesticides, poor hedgerow management, and, of course, traffic accidents as significant factors. Looking into it later, I find that states some scary statistics: that the population of hedgehogs has declined by 25% in the last ten years, and that this is just the tail end of a dramatic loss: in the 1950s there were believed to be 50 million hedgehogs in the UK which had diminished to 1.5 million in 1995. It gets worse. An article in The. Guardian, dated January 2013, has declined by yet another 30% in the years from 2003 to 2012. There are now fewer than a million hedgehogs here, and their situation is perilous. The number of hedgehogs killed by cars, for example, is vast, running into tens of thousands.


Howey Hedgehog Rescue have seen more than one hundred hedgehogs come through their doors just this year. Many have been released back into the wild, to take their chances. A few didn’t make it. And there are a fortunate few who will become permanent residents here.

All in all, my Good Day Out was thought provoking, informative and immense fun. And it was good to know that me small cost of the experience will allow the amazingly dedicated team at Howey can carry on their work.


The helpers and team…Pen, Elaine, , Steve, Lesley and Nigel

Blog, Books



I don’t smoke. i don’t drink much. I don’t do drugs. I don’t indulge in clothes much, following a strict ‘one in, one out’ policy. Shoes follow the same rule, now I’m older and wiser about such things.

But where it comes to notebooks I have no boundaries. Almost no boundaries, that is.

Here are a few from my collection. Oh yes, there are more! They have to have decent paper: I don’t like glazing because, yes, I also have a thing about pens and ink. Proper ink, but that’s another story for another day.

Many of these notebooks are really too good to use…but, after all, that’s what they’re for!
If you also have this problem, you can get over it by scribbling like a 2-year old on the first page. But believe me, it’s never easy 🙂

Am I the only one?????

Blog, Foraging

Elderberry Trance?

Picked a considerable amount of elderberries a couple of days ago. The repetitive action of stripping the berries from the stalks would have been good exercise in my piano-plating days; it’s a twiddly, fiddly process, staining the fingers a pale black. Not grey. After a while, you don’t really need to look at what you’re doing. Sitting at the table in the garden I found myself gazing at the leaves of a birch tree, backlit by the gathering sunset, and had the vague notion that I didn’t know who I was, or when…I wondered idly if this might be some kind of trance, induced by the elderberries, always something of a mysterious fruit…and the fact that people have performed this simple action for generations….Practitioners of yoga believe that the body holds a memory of actions repeated, hence the power in all that bending and stretching and mindful breathing. Maybe twiddling the elderberries works in the same way…the thought made me notice my own breathing, then, and I realised the sun had almost set and it was COLD!


Blog, Uncategorized


There are quite a few reviews of The Secret Language of Birds tarot and I keep meaning to post them here…then something else more pressing happens.
Released towards the end of 2011, this is a lesson in what can happen if you’re determined. It took from 2004 to 2011 for this project to go from the germ of an idea to the lavishly-produced end product. And this Tarot really is particularly beautiful and particularly complex.

Readers, you might raise eyebrows if I tell you that I am fascinated by the Tarot and its psychological aspects, but dubious about its reputation as a fortune telling device. We make the future with every passing second by applying our own perspective to everything that’s happening. Our lives aren’t linear. You realise this with each passing year.

Blog, Photos

lots and lots of blossom this year…


has anyone noticed? This Summer has been all about flowers, and as we ease into Autumn they’re still coming…meadowsweet, for example, has been more abundant than I think I’ve ever seen it, and it’s still fresh and fragrant in many places…

Blog, Books, fragrance

That delicious old book smell…

photo (1)

….A study by the Smithsonian tells us why old books smell so very lovely (well, I think they do anyway, and it seems I’m not alone!)
It’s to do with a chemical compound in plants called lignin, which is closely related to vanilla. As the book ages, the structure of the paper in the pages starts to break down, releasing that inimitable fragrance.

Blog, Foraging, Photos

Roll me over…


Amazing what you find when you pick up a stick for the dog! Finding s four-leafed clover is always a thrill, but the one on the left here actually has 6 leaves. But why do we think they’re lucky? Is it because they’re rare? And by the way, you can eat clover! Right now is a good time for the flowers; the optimum temperature for clover nectar to taste divine is 70 degrees c. The bees know all about this. Pinch a few of the red ones, pull off the petals and make into a cordial, wine, pop into home-made icecreams of sorbets or just nibble.

Blog, Foraging, Photos

Sprout Hunting



The strange things you find when you go Foraging….
I have Rachael Phillips to thank for chivvying me along with this website. In fact she did all the hard work, and all I gave her in return was a perfect supermarket sprout (2 actually) found whilst foraging at the Forgotten Landscapes project at the Clydach Gorge. You can find Rachael at