Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eating the campus

Is this a sign that a the end of term the staff have finally cracked and gone cannibal, dismembering and consuming those poor unfortunate students who have not yet escaped their academic refuge? No, tempting as it may be, today’s ‘eat the campus’ activity was actually a ‘walk and talk’ through the grounds. For now, the students were safe.

About one hour before we were due to start our lunchtime walk, the heavens decided that the dry spring was over and that all the missing rain from April should fall in one day in June. Consequently, it was with trepidation that we prepared to begin our ‘foraging’ trip and find out what plants within the grounds of beautiful Wivenhoe Park were edible. Clutching my book on trees we tramped off through the very damp grass, scaring away the young coots and agitated mother as we trod our path directly through their own foraging party.

We were lucky though, and the rain decided to take a lunchtime break too and only dribbled a bit on us when the wind shook the trees or it felt that we needed hurrying back to our offices.

We commenced our walk (about 12 people from different departments) led by Kate, who had her River CafĂ© foraging book to hand. Our first stop was the chestnut trees, followed by a cob nut (wild hazel) that I spotted by the lake. Though surrounded by ducks, we decided (though edible) they didn’t count as plants and were therefore immune from our consideration of their dietary potential.

We wandered up and around the lake, then through some woods and up to Wivenhoe House. We saw nettles (yes, edible), more sweet chestnuts and some beautiful cork oak. I don’t think it’s edible, but they were amazing trees. We managed also to track down the old ice house, now covered in trees and overgrown so that you’d never have known it was originally the house’s outdoor fridge.

We found lots of beech nuts, silver birch (who’s sap you can tap it seems) and plenty of blackberry bushes. There are definitely plans afoot to go blackberrying in due course. There's a by tree here somewhere too, but we didn't make it that far.

As the afternoon got a bit wetter and our walk took us further from the safe confines of our concrete shelters, some folks had to disappear back to their respective desks, whilst we remaining few stalwarts carried on and hunted out the elusive mulberry tree. It’s supposed to be by Kingfisher Lake, but alas we couldn’t spot it. Perhaps if it hadn’t been so wet and our lunchtime break nearly up, we may have explored further to see if we could find it. I haven’t seen a mulberry tree since I was young and used to come back smothered in juice stains from my great aunt’s house in Kent.

We found some elderflower, but plants such as jack by the hedge, wild garlic and mushrooms seemed to be hiding from us. And it was too early for berries, so perhaps an autumn walk will be in order.

It was a lovely way to spend a lunchtime – informative, entertaining and healthy!
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