24 January 2011
It's the morning after the night before and my husband, his brother, his brother's girlfriend and I ooze slowly down from the comfort of the lovely apartment and crumple into a little heap at the bottom of the stairs.
"Morning," chirps a jaunty-hatted Mat Follas, in a pinchably cheerful manner, "Don't tell me you've just got up?".
"Grhmmmhrth", I say as we sit down at the long wooden table for some reviving coffee and cake. It's not that early to be fair - 9.30am.
The restaurant is full of other sprightly looking people - we've all gathered for a foraging course at the Wild Garlic led by expert Theo Langton and Mat himself.
"You're wearing city shoes" says Mat about my tough, plain black Clark's boots, "You're going to get mucky".
I make another noise of disdain and nurse my cup of coffee.
The brother-in-law and girlfriend are a good bit younger than the husband and me and, thoroughly perked up, they excitedly flick through their mini Food for Free foraging handbook they've brought along.
Theo gives us a short talk about what to expect and some house rules ("No eating anything unless we say it's okay") and then we're off.
Our first stop is rather unexpectedly a little lane just off the Square where the Wild Garlic is located.
Plants which look like weeds to me and which I see so often I don't "see" them any more turn out to be ground elder, jack-by-the-hedge and hogweed.
Down another lane we go, and there's walnuts and blackberries, cobnuts and nettles.
Every discovery comes with a story from Theo and some culinary tips from Mat, and we make notes and take pictures and begin to think "Ray Mears has nothing on me".
Now it's time to go further afield and we hop into a minibus driven by Mat himself and end up in a sun-dappled copse, where we traipse about merrily spotting different types of mushrooms.
Picking them the proper way (slice and not uproot so as not to kill), we offer them up to Theo for identification in hushed tones as if bearing tributes to a mighty potentate.
We punch the air when we come up with an edible one and sigh when we come across a dud.
We find russolas and chanterelles and ceps and amethyst deceivers, different shapes, different colours, every one fascinating.
It's all fantastic fun and we're genuinely sorry when we're told it's time for a mid-morning break and driven back to the Wild Garlic.
The sorrow doesn't last though as, back at the ranch, there are glorious brownies, fresh strawberries and more tea and coffee on offer.
Refreshed, it's back in the bus for a journey to another beautiful part of the countryside - rolling hills, sheep and a fort on Eggardon Hill.
Hardy country is indeed stunning; I later find out that much of Hardy-inspired Tamara Drewe was filmed in the area.
Here we come across wild apples and peppermint, sloes and damsons, sorrel and yarrow.
The fresh air and the feverish joy of finding nature's bounty is one of the best feelings I've had in a while.
We sit for a while and we contemplate the beauty before us (well, Mat checks his iPhone and the rest of us contemplate).
Finally it's time to return to the fold where a delectable spread awaits the foragers and Mat and Theo who stay with us to chat and to answer more of our excitable questions.
The foraging theme is continued through to the food - the soup is nettle; the ice cream is sharp sorrel; the jelly is made from damsons; there's sloe sauce with the confit duck.
And to add to our giddy joy, at the end of the meal Mat comes out with gift bags for us all containing a Wild Garlic mug and a small packet of ramson seeds ie wild garlic ...
Fabulous day, fabulous course and yes, you do get muddy, but it's all very gentle. Best of all is the nifty little price - £95 all in.
The wonderful thing is that it's obviously seasonal - I cannot wait to go back to Dorset in the Spring and in the Summer to be shown what else Nature has in store for us.
This post is dedicated to Tash Samways, who was one of the reasons I loved The Wild Garlic.
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