24 January 2011
"Morning," chirps a jaunty-hatted Mat Follas, in a pinchably cheerful manner, "Don't tell me you've just got up?".
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".
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.
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.
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".
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 find russolas and chanterelles and ceps and amethyst deceivers, different shapes, different colours, every one fascinating.
The sorrow doesn't last though as, back at the ranch, there are glorious brownies, fresh strawberries and more tea and coffee on offer.
Hardy country is indeed stunning; I later find out that much of Hardy-inspired Tamara Drewe was filmed in the area.
The fresh air and the feverish joy of finding nature's bounty is one of the best feelings I've had in a while.
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.
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 ...
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.