From The Trees

South Downs Foraging Walk

On a crisp, sunny autumn Saturday afternoon we cycled to Broadwater Green to take part in Transition Town Worthing's Sustainable Foraging Walk. Organised by Dr Barbara Pilley-Shaw, the walk was advertised in our school newsletter and invited us to rediscover useful downland and woodland plants in an amble up to the South Downs led by RSPB plant guide, folklore expert and clover muncher Brian Day. Other experts were on hand too, generously giving us a host of botanical and local historical information while we walked in the leafy Sussex countryside.

Midsummer Oak, Worthing
The Midsummer Oak – beware dancing skeletons at Midsummer's eve!

Some 37 like minded people assembled at the Green and more arrived later, joining us along the way. We were all ages (the youngest a 5-week-old baby snuggled up in a sling) and it was a family (and dog) friendly occasion. Worthing historian Chris Hare took us from the Green across busy A roads to a small patch of grass where the Midsummer Oak stands. The tree is said to be over 300 years old and local legend has it that on Midsummer's Eve skeletons rise from the ground and dance around it until dawn. Hare explained that the story was first recorded by folklorist Charlotte Latham in her book Some West Sussex Superstitions Lingering in 1868.

Woods at Hill Barn, Sussex

From there we crossed more main roads in busy Saturday afternoon traffic and walked to Hill Barn Recreation Ground – a lovely wide open green space. 

Hill Barn Recreation Ground
Hill Barn Recreation Ground

Brian Day led us around the edges exploring trees and hedgerows, with intelligence of which plants were edible or could be used for medicinal purposes illustrated with some eye-watering descriptions of ancient customs. We continued on past the golf course at Hill Barn and up into the Millennium Woods. Walking around the woods Dr Pilley-Shaw helped the children identify and take cuttings of trees (which we'll plant at school). The woods also provided plenty of opportunity for our children to play and they formed a merry group.

Sustainable Foraging in Sussex Millenium Woods
Foraging in the Millennium Woods

We walked for a couple of hours and it was a really enjoyable day. I have to admit that we did cheat a little and stuffed a few pieces of chocolate and flapjacks into our pockets to take with us, not quite sure whether foraged leaves and fruits would sustain us. However, I am inspired to boil some nettle leaves at home – one of these days...

Tree samples from Sussex South Downs
Top row of cuttings: Spindle, Yew, Ash
Middle row: Field Maple, Hazel, Guelder Rose
Bottom row: Guelder Rose (again), Hawthorne, Hornbeam

Guelder Rose