One Week into England

Eight days into our trip, what do I say?

Last night we stayed in a garden shed. A magical garden shed. Bunk beds, a sunny deck, a tree house in the little sunny orchard outside the door. Complete with a hammock.  Large gardens of bee friendly plants fill a 1/3rd of the yard, with 1/3 devoted to this little paradise, and 1/3rd to a forested area, complete with a dry composting toilet, something I’ve been wanting to see for a while!  The house in front has passive solar heat, solar panels, etc. They make their own bio-diesel, and used to raise their own food. It’s maybe an acre lot. Magical and amazing. Rather like this whole trip. I knew it would be when the falcon circled all the way around us in the hills of the Cotswold’s, on our hike.

What can I say – we are lucky that way.

My luck does not come in winning lottery, but rather in these simple very practical ways. I wouldn’t change it!

The first 8 days of the trip, I had an itinerary, with items to be seen and done. A checklist of
“To Do’s.”  Today, that ends.

While it has been amazing, I am ready to let the trip design itself from here on out. We have accommodations each night, but between the nights, it’s all open!


Traveling with my daughter has been …good.  Our only areas of conflict are generally over her reading voraciously.  Occasionally, I have to stop her to join in dinner, or to read our book on England – Sarum.  Oh, and the tempers over having left the book behind, or not having access to the next book.  Really – how can I complain?  She has been a tremendous navigator.

My joy has been to see the small things.  She packs her bag for the day efficiently and without prompting.  She builds a miniature Stonehenge in the dirt behind the rocks of Avebury. She adds herself to stories of Vikings and English history, amazing them with her knowledge of science, etc.  She learned that she loves riding horseback. We are making lists of zany English-isms, like road signs stating: Oncoming traffic occupying the middle of the Road. (Thank you – and what am I supposed to DO about this?) She is only scared of English Pubs, everything else is no problem!



Today, I learned that you can eat the giant thistle Cardoon, but you eat the stem.  I think I knew this, but today I met a Cardoon for the first time. It’s rather amazing and – intimidating!  We learned that, here in England, wheat is sprayed with a quaternary chemical to keep it short.  It looks a lot like crab grass when it is short!  We also learned that the field of odd beans we walked through was broad beans, grown for shipment overseas.  We wondered about that odd potatoe like plant with pods from the stems.

Our hostess, a wonderful gardener, identify many of the plants I recognized but couldn’t identify: the parsley like weed I had seen so often on our walks. I had thought it was a parsley, but poisonous. It is. It is hogweed. The hedges with gooseberry-like leaves and sour blueberry like fruits; sloes – I had sloe gin when I was young. Too young!  And the hawthorn berry bushes.  Wonderful information. It’s been interesting to walk through landscapes with many similar but different plants than my native home.

I had been partially identifying these items for days. My daughter and I talked about how one could do that, and the question is hard to answer.  Mostly I recognize their family, have some knowledge about poisonous cousins within families, have flipped through books on toxic plants once every couple years, in my profession. However, it is more than just the large lexicon of plant knowledge gained from books and garden experiences.   As foragers, or rather for us, forager-wanna-be’s, we develop a keen instinct and a sharp suspicion. Everywhere we go, we are identifying, comparing, then asking questions about the plants around us, confirming our suspicions, solidifying our knowledge. I admit to quite a bit of tasting, of those plants I identify as having no toxic cousins or look alikes. Sloes are very tart and astringent.  I also begin to think the plants talk to us as well. Maybe the vibrate “Don’t eat ME!” or  “Hey, I am tasty!”  We talked about the systematic ways peoples have had for identifying edible plants in a foreign environment. It is amazing to me how people have found things to eat. There are those things that ‘just’ need to be boiled twice, with water changes, and mixed with ashes, then rinsed and then are okay…. Wow! But here we are. Enough of us survived and passed on the knowledge.


I am not encouraging you to go eat plants you can’t identify. But I am encouraging us all to be curious and ask questions.


In the next few days, we hope to visit the poisonous plant garden at Ainwick Castle – we just can’t wait!!


by Tama Cathers



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