Back to nature: Take a walk on the wild side on Kate Humble’s Monmouthshire farm
There’s nothing like a slice of Welsh rarebit to get my mouth watering and tastebuds tingling. But could a clump of vegetation plucked from a hedgerow have the same effect? I headed to a 100-acre farm in Monmouthshire owned by TV presenter Kate Humble to find out.
Kate’s message is simple: Whether you live in the city or the countryside, there is stuff growing all around you that you can eat.
Rich pickings: Wendy Gomersall (left) with TV star Kate Humble
Kate and expert Liz Knight run the Humble By Nature courses at the farm. The courses aim to give people confidence in identifying edible (and free) delicacies. Liz quickly dispels the notion that to forage, you have to be a bit holier than thou. ‘I don’t eat only a wild diet. I treat wild food around me as seasoning. I still have fish and chips,’ she confesses. ‘It’s not about “you can only eat what you can find” because frankly if I did that, I’d starve.’
So what are the rules? Well, never eat anything unless you know exactly what it is. Get a foraging guide and learn about seasons and environments – when and where to find particular plants. Secondly, use common sense – don’t choose leaves with strange marks on them.
As we walk, Liz parts some shrubs to reveal a smorgasbord of shoots, leaves and flowers, which she plucks and places in her basket.
We stop for lunch in a pretty dell where a huge picnic table has been erected, and Liz sets about chopping and mixing. We eat salads, cold meats and cheeses, and feel very proud of our morning’s efforts.
Humble Hideaway: Part of Kate’s farmhouse has been turned into a holiday cottage
Foraging isn’t too arduous – and yes, vegetation can be tasty. Liz gives me some wood sorrel, and I’m amazed at the flavour this tiny plant packs. ‘You can eat tulip petals too,’ she says. ‘And ground elder is a wonderful thing.’ Trout can be baked while wrapped in dock leaves, add burdock to stir fries, and dandelion leaves are fantastic in bacon sandwiches, Liz informs me.
Kate and her husband Ludo bought Upper Meend Farm, near Monmouth, a couple of years ago. As well as running the farm, they offer the Humble By Nature courses in foraging, sheep-shearing, lambing and keeping pigs. Part of their farmhouse has been turned into a holiday cottage, and the latest project is a shepherd’s camp, the Humble Hideaway, set in a quiet corner of the farm with beautiful views of forest, mountains and sheep pasture.
Kate commissioned the shepherd’s hut from Plankbridge Hutmakers in Dorset. ‘My mum, Diana, loves shepherd’s huts and thought they were really romantic,’ says Kate. ‘Mum said, “When I go old and mad I can just live in the corner”, so it’s really her hut and we’re all just looking after it for her.’ The hut has a double bed (the mattress is stuffed with wool from Kate’s sheep), a small kitchen, a dining table and chairs, and a shower room.
A perfect weekend retreat.
The Humble Hideaway costs from £80 per night for two through Canopy & Stars (canopyandstars.co.uk). Dogs are not allowed in the hut but can be accommodated in The Dog House, which costs £5 a night. The next foraging course is on April 12, 2014, and costs £95 per person, including lunch. Visit humblebynature.com.