Monday 13 September 2010

Heath Time

In the series of what a great city London is and what a great part of this city we are lucky enough to reside in, Hampstead Heath has to feature strongly. Before moving here, I'd only been to the Heath a couple of times when visiting friends. In those days the children were small and I was more concerned about keeping the toddlers in sight to appreciate the beauty of this vast green space in the middle of the city.

Also, the press the Heath gets outside of London is not always positive. I'm sure my mother-in-law would be horrified if she thought we spent any time on Hampstead Heath as she knows it only for its reputation with certain kinds of nocturnal activities.

But in the past few weeks I've been truly surprised how excellent the Heath is for everything from dog walking, playing with kids, kite flying to swimming.

A beautiful red kite 

There are several swimming ponds, including a separate one for just ladies (although not the Little Britain kind of ladies...). The great Liberty London Girl wrote about the Ladies' Swimming Pond on her blog a few months ago but I couldn't really get the sense of it until I saw it with my own eyes.

If you don't feel that energetic - or brave now the air is getting cooler - you can just sit on a bench on the Heath and read a paper, or go and have a coffee in several of the outdoor and indoor cafes, do a bit of bird-watching or even go foraging.

Which is what my good friend and I did quite early last Sunday morning, when we took part in something called 'Fungus Foray' organised by the Heath & Hampstead Society. It was hosted by Andy Overall from the London Fungus Group, who knew everything there is to know about mushrooms.

Andy showing us some very poisonous fungi
Before this walk, I thought I knew a little about how to pick the right kinds of mushrooms. But my knowledge, which consisted of recognising a chantarelle (it's yellow and feathery) and a cep (it's round and brown with a velvety underside and it smells lovely), and the warnings all Finnish children get from their parents and teachers about not touching anything brightly red, anything with a skirt or anything with speckles on it, just weren't anywhere enough to go and pick mushrooms on the Heath. After an hour and half following and listening to Andy, together with a keen group of about 15 foragers, I was more confused than at the beginning. All we seemed to find were mushrooms that would either kill you, make you very sick or were not very nice to eat. 'I wish he could show us something we can actually cook with,' my friend muttered just before the end of the walk, when we came across a few ceps. We even got to taste one and it was just as I remembered from the many enforced mushroom picking sessions my parents forced me and my big sister on: sweet and buttery.

Me with a cep. Please note this was early on a Sunday morning...
So now I know which fungi to pick and one spot on the Heath where to find them. Together with fifteen other locals...guess I'll be getting my ceps from the supermarket then.


Unknown said...

I love Hampstead Heath and mushroom-picking - I have taught my English husband which mushrooms to pick and now he is even keener than me:-)
Have you seen the film Bright Star? If not, I thoroughly recommend it.

Unknown said...

Oh, and there is far less competition for mushrooms in Surrey (near Bracknell) or the New Forest - we pick literally hundreds, as English people mostly have no idea which to pick.

Alison Cross said...

Am too scared to forage for mushrooms - going brambling requires SAS qualities that I don't possess.

Would love to learn how to do it properly though.

Ali x

Wildernesschic said...

I am also too scared to pick mushrooms.. although have always wondered which were the magic ones and wanted to try them..:O
I love the look of the Heath though, I have never been xx

Unknown said...

Ruth, we did rather hope that Andy would mention magic mushrooms but were too timid & proper to ask...xx

Happy Frog and I said...

I used to love swimming at Hampstead Heath in the summer. I was just talking to someone about how fantastic it was over the weekend and then I saw your post! Glad you are enjoying HH.

Northern Snippet said...

I've been picking mushrooms recently too-I think its a very good year for them there are loads near us.
Would love to go on a proper guided walk though as even with a book its difficult to identify without the niggling doubt remaining>..

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