Now, I am not by nature a particularly outdoorsy girl. I like the idea of the countryside very much indeed, but only a highly sanitised version - ideally one without wasps, or mud, or bad smells. I have not been camping since I was a child and consider it, on the whole, perfectly possible to admire the beauty of nature through one's car window on the way back to a comfortable dwelling with central heating, a roof and hot water on demand.
Thus I was as surprised as anyone to find myself tramping through the countryside somewhere near Rochdale in the pouring rain (and I mean pouring), looking at wet leaves and contemplating ruefully the hitherto-undiscovered non-waterproof nature of my trainers. Yep, last weekend - the only wet day in recent weeks, naturally - I went foraging, and it's a glowing endorsement of our charismatic and engaging guide David Winnard of Discover the Wild that I had a fabulous time despite the weather. The whole event was the brainchild of Caorunn Gin, a Scottish brand which I tried for the first time a few months ago and have since purchased on a regular basis, with the idea being to take a busload of bloggers out into the wilds to look for the five Celtic botanicals used in the gin (and bring the bloggers back again, no doubt contrary to the wishes of those who would rather they simply be left there to fend for themselves).
The first botanical we (OK, David) found was dandelion - to be fair, even I have a fair idea what these look like thanks to my poor gardening skills and their fondness for my lawn. David also showed us some rowan trees loaded with the beautiful red berries that give Caorunn its name, an apple tree (not technically the Coul Blush variety that Caorunn uses as they only grow in Scotland, but near enough), some purple heather, and finally - down a secret, very muddy path - some bog myrtle. This last one is much sought after, and is the reason I'm not allowed to say exactly where we went (even if I knew, which I don't on account of being too busy chatting to look where I was going whilst on the bus). David showed us lots of other things as well, including elderflower, rose hips and sloe berries - we were all pretty impressed by how many edible and interesting plants and flowers we came across in our 90 minute stroll.
After all this healthy, wholesome outdoorsy stuff, it was back to Manchester and more familiar territory - lunch and cocktails at The Lawn Club. Here we were welcomed with a Wild Urban Bramble Cocktail (specially developed with Elixir to mark the Forage to Glass events) and a lovely buffet lunch as well as a bag of goodies to take home and make our own cocktail with (including some elderflower syrup and rowan and apple jelly made by David's fair hands). So yes, it was a very gentle introduction to the world of foraging, leading a number of rather churlish friends to rather uncharitably remark that I had essentially been foraging for cocktails, and lunch, and that it was little wonder that someone with my track record for such things had managed to sniff them out. I did learn a lot though, and have indulged in a number of rosy fantasies since whereby I become the kind of woman who puts her wellies on, pops out and forages for a number of tasty items, and then comes home and makes jam etc rather than just buying it at Sainsbury's. Whilst this may admittedly still be some way off, I do plan to book David for a full day foraging trip, particularly as it's now mushroom season - have a look at his website here if you'd like to do the same. I'll be the slightly mardy one at the back in unsuitable shoes...