A walk in the woods

The afternoon was mild and sunny, after a wet day yesterday. My wife’s uncle noted that the moon was now waxing so mushrooms would not be growing quite so prolifically. We headed up the hill along a very small road into the woods. Immediately, on the edge of the road, we spotted some toadstools – a second one confirmed it as a panther cap, and this was quickly followed by some very good examples of the Destroying Angel. Though beautiful these were not what we had come to find.

Up the road a bit and just past a house with a spring in its garden, there was a low drystone wall, with a humid shady and very unassuming looking narrow verge between the base of the wall and the edge of the road. In amongst the sweet chestnut leaves, prolific patches of moss and polypody fern, were patches of bright yellow. Called Girolle in this part of France, in England they are Chanterelle. Jacquie, my wife’s aunt, checked carefully to see they were the genuine article and not False chanterelle. The gills were clearly decurrent, continuing down the stem of the mushroom. At first we only saw a couple, but as we all got our eye in, they appeared from amongst the moss and leaves. Excitedly we picked or cut them carefully, removing any soil before putting them in the basket. There were a surprising number along this wall and we had collected 30 or 40 of these delectable mushrooms without any effort. As the wall petered out, the verge became more grassy and and the Girolle quickly disappeared. I wondered how the mycelium had chosen this particular spot and how vulnerable it was to disturbance or destruction. The girls’ great-aunt Jacquie explained that this set of conditions is what she always looked for for Girolle, a damp shady mossy place.

We headed on up the hill and left the road up an old track into the woods. The woods had what we might call ancient woodland indicators, though as to whether this applies in this part of France is debatable. I looked down and saw Aspen leaves – then spotted a grove behind me on the other side of the road. This is a sure way to know the woodland has been there for a long time, as Aspen is a clonal species that spreads slowly out to form a large patch. Jacquie said that our quarry should be around here somewhere. We stood amongst large Sweet Chestnut – some had fallen in a storm – perhaps the big one of 2000. Others appeared to be old pollards. There was a great deal of deadwood on the ground and standing. As we stood by a dead Sweet Chestnut trunk lying prone, there was a sound of triumph and delight and we were shown a small patch of the Trompete de Mor, or as we know it, Horn of Plenty. Perfect little trumpets of a dark grey purple above, and dark lilac gills below. Small ones in singles, larger ones with small ones alongside and large troops or five and six growing together. These larger troops leant themselves to be being picked as a bunch and we all delighted in finding the best largest and freshest examples. Soon we were all happily collecting these beautiful and tasty fungi, and the more we looked the more we found. Around each tree and past each stump another patch appeared. The previous day’s rain had brought them up and they were at the perfect stage for picking. We carried on until the basket was mostly full before deciding to stop as we had all we needed.

As we climbed through the wood I noticed terraces suggesting this too had been cultivated at some point in the past. We came out on a road further up the hill, then headed slowly back down to the valley bottom. The girls walked along together chatting away happily. Our eldest had used her knife to carefully remove the bark off a small beech twig. The younger was delighting in tramping down the rainfall gully along the edge of the road. We came across the entrance to a small mine – gold had been mined in these hills from before Roman times, and there was a quick foray into the cave.

Well satisfied with the afternoon’s haul, we wended our way back down the hill for a nice cup of tea and a cookie.

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About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
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2 Responses to A walk in the woods

  1. I remember growing up eating wild fungus, but alas I never learned to identify them myself and the knowledge is dying. Did you collect any sweet chestnuts? I am, at least, confident enough to collect sweet chestnuts http://procrastacreation.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/chestnutting/

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