Gorgeous and Glorious Galloway

Way back – might have been nearly a year ago, but time is funny in these plague and post plague years – my friend Alison found a mushroom identifying course to be held in Galloway in September of this year. So we decided on that same day to book it and work out the details later. This was a BRILLIANT idea and led to a fantastic long weekend in gorgeous Scotland. If you are a mycophile and get a chance I heartily recommend it. We took the ferry over, were absolutely blessed on all days bar one with the weather – the one day was impressively opposite but it’s easy to stay cheerful when it’s just the one – and stayed at a gorgeous wild campsite. We had *some* adventures with trying to pitch the tent in stronger winds than I’m used to, it could have gone more pear shaped but we met a lovely man who rounded up some more lovely people to help and sorted us out with essentials, there are few better ways to start a holiday than getting to meet truly nice and generous people.

The beach, almost private as the campsite was very quiet in September, was small but spectacular, given to a complete personality change between tides. And it had that perfect mix of sand and interesting rocks and rockpools, with ribbons of pretty shells and pebbles. A little further up the hill we were cosy in our little out of the way nook of the campsite, shielded with bushes swaying gently and further lulled by a stream running close by. We had a firepit on legs for the dry evenings and were treated to the best of cloud cinema every sunset. I cannot overrate this experience, quite simply. These pictures do not do the beach any justice.

So having arrived and explored and gotten set up on the Friday, Saturday was all about meeting our guide Mark from Galloway Wild Foods and participating in the Fungi Foraging event. It was brilliant, I learned loads and confirmed stuff I had started to notice myself and that made me feel like I was getting somewhere. For example under beech you very commonly find a triad of mushrooms – the red Beech Sickener, the Geranium Brittlegill and the Slimy Milkcap. If you find one chances are you’ll find the others. I had noticed this triad, but for food foragers there’s another. better one to watch for – Fly Agaric, the Miller and Ceps. Useful one to know because both the Miller and Ceps are edible and lord knows the fly agaric is easy to spot! Turns out the Miller is great to spot in a gloomy bit of wood too, it stands out better than I would have expected in that ghostly grey-white. I also noticed that earthballs are FAR more common in Galloway than I’m used to here and I now am far more comfortable recognising chanterelles. It was a fantastic forage, lots of interesting finds and little treats to try throughout the walk like a liquor made with chanterelles and apricot brandy ( and other stuff) and just how good the broth off chanterelles cooked in butter really is.. Mark was lovely, and knew so much, was an absolute pleasure to spend the time with him. Alison, who is a bit of a genius with home brewed wine, had made beefsteak mushroom wine, which is strange but not unpleasant, strangely moreish, and it went down very well with Mark and the others too.

At the end of the walk came food. I wasn’t expecting this to be as mind blowingly good and delicious as it was. I mean seriously, it was exceptional food as food, not just clever stuff someone made with foraged items. I would do any one of Mark’s foraging courses again in a heartbeat.

Bento box of various wild foods including venison, pickles, chanterelle tart, samphire, lava bread and other absolutely gorgeous flavoured foods/

In this gorgeous box are slices of venison, pickled sloe, pickled chanterelles, a pickled sea plant I need to remember and samphire, wild garlic pesto with goat’s cheese and hazlenut I think, laver bread, a gorgeous chanterelle tart if I remember correctly and egg dusted with something cool that I also need to remember – I will try to get the actual contents of the box again, it was spectacular and justifies more effort than I’m making right this minute. The middle section was the dessert, it had a fruit leather “sweet” and pieces of what I’m pretty certain is detailed here https://gallowaywildfoods.com/hogweed-seed-parkin-cake-recipe/ and it was fantastic. There are lots of great recipes on that site, and I definitely recommend trying some. Also he made similar quality bento boxes for the vegetarian and vegan members of the group. Five stars from everyone.

The next day we went to try to find stuff ourselves after our lessons with Mark. Alison is a very experienced forager and has a great eye for spotting stuff. We had a wonderful time going from wood to wood to see what we could find and were rewarded with all kinds of nice things. I far prefer the small porcini “piglets” to the big, mature blown out ceps, mostly for the flavour, but also because they’re less inclined to sludginess and bugs. I can see why they use ceps in mushroom soup in particular, such a big meaty flavour, but I tend to love my mushrooms on the more delicate side of the flavour profile, and fried (or as it turns out pickled.. mmmmm)

We absorbed all sorts of scenery, Galloway has many flavours of Scottish landscape in one area, and visited a couple of small quirky towns we loved. We appreciated the Galloway Dark Skies Park initiative, found a waterfall tumbling through mossy stones and the rough, spiky tumble of autumnal beech wood. Nearby, through a succession of massive stone and moss platform stages , I reached one dense patch of moss architecture nestled in a half circle of young trees that would make me believe in forest fairies as described in children’s books – it looked utterly natural and completely, fantastically unreal at the same time, glinted over with water droplets and the edge-of-eye suggestion of lights. Only the fresh crush of moss and mushroom and wet river bank kept me rooted to Galloway, September 2022.

As we were returning to our campsite Alison spotted a red kite, as it swooped overhead and into a field. We stopped instantly, hoping to catch another glimpse and she spotted there were many more wheeling in the huge blue above us over across the fields. We had spotted a sign for a Galloway Kite trail and a feeding station that had informed us we were too late https://www.gallowaykitetrail.com/ but we decided there might still be some point in taking a look in case some were still hanging around. When we got there it turned out that in September for a week or two the kits are far less inclined to show up, eat and run as they do at other times of the year. The fields are full of choice morsels, so while they aren’t foolish enough to turn down free food altogether, they are far less in a hurry. So we had plenty of time to enjoy them, wheeling and calling above us, the absolutely incredible soft thump-whoosh sound of their flight to grab meat from the grass and just take in the astonishing number of them all. My photos are terrible, they move quickly and beyond the range of my poor phone. If you like birds and are in Galloway, go see it, it’s incredible.

Every time we raided the shop in Newton Steward and then headed back to our campsite we passed a sign for Cairnholy. I am a *sucker* for megalithic sites so we definitely had to go see this. As it turned out we went twice, the first time we saw only teh first cairn and it was raining and grey but we liked it so much we resolved to go back and see it and the second one 150 m down the road further in better light. Was worth it, the cairns were in two lovely, peaceful sites and we caught the right part of the day to appreciate them fully. Going to be lazy and point you to Wikipedia for this one, at least for the moment as it’s getting late here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cairnholy

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