Bristol Cathedral Garden

Of all the articles I wrote for the Bristol Magazine this was my favourite. It was just a lovely way to spend a bit of time, meeting Ali Tremlet and then being shown around the Cathedral Garden.

The Bristol Cathedral Garden

Cathedral Garden BristolSo far I have written about some of the places in Bristol that I treasure. I was starting to think I was running out of places to visit when I got an email from Ali Tremlet the head (and only) gardener at the Bristol Cathedral Garden. She suggested that I come and see their garden. Being as I always want to explore new bits of Bristol I jumped at the chance.

I met Ali outside the Cathedral (bottom of Park Street), where she works. There was an assembly going on so we snuck in across a car park and in through the side door. Normally, access is available through the main Cathedral, following the signs for gardens (and toilets).  I was glad we took this way in as when I walked through the cloister I was immediately hit by a serenity that only old religious buildings seem to resonate. Entering into the garden itself I discovered that this serenity was obviously not confined to the bricks and mortar of the Cathedral as the garden, despite being in a  Christian setting and full of plants, had a peaceful Zen like quality to it.

“It used to be a graveyard”, explained Ali. A second look and more focused look revealed the gravestones of old Cannons, Bishops and Deans of the Cathedral. Which may sound rather morbid but in fact I found it rather comforting. I felt as if these men of the cloth would appreciate having some kind of life in their resting place. As I am certain they saw enough life during their living years!

Despite it being winter when I visited the garden still felt full of life. The winter flowers of the witch hazel were in bloom, crocuses were poking out of the ground just weeks away from flowering and the sleeping herbaceous perennials offered that glimpse of colour that forever stains our winter into spring.  I cannot wait to see this garden in the spring, taking a cup of tea from the café in its corner, sitting on a bench beneath one of the massive Planes that lie on its edge. I am very thankful that Ali got in touch as this little garden is a true gem. Part of me wishes I had not written this so that I can keep it all to myself!

Independent Bristol

This is the second article in my on going series of articles I’ve previously published. Again this is from The Bristol Magazine and was first published in February 2010.

Independent Bristol

Go to almost any town or city centre in the Europe and you will see many of the same shops. Our bland shopping habits have changed the independent face of our cities leaving us with an homogenised, boring façade of choice. Luckily, the fringes of city centres still hold rare gems holding in there against all odds. These shops not only compete against city centre chain stores, but massive supermarket chains. Without our independent shops Bristol would be much worse off.

This time of year is the worst for the retail sector and as we are still supposedly in the worst recession ever so my place to visit this month is all of our independent shops; we need them to keep our Bristol from becoming homogenised and bland.

It is to the fringes of our great city that we have to travel to really see some of my favourite shops. Shops that are run by people who have a passion for what they sell and not for how much money they are making.  As a writer I feel I must fly the flag firstly for Durdham Down books, especially as its the only independent bookshop left in the whole of Bristol. Family run and by bibliophiles  and situated on North View. It is exactly what you want from a bookshop!

This is a bit of step away from my favourite shopping area which has to be the bottom of Cotham Hill. Here we can find an off licence that sells only the best booze from around the world, an antique shop run by two wonderful eccentrics who love dolls houses and Earthbound a health food shop that beat off Fresh and Wild and where the owners seem to know everyone by name. I have noted a few shops closing down round here so do shop in all of these and your favourite shops, especially at this time of year.

Of course there just isn’t the space to mention all of my favourite shops in Bristol, albeit to mention just my favourite new shop – The Urban Fringe Dispensary a herbalist ran by the inspirational Max Drake this place is nestled in area rich in independent shops just by the Christmas Steps.

Now rip up those club cards, burn your nectar points and shop till you drop!


Winter Foraging

twig covered in snow

Snowthing to forage here

This article was first published in Flavour magazine in January 2009.  I wasn’t getting paid for so I really went to town with trying to plug my book and forging courses. I’d suggest to any budding writers out there that working for free is only really worth while when it works as an advert for yourself or your work. Flavour let me run a small ad at the end of each article and it helped raise my profile in Bristol.

Winter foraging

This is not the sort of time of year you want to get out of the house and look for food. The winds are blustery, the ground is frozen solid and you can be hit in the face by ice cold rain. It’s no surprise then that plants feel the same and keep their heads below ground.

There are plants around and you are still able to have a bit of feed from the wild. Turn to page 229 of my book, The Selfsufficietish Bible and you will see a chart that covers the whole year – in fact it is worth noting that the foragers calendar spreads throughout the year and not just in the autumn months as many assume.

So look out for mushrooms such as, Ceps’s, Wood Blewits and Jew’s ear over the next two months. Indeed, it was during a very cold snap a few years ago that I came across my biggest haul of mushrooms. I found around 3 or 4 kilo’s of oyster mushrooms. Of course that is far too much to eat and I had to dry them.

To dry mushrooms I tend to suspend a cooling rack above one of my radiators and just leave them there until totally dry. They can also be put in the oven on a low heat. If I am using this method I tend to put them on a clean baking tray and throw them in after I have just used the oven. Otherwise you are just throwing money away!

It’s not just mushrooms that you can still find during these cold months. Yarrow grows all year round and can be used as a very refreshing tea that will also help fend off a cold. For those living near the sea the delights of sea beat can be found. As with normal spinach the young leaves can be used in a salad and the older leaves are best cooked.

A very easy beet spinach recipe.

This really is a lazy meal recipe and is very tasty, but then fried food with garlic and cheese tends to be!

Ingredients – for the batter

500 ml  milk/beer/or Sour milk
1 large egg
250g Flour
Salt and pepper

For the filling

500g Sea beet
One large onion
2 cloves of garlic
100g of a good hard cheese

Method – Pancake

Sieve the flour into a bowl . Add the egg, milk (or beer) and seasoning. Mix until there are no lumps in the batter. Leave to stand for half and hour or so in the fridge. Fry both sides and add the filling (see below)

Method – Filling

Finely chop the onions and lightly fry, adding the garlic as they onions begin to soften. Wash and chop the sea beet and add to the onions. When the sea beet has reduced, grate the cheese and add to the pancakes.

If you would rather sit with a nice cup of yarrow tea and read about wild food over these colder months you could ask Father Christmas for a copy of the Selfsufficientish Bible, priced at £20 and available from all good bookshops.


Netham Common, Bristol

A snow man on Netham Common

Netham Common Jan 2010

Back in 2009-2010 having worked on Selfsufficientish for 6 years I decided it was time to broaden my horizons a little. I contacted a number of magazines with various ideas. One local to Bristol (and simply called Bristol) picked up one of my ideas. Over almost a year I visited various spots around Bristol in an attempt to urge people to do the same. I intend to publish one each month as they appeared 2 years ago in the Bristol Magazine.

Netham Common

Netham common is one of the green spaces that you will only find on a map. That is unless you live nearby and walk you dog on or you play football there on a Sunday afternoon. It is tucked away in my bit of Bristol, over in the badlands (south of the M32). On one side of the park is Avonvale Road on  the other The Feeder Road canal and if you are standing on the common you can see about 3 blocks of flats.  The flats I think frame it as a cityscape, without them the park might look out of place. Almost as a squirrel without a tail or a bird with no beak.

Every time I walk on Netham Common, which is almost every day at the moment, it really fills me with a sense of hope.  In living memory the common has been a toxic dump. I spoke to one of my neighbours and he remembers when it used to be a chemical works. The Barton Hill History Group state that from 1859 to 1949 a huge chimney used to belch out smoke, casting a shadow across Barton Hill.  The massive 40 acre site must have looked like something out of post apocalyptic 1980’s drama Threads.

Netham has now changed beyond recognition and when I learnt of it’s story I found it most heart-warming. It was given back to the city in the fifties and the transformation began. Now there are native trees, squirrels and a host of birds that all call this former waste dump home. It is also a great place for foraging, with chestnut trees (if you beat the squirrels to is), sloes, elderberries, rosehips and blackberries aplenty.

It is slightly frustrating though as due to the chemicals in the soil I would not be comfortable picking the mushrooms, nettles or many of the other plants that grow on the Netham. However, it does bring hope to the rest of the city, perhaps Tesco Eastville will become a freshwater wildlife reserve, Clifton Heights a wild flower meadow and the M32 a deer park. Well here’s hoping (and day dreaming).