Apologies for the lack of posts over the last few days, but I’ve been in southern Sweden, discovering the wonderful design, food and scenery of the Skåne region. More on that to follow soon, but first I have a find from home turf to share with you: beautiful Forest of Dean hotel Tudor Farmhouse.
The Forest of Dean is only an hour north of Bristol, but for some reason I’ve never spent much time there. So, when Tudor Farmhouse asked if I’d like to join a small group of bloggers and journalists (including the lovely Lottie from Oyster & Pearl) for one of their autumnal foraging breaks, I jumped at the chance to explore the area. I soon realised I’ve been missing out. This sprawling oak woodland – the oldest in England – is utterly magical, with mysterious glens, twisting tree trunks, haunting mine ruins and roaming wild boar. It’s said to have inspired the works of Tolkein, and more recently it’s been used as a location for the Harry Potter films.
The hotel itself occupies a wonderfully wonky, ivy-clad building in the pretty little village of Clearwell and, as its name suggests, it dates from the 16th century. It’s run by husband-and-wife team Colin and Hari, who swapped London life for this quiet corner of Gloucestershire a decade ago and set about transforming the once-tired B&B into a luxurious boutique hotel. It’s the kind of place that makes you unwind and breathe more deeply from the moment you arrive: staff greet you with warm smiles, fires crackle in the grates, wellies wait by the door, and bees bumble around the flowers outside.
The 20 rooms are spread across an old hay barn, cider house and cottage, with exposed stone walls, soft Farrow & Ball colours, fluffy blankets and monochrome photo prints of the forest; some even have ancient beams or thickset arrow-slit windows. Mine was located in the cottage, with a freestanding roll-top tub, a rain shower clad in sage-green metro tiles and a window looking out over the garden. Style-wise, it was a little more rustic than my normal taste, but it was incredibly comfortable and very well designed. Every little detail had been considered, from the Nespresso machine and fresh milk in the bedroom to the lovely Bramley toiletries in the bathroom. There were even handy plug sockets by the bed – something which is so often forgotten in hotels.
After settling in, we met up with eccentric wild-food guru Raoul Van Den Broucke and headed out into the countryside. Keen to ensure that foraging knowledge isn’t lost for good, Belgian-born Raoul runs regular courses for Tudor Farmhouse and entertained us with tales of his colourful past as we roamed the forest in search of mushrooms, berries, herbs and more.
It was a beautiful time of year to be out in the fresh air: the trees were tinged with orange, and shafts of soft autumn sunshine filtered down through the branches, creating pools of light on the moss-covered forest floor. And Raoul’s expertise was second to none. His eagle eyes spotted edible treasures that the rest of us missed, and he confidently led us to patches of chanterelles, lemony wood sorrel growing on tree stumps, sweet yew berries (not poisonous, though the rest of the tree is) hanging in the corner of a graveyard, and fragrant wild-garlic roots buried by the side of a country lane. Along the way he shared plenty of tips, from how to tell good mushrooms from bad (his advice: focus on one variety a year and really learn your stuff) to where to find the best sloes for gin-making.
As the sun began to set we headed back to the hotel with a basket of spoils, ready to enjoy a locally sourced dinner created by head chef Rob Cox. We started with the mushrooms we’d collected, cooked simply in oil to bring out their delicate flavours, before moving into the cosy stone-walled dining room for a five-course ’20 mile’ tasting menu. Every plate was delicious: white-onion soup with duck eggs, rabbit with leeks and tarragon, roasted cod in a hazelnut and truffle pesto, Cotswold lamb rump, and a velvety baked cheesecake with zingy raspberries. We were also treated to a flight of top-notch wines chosen to match the food.
Stuffed full, I waddled back to my room for a soak in the tub, before heading to bed. Sleep is a bit of an enigma for me at the moment (a story for another time), but I still appreciated the chance to wallow under a duck-down duvet, with no sound other than the distant braying of sheep to disturb the silence.
After 24 hours of foraging, feasting and unwinding, I left Tudor Farmhouse feeling reinvigorated and relaxed. And, now I’ve had a brief taster of the Forest of Dean, I don’t think it will be long before I return…
Tudor Farmhouse is running group foraging courses with lunch (£50 per person) until 19th November 2017, and again from 7th April 2018; it can also can arrange private foraging afternoons (£125 for up to four people) year-round. Packages including dinner and accommodation are available too, with prices starting at £300 for a couple – just head over to the website for more information and to book.
I was given a free stay by Tudor Farmhouse, but all words and opinions are my own.
All photography by Abi Dare