Foraging walk and picnic at Girley Bog

Food blogger Nicky McDonnell wrote a wonderful description of the Girley Bog Foraging Walk which is reproduced below with his kind permission. This post originally appeared on his blog on 18th August 2015. 

On one of the few sunny days we have enjoyed this Summer, I found myself at the start of Girley Bog looped walk. Girley Bog is on my doorstep and in a clear example of what is beside you I have to admit I’ve never been on the walk before. We met Kate from Meath Eco Tours at the car park and in true Irish fashion we had to figure out the seed, breed and generation of our respective families. It was a clever ice breaker in the wonderful morning sunshine.

When the whole gang had assembled, 16 in total, Kate explained a bit of the history of the Girley area. As she had just submitted her thesis, based on the history and ecology of Girley Bog just 2 days previous, the information and knowledge was abundant and clear. Her passion for outdoors and sustainable living is very strong and inspiring.

We followed the marked route through the hedgerows before taking at right at the first cross-section. A small pond was almost covered over with grass and rushes. Kate explained how last year she had observed a family of 7 newts at the pond and reported back the findings. Newts are a very rare species in Irish wetlands and Coillte and wildlife agencies are keen to hear of their existence as it is a sign an area is becoming more  environmentally strong and habitable for native species.

As we passed different plants, trees and bushes what i previously would have ignored as weeds, Kate mentioned names, pointed out features and showed how to identify what family they belong to. From the Rose, Pea and Mint families to those of the Mustard, Heath and Aster, we learned how to identify plants by their stem (square for the mint) to their petals (clustered for the thistle) as well as which are edible and which should be avoided. Even the subtle smells are distinguishable. The pleasant Meadowsweet with its warm and sweet fragrance but when crushed becomes clinical and acidic.

We entered the small woods which has been carefully restored and maintained by Coillte. The sunlight breaking through the canopy of green leaves and playing across the forest floor was dreamlike and hypnotic. Even here the abundance of different plant life is extraordinary. From the various types of mosses to the mushrooms and tiny bilberries, each has its own place and is thriving in this well maintained woodlands.

The high bank of the old bog came into view on our left and as we ascended out of the woods the new boardwalk guided us along a well planned path. This has a two-fold reason, firstly following a sweeping route that gives users the best opportunity to enjoy the best of what this natural site has to offer and secondly to ensure the bog doesn’t get trampled over and destroy the delicate plants and lifeforms that thrive here.

We spotted cotton plants, heather, bog rosemary, chicory, St. John’s Wort and wild cranberries. These again are rare in Ireland and don’t grow in enough abundance to harvest them here. Indeed that is a rule of thumb in the countryside. Only pick what is in abundance and apply the rule of thirds. A third to pick, a third for regrowth and a third for the birds. Kate pointed out Valerian, which the Game of Thrones geek in me got excited about. Valerian root has been used since ancient times to produce a tea that acts as a sedative and helps calm the nerves. As to its effectiveness at dealing with White Walkers remains to be seen.

On the return loop we stopped to taste the wild raspberries which were growing nearly the whole walk. The sweetness and natural flavour is in sharp contrast to the bitter and acidic punnets we are so used to buying in supermarkets. Blackberries are also plentiful in the bog but are just a few weeks off ripening yet. Kate pointed out the chicory plant and how we would be tasting some chicory and acorn coffee at the picnic. Another rare plant, the Burdock made an appearance. This was the inspiration for modern-day velcro with its velour and crochet style burrs.

When we returned to the car park Kate set up the picnic. Most of the foods she had prepared in the previous 24 hours and almost totally from ingredients foraged in Girley Bog or along hedgerows in the Meath countryside. Starting with a refreshing glass of Elderflower cordial, we had samples of Dillisk and Marjoram oatcakes and a choice of  Courgette and yarrow chutney, Tomato, Marjoram and Bean dip and a delicious rocket, Watercress and Basil pesto, all foraged from the Meath countryside. Bilberry muffins with bilberry and heather jam, Lavendar and Heather muffins with Rhubard and wildflower jam followed and all this was washed down with the unusual but tasty chicory and acorn coffee. It had a mild earthy taste with a hint of chocolate. The final sample was a tipple of Sloe Gin made by Kate’s husband from last season’s sloe berries.

One Life Adventure

On one of the few sunny days we have enjoyed this Summer, I found myself at the start of Girley Bog looped walk. Girley Bog is on my doorstep and in a clear example of what is beside you I have to admit I’ve never been on the walk before. We met Kate from Meath Eco Tours at the car park and in true Irish fashion we had to figure out the seed, breed and generation of our respective families. It was a clever ice breaker in the wonderful morning sunshine.

When the whole gang had assembled, 16 in total, Kate explained a bit of the history of the Girley area. As she had just submitted her thesis, based on the history and ecology of Girley Bog just 2 days previous, the information and knowledge was abundant and clear. Her passion for outdoors and sustainable living is very strong and…

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