The 1600 acre Sizergh estate is amazingly diverse and has the potential to provide you with some lip smacking treats and all for free! Sizergh is a particularly good location because of a couple very special trees. Firstly, in the field on your right hand side as you go up the main drive to the castle are some well-established walnut trees. Walnuts are usually a Southern European tree, so the walnuts produced by these Cumbrian trees rarely ripen – but the early fruit is perfect for pickling. Another special food bearing tree, that are sparse in Cumbria are the sweet chestnuts that are growing along Ashbank Lane very close to the reception building and signposted from the main car park. These trees are about 230 years old and are still have mast years when they producing hundreds of chestnuts. Again, due to the latitude, they tend to be on the small side although you can find some cracker jacks!
Sizergh’s woodlands also bear lots of sweet berries. In early summer Dog Kennel Wood, provides an excellent location for gooseberry picking and the hedgerows and are filled with raspberries. In late summer this changes to elderberries, blackberries and if you’re lucky some damsons and apples. Finally, in early winter sloes will start to ripen ready to flavour your gin…
There are plenty of other delicious treats to be found - nettles, wild sorrel, wild thyme, hazelnuts, cherries, dandelion roots and of course hundreds of fungi, although it would be wise to consult with an expert before collecting wild mushrooms.
It is important to positively identify everything before you try eating it (check leaf, flower, berry colour and shape, season, and so on), if you are unsure don’t eat it! Food for Free by Richard Mabey is an excellent start as a guide to foraging and I would recommend taking it with you on every foraging foray! Hedgerow Harvest also has a very helpful website.
I work as an Assistant Ranger across the extremely diverse South and East Cumbria and Morecambe Bay area. Due to the wide ranging habitats that we look after, my job is extremely diverse - one day I might be repairing a wall overlooking a sea cliff and the next, I could be coppicing in ancient woodland, 50 miles from the sea, creating habitats for birds and insects.