The days of July and August were full for me. Working with students for the majority of the days through these months, sped me from the verdant freshness of June to the verge of autumn with barely a day to myself.
At the end of August, I was back in the north east of England visiting family. This is where I spent the bulk of my teens. I know this area very well. Yet I always relish heading out on foot into the surrounding country.
Solo walks here provide mental space and decompression. While it’s familiar ground, the detail is different every time. Echoing what I wrote in Wild Wanderings 3, nature’s cycles are variable and one should always be open minded to what you might come across at any given time.
These images were taken in the last few days of August in County Durham, UK.
A Fruitful Time Of Year
The latter parts of summer inevitably see swelling fruits and a burgeoning crop of easily harvested wild edibles. But you are never sure when any particular species is going to peak. Nor are you ever sure how good a year it’s going to be for a given species.
Rasperries are one of my favourite fruits. I keep a keen eye out for them. Photo: Paul Kirtley
I’m not the only one who is enjoying raspberries at this time of year though. Here a common wasp chows down. Photo: Paul Kirtley
These elderberries are not quite there yet. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Here it’s a good year for Hawthorn, Crataegus monogyna. Great for making fruit leathers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Sloes, the fruit of blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, are ripening but there are not many here this year. Photo: Paul Kirtley
One of the commonest, most easily identifiable and best wild fruits of this time of year is the bramble, a.k.a. blackberry, Rubus fruticosus. The terminal fruits are typically the first to ripen and often the sweetest. Catch them at their best at this time of year. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, berries have been ripening for some time but these are spot on right now. Further south, they have already past their best. Photo: Paul Kirtley
More domesticated fruits are doing well here this year. I came across an abandoned orchard behind a derelict dwelling. Here there are pears as well as cooking apples and smaller varieties of apple (see below). These pears had decent flavour but were little hard yet. Give them a few more weeks…. Photo: Paul Kirtley
There’s a seeming randomness to the arrangement of the leaves of many of the related fruit trees. I can’t help but see the similarities between these apple leaves and the arrangement of wild cherry leaves. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A bumper year for apples up here. This is in contrast to my favourite apple trees down south in Sussex, which have not really produced this year. These are only small apples, about an inch across. They do contain some domestication but are still really quite sour. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Unlike all of the above, this is a fruit you don’t want to be nibbling on. Snowberry is an introduced species in the honeysuckle family. In North America it has been used by the natives for various skin complaints as well as for washing hair and skin (the berries contain saponins) but only a few of the berries is considered a fatal dose if injested. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The delicate flowers of Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus. County Durham, UK. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Strictly speaking many of what we call nuts are fruits. No less beech masts. The small nutlets the brown husks contain are good eating once they have fully formed. This looks like a good year for them… Photo: Paul Kirtley
Gone To Seed
At this point in the year, many small flowering plants (angiosperms) have gone to seed or are in the process of releasing seeds. Some of these are good for food. Others have utility in other applications.
Rosebay willowherb, a.k.a. fireweed, Epilobium angustifolium, produces fluffy seeds, which start to become apparent at this time of year. These downy seed heads are a useful addition to tinder bundles. Teased out they will also take a spark from a ferro rod. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The truncheon-like seed capsules burst to release a mass of downy seeds. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, is often thought of as a spring edible. It’s seed pods, however, persist much later in the year. The little black seeds are tasty and pack a good mustard punch if you like that sort of thing. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The burrs of Galium aparine, more commonly known as cleavers, goosegrass or sticky willie. This relative of coffee produces a decent coffee substitute. Photo: Paul Kirtley
This broad-leaved dock has seen better days. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The seeds of broad-leaved dock, Rumex obtusifoluus. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The seeds of hogweed, Haracleum sphondylium. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Now that the vibrant purple flowers have passed, foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, are fading back into the greenery. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Despite many trees and plants displaying fruits and seeds in late August/early September, there are still a surprising number of flowers around.
The diminutive flowers of chickweed, Stellaria media, visible here. This plant was in amongst lush grass in a meadow, Down at this level, it could have been spring. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Don’t forget a key identification feature of chickweed is the single line of hairs on the stem. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Water mint, Mentha aquatica, by a steam. Still in flower in late August. Photo: Paul Kirtley
There were multiple species of bee taking advantage of the flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The bees were loving these mint flowers. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The mint was buzzing with bee acivity. I remained and watched these industrious little creatures for some time. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A plant which was somewhat past its verdant best yet still sporting a very healthy flower was this red campion, Silene dioica. It is a relative of soapwort and, while not as soapy as its cousin, this plant does contains saponins which make it a useful natural soap. It is, however, somewhat toxic if injested. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Further back into the woods a more unusual flowering shrub I found was a species of privet, in the Ligustrum genus. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Dead Nettles and Not-So-Dead Nettles
Water mint, Mentha aquatica is in the mint family. This may seem like an obvious statement but this family, also known as the deadnettle family or Lamiaciaea is a large one, which contains many species other than the minty ones. Yes, there are a lot of aromatic herbs included here, including rosemary, thyme, basil, sage to name but a few. But there are also other important species, including the hemp nettles.
ID guides often state hemp nettles are common but I have to say I don’t come across them as often as many other common members of this family. In my experience the hemp nettles seem to do well on the margins of arable farm land. So, here in the middle of undisturbed woodland, I was surprised to find specimens of common hemp nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit.
The last of the flowers of common hemp nettled giving was to the spiky seed “funnels” which are characteristic of this species. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The leaves of common hemp-nettle, Galeopsis tetrahit. Photo: Paul Kirtley
The roughly hairy stem of common hemp nettle, which is in many ways reminiscent of stinging nettles, which is not a close relative. Photo: Paul Kirtley
There were other members of the deadnettle family nearby, not always easy to spot.
Hedge woundwort, Stachys sylvatica, is a plant in the family Lamiaceae, which looks very similar to stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. Here you can see the former species blending in, within a stand of stinging nettles. Photo: Paul Kirtley
There was a large patch of stinging nettles, Urtica dioica, across the trail/ There clearly had not been many people along here in recent times. One key ID feature distinguishing this species from the nearby deadnettles was the very different flower/seed structure of this species compared to the typical Lamiaceae plant. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Despite the clear signs of late summer/early autumn, there was plenty of fresh, green leafy life around. This was particularly the case in the damp ground down near to the stream which was flowing through this area.
Some large, juicy leaves of common sorrel, Rumex acetosa, I found near a stream. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Very young-looking leaves of meadowsweet, Filipendula ulmaria. Photo: Paul Kirtley
An oft overlooked wild salad is the crisp and juicy opposite-leaved golden saxifrage, Chrysoplenium oppositifolium. Photo: Paul Kirtley
Also succulent but not so palatable, brooklime, Veronica beccabunga, is found in very damp ground. Photo: Paul Kirtley
There is still plenty of wood sorrel, Oxalis acetosella, around on the forest floor. Photo: Paul Kirtley
More Badger Digging
I featured badger activity in Wild Wanderings 2 and Wild Wanderings 4.
Here, again, we have evidence of badgers digging up a wasp nest to access the larvae. I have seen more evidence of this activity than in recent years. I’ve seen multiple excavated wasp nests in recent weeks, in Sussex as well as County Durham. I’ve also seen a lot of wasps this year. My feeling, based on my own anecdotal evidence, is there are more wasp nests than in recent years and, therefore, more opportunities for badgers to dig them up.
I was crossing the stream at this point and noticed the dark hole to the right of the photo. Photo: Paul Kirtley
I could see a lot of disturbance to the vegetation in the area as well as flattening. Photo: Paul Kirtley
In amongst the low growth of hedge woundwort here I spotted something. Can you see it?
A little closer and you might be able to make out what it is… Photo: Paul Kirtley
Closer still and you can see it is the remains of one of the combs from the wasp nest. Photo: Paul Kirtley
A close up view of looking into the excavated hole. You can see the papery remains of the wasp nest. There were still wasps active in the area, with them coming and going from the damaged nest as I took photographs. Photo: Paul Kirtley
What Are These Wild Wanderings Blogs Anyway?
Wild Wanderings is a series of photoblogs of elements of nature which, having caught my eye while out and about, I want to share with you, the reader. These observations are typically related to tree and plant identification, animal tracks and sign and other aspects of natural history which pertain to bushcraft and survival skills.
These blogs do not usually contain much written explanation other than concise photo captions. This is intentional, as writing long descriptions, including background facts or a large amount of context, whether it be historical or contemporary, slows down the sharing of these images with you.
The above photos were taken with the diminutive yet powerful Leica D-Lux (Type 109).
Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog…
Rosebay Willowherb: Taking The Pith
Wild Wanderings 4 – Summer, Sussex and Students
Five Survival Plants Every Forager Should Know
The following two tabs change content below.
Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft
, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.