Jemima Sissons on a simpler and slower life: a return to foraging, whittling and finding harmony with nature


Jemima Sissons on a simpler and slower life: a return to foraging, whittling and finding harmony with nature

The countryside has long lured thinkers, dreamers, roamers, makers and wanderers, wanting to reconnect with the land and feel the pleasure of natural pursuits. Never more so than in the last year, when the draw of the great outdoors has been felt by many. With it comes a raft of wholesome pastimes – Instagram has been flooded with sourdough brags and urbanites fleeing the big smoke to forage for berries or whittle a spoon on a calm Saturday morning. It even has its own moniker: Cottagecore. But at base it is about desiring the primal – fresh air, using our hands, our senses and, of course, the land.

For writer and cook Rachel de Thample, the move to Dorset this year was spurred by the desire for space and freedom, and wholesome pastimes such as baking sourdough. She now works alongside Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. “Dorset is where I’ve been escaping to for the past 13 years. The landscape never ceases to take my breath away.” A far cry from her old London existence, a 10-minute stroll south lands de Thample on the beach for her daily walk. It also means foraging: “I now have access to things I’ve been longing to forage that you can’t access in the city – seaweed, sea buckthorn and mushrooms, which seem to sprout in abundance from the earth of my new stomping ground. And I’ve already started having campfires on the beach,” she says.

Rosie Lloyd Owen, founder of Peardrop London (catering for fashionable mouths such as Stella McCartney and Millie Mackintosh), has also been making use of nature’s bounty. With regular family trips to Norfolk, the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall, her hauls have been abundant. Her foraging passions include picking blackberry and gorse, and growing vegetables and edible flowers to ferment and pickle. “I have always been anti-food waste. I love the idea that all this food on our trees and in our nature is there for the picking, rather than shipping bananas from around the world.” This year, on Tresco, she picked sea spinach, caught mackerel and served it on toast with aïoli, berries, and edible flowers such as nasturtium, Scilly buttercup and wild fennel. “There is a sense of peace, working from home in the country. Everything is slower.”

Foraging has also gone upmarket. Altana Europe offers coveted trips with chefs, including Mark Hix, providing intimate sorties to unearth Europe’s most flavoursome bounty, based on the tenet that “time spent outside will make you a better person,” says founder Oliver Rampley. “Without fail, guests observe that they feel less stressed, anxious, more focused as a result.”

“There’s something about foraged produce that whips every chef into a frenzy of excitement. I myself have been known to forage, after dark, low-hanging fig leaves – streetside of course – to turn into the delicious fig leaf ice cream we make in the restaurants,” adds Elystan Street chef Phil Howard, who has a share in a foraging company. The cooking aspect also appeals to Thyme chef Charlie Hibbert, who is a sourdough fanatic and bakes rye and porridge bread avidly at weekends. “I find the process of making bread therapeutic and calming – you just can’t rush it… you have to go with the flow.”

Cooking aside, many are turning to courses such as bushcraft: family days out, learning how to live off the land, baking bread in the woods, lighting fires from scratch with twigs, making shelters and bows and arrows, whittling a candle holder in a forest clearing and picking berries for a mid-morning snack. “People are yearning for a quieter, simpler, life, and wanting to regain a connection to the land,” says David Willis of Bushcraft. “There is a desire to be more interested in nature, trees, making things, using hands and that family time.”

I have always been anti-food waste. I love the idea that all this food on our trees and in our nature is there for the picking, rather than shipping bananas from around the world

Pottery has also seen an upsurge, such as at the Clay Garden in Hammersmith, London. “More time combined with the already established tendency towards ‘going back to our roots’, has rekindled the interest in crafts, growing our own food, and creating things by hand which would last a lifetime,” comments Yana Gafurova. “It is like we have opened up a treasure chest to appreciate the simple joys which form the foundations to our human experience. People have found anew an ancient tradition which is so immediately satisfying and allows them the pleasure of touch.” She feels the benefits are numerous, not least “patience and the art of letting go”.

Indeed, this goes deeper than just making lovely things for the home. “In the countryside, we find ourselves with more time to focus on activities such as walks surrounded by nature, cooking, art and other creative projects. These are all activities that have been proven to support our mental wellbeing,” says psychotherapist Holli Ruben, Head of Wellbeing at The Soke, South Kensington. “A simpler life allows for the time and space to reflect on who you are, too. You have the time to think about what you choose to do with your time and ultimately how you want to live your life.”

Rachel de Thample concurs: “I think the past year has taught us that living in the fast lane is not all it’s cracked up to be.”


Hall of fame