Two years ago I ‘did’ the camino pilgrimage to Santiago de la Compostella. Since then we have been through a global pandemic and well, I have done nothing. I’ve had spates of exercise: a bit of zoom yoga, walks on Hampstead Heath (which at times resembled Oxford Street), a half-hearted attempt to ‘jog’ which lasted a week. Mostly I’ve completed Netflix.
The lack of a structured timetable, always a problem for the freelancer (pyjamas and an apron are my working uniform of choice), was starting to get to me. It felt like suspiciously like unemployment-itus. I was going a bit bonkers, getting nothing done.
On the spur of the moment, I rammed my camino gear and a pop-up tent into my car and drove up to Hadrian’s Wall. I was going to do it West to East, the best way as the wind is at your back. Eighty four miles of wild crags and heather, discovering Roman Britain. Although August is usually a difficult time to go, everything being block-booked by tour companies, I managed to book most of my accommodation the night before, from my lodgings at Bowness on Solway. Comfortable bed and breakfasts at either end, and camping in the middle.
What food is good in Cumbria and Northumberland the two counties over which the wall traverses? Cumberland sausage, good beer, baps and barms, hearty filling food. But en route I’d made some hiking snacks, designed to keep you going. I’ve created a recipe for (gluten-free, sugar-free) breakfast bars and some home-made mint cake.
I also took advantage of the season where the hedgerows are positively heaving with berries.The fields coming up to Carlisle were lined with rows of blackthorn shrubs, also known as sloes. On arrival in Carrlisle I decided to make an impromtu Sloe gin, heading into Sainsburys where I’d left my car. I bought gin, sugar, a wide-necked container and ‘borrowed’ a colander which I used to rinse the sloes in the disabled bathroom.
In the car park I popped the berries into the neck of the empty container, poured in enough sugar to cover and topped it up gradually with gin. I sealed the container and left it for the 10 days I was on the walk. I was somewhat concerned that they would overferment in the hot car during that time. Usually sloe gin takes 6 weeks but this was ready when I returned to my car.
Nearing Newcastle I came across wild plums and sea buckthorn berries. These I made into a tangy but lightly sweet compote, to be spooned over yoghurt or ice cream.
The end of August and throughout September, the hedgerows are full of berries. The fields coming up to Carlisle had rows of sloe shrubs. I spent time gathering them.
- 35 cl gin
- 150 g sugar
- 450 g sloe berries, stems removed
Using a clean wide mouthed jar, add your washed sloes. (Usually you prick each one but I didn't bother)
Top up with sugar then slowly pour in the gin, shaking the container so that the air bubbles escape.
Leave until it looks and tastes good.
Oat Energy Bar
Feel free to replace hazelnuts with other nuts or seed, and the dried fruits with those of your choice. This is easy to make.
- 100 g butter
- 100 g honey
- 25 g dried pineapple, cut into thin strips
- handful sultanas
- 2 bananas, thickly sliced
- 50 g dessicated coconut
- 150 g rolled oats
- big Pinch sea salt
- 1 tsp vanilla paste
Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a 20 x 30cm tin and line with parchment.
Melt the butter in a medium pan on a low heat, then add the honey.
Mix the rest of the ingredients into a bowl.
Add the dry ingredients into the butter and honey, stirring.
Pour into the tin and bake for 20 minutes.
Leave to cool and cut into bars. They can be wrapped individually in greaseproof paper or frozen for later use.
Original mint cake
Kendall's mint cake is the celebrated Cumbrian energy snack for walks in the Lake District. It was even taken up to Everest. Today it is made with glucose syrup but the original recipes uses milk, low heat and relentless stirring.
- 450 g sugar
- 150 ml milk
- several drops of peppermint or spearmint essence
- Mint leaves to decorate (optional)
Put the milk and sugar into a small saucepan on a low heat. Stir until the sugar is melted. Keep stirring continuously until the mixture thickens and steam is coming off the top, about 15 minutes.
Pour into a greased cake tin. Leave to cool, pressing in a few mint leaves if desired.
- Wild plums and sea buckthorn berries (however many you forage!)
- caster sugar to cover the fruit
Cover the washed foraged fruit with sugar and leave overnight.
Put into a pan and simmer until the fruit has partially broken down. (I like to have some whole pieces in).
Prepare a clean jar and pour in the compote. It'll last a couple of weeks in the fridge.