Worth trum­pet­ing about

Dead man’s fin­gers clawed their way out of the ground and black globs of witch’s but­ter clung to the branches of dead trees

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - COMMUNITY -

THE au­tumn sun­shine on our faces felt glo­ri­ous as we set off, but far off in the dis­tance an omi­nous Hal­loween storm was brew­ing. The wind had picked up, mak­ing the tree­tops roar, fill­ing the air with ghosts and ghouls.

The chil­dren were giddy with ex­cite­ment, run­ning up and down the steep sides of the path, land­ing with a sat­is­fy­ing splat in the mid­dle of each muddy pud­dle. Arms out­stretched, they walked along fallen tree trunks, leap­ing off at the end with joy­ful aban­don.

A majestic beech tree, re­cently downed in a storm, lay across the wood­land floor. The roots had been ripped up, leav­ing bare chalk ex­posed, which proved too much of a temp­ta­tion for the lit­tle trea­sure hun­ters, who dived into the gap­ing hole, hope­ful of find­ing a prize.

My chil­dren are fas­ci­nated by fungi, par­tic­u­larly the macabre, poi­sonous and down­right bizarre, rev­el­ling in the sto­ries and folk­lore as­so­ci­ated with them. Like truf­fle hounds, they spread out from the path, rum­mag­ing through fallen leaves, peek­ing around tree trunks and un­der rot­ting logs, let­ting out a triumphant yell when they make an un­usual dis­cov­ery.

Horn of plenty, said to look like black trum­pets being played by the dead, poked eerily out through the leaf lit­ter. Aptly named dead man’s fin­gers clawed their way out of the ground and black globs of witch’s but­ter clung to the branches of dead trees. A death­cap, one of our most poi­sonous mush­rooms, skulked un­der the over­hang­ing branches of a beech tree.

The chil­dren know never to touch any fungi they find (some could make you very ill, or even kill you if you ate them), but there is one un­mis­tak­able toad­stool, the saf­fron­drop bon­net, which they are al­lowed to pick.

It’s a del­i­cate lit­tle thing, with a long, slen­der stem burst­ing with bright or­ange juice. We each picked one and wrote with it on the back of our hands.

Then we found a clump of old puff­balls and used a stick to poke one, stand­ing back as clouds of spores puffed out of the top of the spiky ball.

Spi­der webs adorned ev­ery branch, slugs feasted on fungi and bee­tles scut­tled away as we turned over logs. The rum­ble of thun­der echoed around the hills as the wind whipped up fur­ther and the storm clouds were upon us. The spell was cast. We headed for home and the prom­ise of hot choco­late in front of the fire, mak­ing it back just as the rain started.

Sin­is­ter fungi: Horns of plenty are said to look like black trum­pets being played by the dead

Sea­son of mists: Add some sea­sonal ad­ven­ture to a walk in the woods this half term by check­ing out fungi and wildlife

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