“An as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of stars re­vealed them­selves”

Sussex Life - - Front Page -

Only a few years ago the on­set of dark evenings was the start of months of be­ing re­stricted to evening pave­ment pound­ing in the street-lit bub­bles of our towns. Sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in lights tech­nol­ogy over the last decade have com­pletely changed this. The days of huge bat­tery packs on the bike or clipped to a run­ning belt are long gone. Now you can get a run­ning spe­cific head­torch for less than a month’s mem­ber­ship at the gym. This pro­vides a bright bub­ble of light for 12 hours at a time and has opened the door to an en­tirely new type of ad­ven­ture.

Ten years ago, I ran the Bob Gra­ham Round in the Lake District; 42 peaks and 65 miles with a tar­get of un­der 24 hours. I soft­ened up my run­ning friends Andy and Dun­can with a cou­ple of pints of bit­ter and dreams of the beauty of run­ning at dawn then, with a fuzzy head, re­minded them of their com­mit­ment the next morn­ing. A few days later we were stum­bling around in the woods in a weak pool of light try­ing – not en­tirely suc­cess­fully – to avoid run­ning head­long into trees. Those first for­ays into the dark were ner­vous af­fairs. We jumped at rustling in the woods, crack­ing twigs and even some­times at our own breath­ing. I guess we are pro­grammed to be afraid of what we can’t see.

With more and more peo­ple look­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence new ways to push them­selves, run­ning, cy­cling and even swim­ming events in the dark are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar. In De­cem­ber I am head­ing off to Wales to race the new Ex­o­dus Ul­tra race. This is 100 miles along the Bea­cons Way set­ting off in the evening and run­ning the first half through the night over the Bre­con Bea­cons. With this in mind, I headed off into the dark in Sus­sex to test my met­tle.

We are lucky in Sus­sex to have only the 12th Dark Sky Re­serve in the world. The South Downs re­serve cov­ers around two-thirds of the Na­tional Park and en­forces lim­i­ta­tions on the type and ex­tent of light­ing in the area in or­der to pro­tect and im­prove our view of the night sky. The widest sec­tion of the re­serve cen­tres on Mid­hurst in West Sus­sex and so, hav­ing waited for a clear night, I set out in that di­rec­tion on the bike for a mul­ti­sport night­time ad­ven­ture.

Clear skies meant cold tem­per­a­tures and it wasn’t long be­fore my breath was caus­ing an eerie mist to drift past the front light. The roads were quiet and as the last of the light faded I set­tled into a steady rhythm and ad­justed to the still night. The plan was to run a loop close to Mid­hurst, away from the towns and vil­lages to max­imise my chances of tak­ing in the night sky. Af­ter rolling be­low the dark sil­hou­ette of the South Downs ridge, I found a spot to leave the bike and headed up to the crest to take in the views.

Af­ter so long in the sad­dle, my legs were stiff as I picked my way through the wood­land to­wards the ridge­line. Owls hooted, foxes scam­pered across the path and noc­tur­nal rum­mag­ing could be heard in the woods. From be­hind a deep rooty bank, a cloud of strange green lights floated across the path. De­prived of in­put, my brain strug­gled to grap­ple with what was in front of me. Walk­ers with torches? Are they glow­sticks? Eyes nar­rowed,

For many of us, striv­ing to be more eco-friendly has been the theme of 2018. Slow liv­ing, zero waste and con­scious con­sumerism are all fa­mil­iar buzz­words at this point. Most of us rarely leave the house with­out our re­us­able cof­fee cup, and the idea of pay­ing 5p for a plas­tic bag when you could bring your can­vas tote from home is un­think­able. Yet, when it comes to Christ­mas all our hard won eco cre­den­tials tend to fall by the way­side in the des­per­ate rush to be ready in time for 25 De­cem­ber.

But de­spite the pres­sure to have the per­fect Christ­mas – while, of course, also deal­ing with all of life’s non-sea­sonal de­mands – there are a few sim­ple changes we can make to cel­e­brate the hol­i­days in a way that keeps the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact right to a min­i­mum.

The first and per­haps most im­por­tant thing to con­sider is where you shop. While most ma­jor brands are work­ing to­wards a more sus­tain­able fu­ture, many of the big name chains’ prac­tices leave a lot to be de­sired, so to find truly sus­tain­able, en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious gifts chances are you’ll need to move out of your re­tail com­fort zone. Eth­i­cal cloth­ing brand San­cho’s ( san­chosshop. com) sell a beau­ti­ful range of clothes, jew­ellery and ac­ces­sories that are made with min­i­mal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact by well re­mu­ner­ated ar­ti­sans around the world, as well as a se­lec­tion of prod­ucts that are com­pletely plas­tic free. Kalki­dan Legesse, owner of the eth­i­cal shop, rec­om­mends avoid­ing the temp­ta­tion to buy gifts with a Christ­mas theme – in­stead favour­ing items the re­cip­i­ent will be able to use year-round, for many years to come.

Ea­ger eco-con­scious shop­pers might also visit the shops of their favourite char­i­ties, many of which fea­ture a high qual­ity se­lec­tion of Fair­trade, re­cy­cled and sus­tain­able gifts. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s shop ( amnestyshop.org.uk) has a par­tic­u­larly lovely col­lec­tion, with ten per cent of all prof­its fund­ing their im­por­tant work.

When we’re not think­ing about gifts, we’re plan­ning lunch and with the help of River­ford Or­ganic Farm­ers ( river­ford. co.uk) it is sim­ple to craft a Christ­mas Day menu that is as en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly as it is de­li­cious. River­ford is an or­ganic home de­liv­ery ser­vice pro­vid­ing a va­ri­ety of box op­tions in­clud­ing veg­eta­bles, fruit and meat. The food is, of course, or­ganic, so pro­duced with meth­ods that pro­tect nat­u­ral re­sources and wildlife, and much of it cul­ti­vated on River­ford’s own land, which uses ex­clu­sively green en­ergy from re­new­able re­sources. And, as an added bonus, a River­ford box uses on av­er­age 77 per cent less pack­ag­ing than your reg­u­lar su­per­mar­ket shop. River­ford rec­om­mend those keen on an eco-friendly Christ­mas to cook less meat, and in­stead let veg take cen­tre stage of their sea­sonal feast. Their motto is less and bet­ter – fan­tas­tic, fresh veg­eta­bles com­bined with a lit­tle bit of good meat as a treat.

Fi­nally, the ele­phant in the room, the most cru­cial and most waste­ful part of Christ­mas: gift wrap­ping. Even the most en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious heart turns cold at the thought of an un­wrapped gift, but luck­ily there are a few al­ter­na­tives out there. Made of 100 per cent re­cy­cled pa­per, the beau­ti­ful and quirky de­signs from Re-wrapped ( re-wrapped.co.uk) will look marvel­lous un­der your tree, while the minds be­hind Wrag Wrap ( wrag­wrap.com) have cre­ated a gor­geous re­us­able fab­ric gift wrap in­clud­ing a range of shapes and de­signs to ac­com­mo­date ev­ery present.

In 2018 eco-friendly liv­ing ce­mented its place as a vi­tal part of main­stream cul­ture. The in­ten­sive ac­cu­mu­la­tion at Christ­mas seems at odds with the val­ues of sus­tain­abil­ity, but with only a few ad­just­ments it’s easy to cel­e­brate the sea­son in a way that is eco-friendly and no less fes­tive for it.

Scram­bling through a dense for­est on the whim of a cou­ple of dogs may not seem like the wis­est of ideas, but with the prom­ise of fresh English truf­fles a bit of mud and a few bram­ble scratches are a small price to pay.

The dogs in ques­tion are Saxon and Valentino – two Lagotto Ro­mag­no­los who orig­i­nally hail from Italy and have been spe­cially bred and trained to hunt truf­fles. The dogs are owned by Tom Ly­wood, a very quirky char­ac­ter and one the UK’S few pro­fes­sional truf­fle hunters.

Tom started the hunt with a very the­atri­cal blow of a cer­e­mo­nial horn that he had spe­cially made for oc­ca­sions such as this.

His en­thu­si­asm, how­ever, quickly turned into a deep cyn­i­cism about out chances of find­ing any truf­fles that day. The long hot sum­mer, he ex­plained, meant that the ground was too dry for truf­fles to grow, adding that we’re “more likely to find truf­fles by Cow­dray’s Café and Farm Shop”. In­deed, he elab­o­rated that there are po­ten­tially more truf­fles in subur­bia than can be found in wood­land these days.

Un­de­terred we set out af­ter the dogs with a feel­ing that even if we didn’t find any truf­fles that the rare chance to en­joy Cow­dray’s wood­land on such a warm au­tum­nal day was re­ward enough. But as luck would have it we man­aged to find five truf­fles – with the last one a bit of a whop­per.

Hope­fully we didn’t raid the for­est’s en­tire bounty, for the next day pay­ing guests took part in a hunt of their own, en­joy­ing a truf­fle-themed meal at Cow­dray’s café af­ter­wards. Our truf­fles were en­joyed as canapés as part of a spe­cial din­ner at Cow­dray House – the es­tate’s beau­ti­ful ex­clu­sive use venue.

The meal con­sisted of five de­li­cious cour­ses and was cooked by Ben Jupp, sup­ported by Ja­son Scott and Cur­tis Win­gate – all from the es­tate’s café. The stand­out dish was the truf­fle but­ter con­fit veni­son, with the meat re­spon­si­ble sourced from the es­tate’s own deer pop­u­la­tion.

With a full belly and af­ter an ex­tremely com­fort­able and lux­u­ri­ous night’s stay at Cow­dray House, I rose at 6am to join for­est man­ager Richard Everett and deer man­ager Ja­son Grif­fin to learn about how the for­est is man­aged and hope­fully hear the dis­tinct sounds of rut­ting deer as the sun rose. Un­for­tu­nately, the deer must have thought bet­ter about the early rise and stayed silent but we did spot a cou­ple on our jour­ney back through the for­est – where we also learned how the pop­u­la­tion is man­aged.

Ja­son ex­plained that “car­ing for its land and con­cern for an­i­mal wel­fare” are cen­tral to the es­tate’s pur­suance of a sus­tain­able and en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble farm­ing pol­icy. A small team of deer stalk­ers are given per­mis­sion to shoot the es­tate’s deer each year, with the meat used to sup­ply the es­tate’s café and farm shop’s butch­ers. And with veni­son sea­son in full swing, now is a great time to try it.

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