Dates for your Diary

September 23 to 27 2019 Group holiday to the Gower Peninsula
Filling up fast - more details below.
17 November
Berks Area AGM. Hosted by Mid Berks – see details in the walk programme.
Thursday 13 December Christmas lunch, preceded by walk, weather permitting. See details in the walk programme.
Thursday 20 December Christmas Brunch walk. See details in the walk programme.
Thursday 31 January 2019 A celebration lunch for Russell on the occasion of his 90th birthday. See details in the walk programme.
Thursday 21 March 2019 The next First Aid course will be during the day (1000 to 1300) on Thursday 21st March 2019 at the St John Ambulance Centre, Maidenhead Road, Windsor, SL4 5EY. Send an email to book a place on this course.

Mid-Berks Newsletter
November 2018 to March 2019 - edited extracts

Well what a scorcher, hotter than the Mediterranean !! Ramblers are a hardy bunch used to tramping through rain, mud and ice but for many this glorious weather defeated them. It was very social though, as some of the long walkers started to join the shorter walks and catch up with their less intrepid friends. The weather held for our Autumn sojourn in Monmouth as we relished the glorious Wye Valley with abundant vegetation, thickly forested paths and the sparkling river Wye plus enough hills to keep us on our toes. There was evidence of an Industrial past buried in them hills. A chance acquaintance with a local dog walker supplied us with a running commentary on some of the past, where large pieces of machinery were buried and are now completely covered by greenery. Some of the walkers were able to experience crossing the Wye on a hand pulled chain ferry at Symonds Yat, one of two still remaining on the river. Thank you to all the walk leaders whose entertaining walks contributed to our enjoyment. You can see photos from the trip here

There is an informative article on sloes, contributed by Catherine. Though late for this Autumn (unless you have some languishing in the freezer) but something to look forward to next Autumn.

Joint walks with Pang Valley: it is hoped that some of our longer Sunday walks will have their numbers enhanced when we join up occasionally with our neighbours at Pang Valley. Watch out in future programmes for further details.

Entente Cordiale

On Sunday 7th October members of the French town Viry Chatillon which is twinned with Wokingham town joined Mid Berks Ramblers on a walk from Hurley by the Thames along the Thames path and then south into the country to Ashley Hill where we enjoyed a picnic lunch and back to Hurley enjoying a view over the Thames valley as we descended to the Thames. There was much chatting in English and French. We only came across mud by one stile and Chris Bintcliffe gallantly cleaned one of the French walkers muddy shoes. Our French visitors are not so used to stiles so luckily there were many gates also on the walk. Wokingham and Viry Chatillon have enjoyed being twinned for 30 years but our numbers are falling. Next year when Wokingham visits Viry it is hoped that some Ramblers will join us.Eiffel Tower

Ali, secretary Mid Berks.

****Our secretary only wishes to remain in post for one more year, so if there is anyone who is willing to take over please let the committee know****

Holiday info

Spring holiday 2019

Monday 8th April 2019

There may still be twin / double rooms left on our next holiday at the HF hotel Abingworth Hall in the South Downs from Monday 8th April, 2019. The four night break (dbb and packed lunches on walking days) costs £369 per person. Contact Maggie as soon as possible if you are interested.

Autumn holiday 2019

We have already booked the autumn break for next year for four nights from Monday 23 September 2019 We are going to the "three and a half star" Oxwich Bay Hotel in the Gower, near Swansea. The cost for four nights on a bed, breakfast, dinner and packed lunch basis is amazing value at £310 per person. There is a small number of single rooms available at no extra cost. If you would like to be added to the guest list please let Maggie know as soon as possible.

The area should provide plenty of varied walks and sight-seeing opportunities. It is only 13 miles from Swansea (approx. 160 miles from Reading).

When to pick sloes and how to make sloe gin
(Taken from an article by Helen Keating, Woodland Trust, 10 September 2018)

Where to find sloes?
If you look in any hedgerow you will most likely find a blackthorn bush with its gleaming sloes and long thorns. Their long thorns can make harvesting a hazardous business. It's a common species that grows over most of the UK. The National Biodiversity Network's records show the distribution of blackthorn, but why not buy a blackthorn tree and grow your own!

When to pick sloes
There’s lots of debate about when to pick sloes. For the best flavour, wait until the berries are ripe before picking. They should be a rich dark purple and should squash easily between your fingertips. It's a good sign if they've already started to drop naturally to the ground.
If you're picking them for sloe gin then traditionally you wait until after the first frosts. These days, there's no reason why you can't pick them earlier, bag them up and pop them in your freezer to mimic that first frost. The theory behind this is that the frost splits the skins so the juices can flow into your gin without you having to go to the effort of pricking all the berries.
Always take a good field guide with you and please follow our responsible foraging guidelines.

How to make sloe gin
1 litre bottle of gin, 450g sloes, 225g caster sugar, 1 large sterilised jar or 2 empty gin bottles

  • Wash sloes and seal in an airtight bag. Freeze overnight or until you’re ready to make the gin.
  • Put frozen sloes into sterilised jar or empty gin bottles.
  • Add gin then the sugar directly onto frozen sloes. Their skins will split which means you can avoid the laborious pricking of each individual sloe berry.
  • Seal jar tightly and shake well.
  • Store jar in a cool, dark place and shake every other day for a week. After the first week you only need to shake it once a week for 2 months.
  • The liquid should now be dark red and is ready for drinking, although you'll find it improves over time.
Serve sloe gin neat, over ice or drizzle over ice cream.
Make sloe royale by adding a drop to sparkling wine or Champagne.

What else can you do with sloes?
Sloes are in the same family as plums and cherries so if you're brave you can eat them raw, though they are incredibly sharp and will dry your mouth out before you even finish your first one. If you have never tried one it's worth it for the experience but certainly not for a good snack.
Sloes are best used as a flavouring to deliver a rich plumminess. Here are some other ideas:

  • Sloe wine
  • Sloe whisky
  • Sloe jellies
  • Sloe syrup
  • Hedges and edges hedgerow jam
  • Sloe gin chocolates

Sloes in conservation
Sloes are also being collected on the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) where they are being sent to the Millennium Seed Bank. This project is working to ensure we can safeguard the native trees found in the UK. So all you sloe gin lovers need not fear, sloe gin will be safe from extinction, as the project is not only storing sloes but has a complete representation of juniper, which is used in making gin!

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
Blackthorn, also known as 'sloe', is a small deciduous tree native to the UK and most of Europe.
Common name: blackthorn, sloe
Scientific name: Prunus spinosa
Family: Rosaceae
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: blackthorn wood has been used to make walking or riding sticks, and was the traditional wood for Irish shillelaghs.

What does blackthorn look like?
Habit: spiny and densely branched, mature trees can grow to a height of around 6-7m, and live for up to 100 years. The dark brown bark is smooth, and twigs form straight side shoots, which develop into thorns.
Leaves: slightly wrinkled, oval, toothed, pointed at the tip and tapered at the base. Flowers: blackthorn is a hermaphrodite, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are found in one flower. White flowers appear on short stalks before the leaves in March and April, either singularly or in pairs.
Fruits: once pollinated by insects, the flowers develop into blue-black fruits measuring 1cm across.
Look out for: it is a spiny shrubby tree with black-purple twigs and small, narrow leaves.
Could be confused with: hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), without leaves. The flowers of blackthorn appear before the leaves and the spines have buds along their length, on the hawthorn flowers emergefrom the same point as the buds.
Identified in winter by: the twigs are black and spiny with leaf buds along the spines.

Where to find blackthorn
Blackthorn is native to Europe and western Asia. It can also be found in New Zealand and eastern North America. It grows best in moist, well drained soil and thrives in full sunlight.
It grows naturally in scrub, copses and woodlands, but is commonly used as a hedging plant.

Value to wildlife
Early flowering, blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths, including the lackey, magpie, common emerald, small eggar, swallow-tailed and yellow-tailed. It is also used by the black and brown hairstreak butterflies.
Birds nest among the dense, thorny thickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves, and feast on the berries in autumn.

Mythology and symbolism
Blackthorn was long associated with witchcraft, and it is said that witches' wands and staffs were made using blackthorn wood.

How we use blackthorn
The timber is hardwearing and tough, light yellow with a brown heartwood. It was traditionally used for making walking sticks and tool parts. It burns well, and is often used as firewood.
Blackthorn is used as a hedging shrub, particularly in wildlife gardens. The sloes are used for wine making and preserves, and, most commonly, flavouring gin.

Blackthorn can be susceptible to fungal diseases which causes blossom wilt in fruit trees, and the fruits can sometimes be distorted by a gall-forming fungus, Taphrina pruni.

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