Natural Inspirations Workshops

Natural Inspirations Workshops – Clermont House 2010

It seemed that it was only a few weeks since the Winter Natural Inspirations Workshop when members of the Breckland Society met once again at Clermont House to celebrate the arrival of spring. Fortunately, the warmer weather reflected the progression of the seasons, an improvement upon that experienced at the earlier Workshop this year. We were able to explore and admire the reality of spring in the beautiful gardens and arboretum at Clermont House.

As usual at the start of the workshop, we congregated on the lawns at Clermont House where James summarised for us the effects of the protracted cold weather on spring bird migrations. By May, most resident birds were advanced in their breeding cycles and there was evidence of this. The lawns at Clermont provide a wonderful view of a vast swathe of Breckland landscape, and an excellent vantage point for some ad hoc birdwatching, although at the time of our tour there seemed to be a temporary lull in avian activity around the garden! James told us that we would be fortunate to hear cuckoos, mostly because their numbers are in decline in the Brecks, as too are those of the nightingale.

As on previous workshops we continued to remind ourselves of those familiar signs of Spring during a very pleasant stroll around Clermont House grounds. John pointed out orchids, protected by small stakes in the meadows, which were just beginning to grow. The wildlife shelter within the arboretum was lifted once again for members to spot a startled vole, as well as a grass snake that slithered away rather rapidly.

We returned to the house, where Lucinda had brought along some edible props. The delicious goat’s cheese and yoghurt prompted discussion of ancient traditions surrounding Easter and May. We recognised the significance of warmer weather and more light producing renewed growth and rebirth in nature. This provided important reassurance to our ancestors that there would be food and warmth for the forthcoming 6 months.

As usual, there were some delicious items of food which were representative of the season − delicious Easter biscuits and savoury muffins cooked by Sue, and delectable rook pasties prepared by Mark Powell.

Natural Inspirations Workshop – Summer 2010

Summer may have become a distant memory for most of us, especially now that the days are becoming shorter and the outdoor temperatures are noticeably cooler. However, the Natural Inspirations Summer Workshop held in August at Clermont House once again captured the essence of the season, its importance to our ancestors and its subtle yet enduring influence upon life in the 21st century.

In order to remind us of exactly what nature was doing during the month of August our Workshop began with our customary tour of the grounds at Clermont House with John and James. Spring and early summer had been good for all birdlife and in particular ground-nesting species. Consequently, most species had benefited by producing several broods in order to repopulate following the harsh winter. The annual migration of birds had begun: several members confirmed having already seen swifts preparing to leave the country for warmer climes. Other wildlife, however, was in abundance, particularly damsel- and dragonflies. James added that it had been a particularly good year for butterflies and, as a consequence, next year ought to be good also. The pond at Clermont looked magnificent with its flowering water and marginal plants, and the surrounding wildlife was proof of its value as a habitat.

Indoors, Lucinda emphasised how vital this time of year was to our ancestors as it represented the season for growing crops and managing livestock to produce meat and other provisions, some for the forthcoming winter months. The end of this season was also the conclusion of the hard work associated with the long hot days of summer, reaping the crops grown in the fields. Wheat was a staple of our ancestors’ diet and vital for survival during winter months. We sampled this simple diet by eating some harvest loaf baked by Liz, who was unable to attend this workshop. For our ancestors this was a time for celebration, with thanksgiving festivals and ritual sacrifices, to give thanks for the harvest, and to ask the gods and spirits for survival during the long winter months ahead and for a good year to follow. Early Christians adopted the harvest festival, thus helping to ensure its survival into the 21st century.

Once again at tea-break we all enjoyed delicious seasonal fare baked by Sue. We feasted on lemon curd and blueberry loaf cake, raspberry bakewell cake and ginger and chilli caramel biscuits.

The smell of summer rain was noticeable as we resumed our tour of the gardens in the late afternoon sunshine. A variety of seed heads and fruits were already visible in the garden, evidence of the variety of survival techniques harnessed by nature. John provided an informative narrative to our tour and answered the questions posed by workshop attendees keen to learn the secrets of his success. The prominent compost heap provided one clue to the abundance of produce in the garden.

To close the final workshop John recited some seasonal poetry – and sadly the workshop ended. The series of workshops has given us an appreciation of the importance that the seasons still have in our lives – a more subtle impact now than previously, but we nevertheless still react to the subtle changes in daylight, natural colours, wildlife activity, seasonal fruits, vegetables and meats. We too continue to celebrate many ancient seasonal traditions, albeit in different guises. The Natural Inspirations Workshops provided an excellent opportunity for learning and discussion, altogether a fascinating start to understanding more about how nature influenced our ancient customs and traditions and how these continue to be relevant to modern life.

Many thanks to all Breckland Society members who gave their time and energy to facilitate these workshops by providing a suitable location, research, practical demonstrations and seasonal food for us to enjoy.