Have you ever wondered why the knobs on the cords of your blinds are often acorn shaped? No me neither, not a second thought. But today I found out it’s because oak trees are said to be thunder trees under the domain of Thor, and thus acorns protect against lightning. Which is handy as I found a shedload this afternoon.
It’s the first of September’s two Devil’s Nutting Days, so I bunked off work and went down to Stanmer Woods to go a-nutting. It’s said to be quite dangerous to go a-nutting today, firstly because you might meet the Devil (the trick is to be wary for the smell of brimstone), and secondly because nutting also means hanky panky, with a good year for nuts allegedly being a good year for babies. But frankly the only doggings I was interested in this afternoon were that of the four legged friend variety.
I’m not very familiar with Stanmer Woods and there are a lot of paths cutting through it. When I came to a three-way fork, I took the path less travelled, obviously, and then started simultaneously trying to look at the ground and up in the trees for nuts. But there weren’t any. All the trees seemed to be sycamores or hawthorns. But I figured a wood must have at least one nut tree. Somewhere.
After about 15 minutes of blissfully wandering in near silence, I finally happened upon a load of empty shells. A beech tree. After shuffling through the undergrowth, I managed to find a single whole nut. It’s said that beech trees are holy trees and take exception to anyone swearing underneath them. Luckily my mouth was shut. The nuts are edible as are the leaves, which in Somerset are sometimes called biscuit leaves. I ate neither, instead shoving my booty in my pockets. You never know where the squirrels have peed.
In the back of my mind I thought I could now go, mission accomplished, I’ve found a nut, I’ve been a-nutting. But there is nothing so lovely as strolling under a leafy canopy while playing hooky on a hot sunny day. As I was thinking this, I happened upon a branch of larch cones stuck amongst a swathe of sycamore leaves. Larch is said to give protection against evil spirits when worn. So I picked that up and carried on.
After about 45 minutes, I started to wonder where I actually was. I knew I’d come from ‘that way’ but I didn’t want to re-tramp my steps. So I turned right when I came to a crossroads (still no Devil) taking me out onto a bike track. This path was full of burdocks, teasels and field maple. And then just as I was coming to another fork, I hit the motherload. Acorns. Everywhere.
Green ones, brown ones, ones with hats, ones without. I got a bit giddy and stuffed my pockets before remembering they weren’t my food source (although they are edible after a bit of leaching). However, in my haste to get to the oak, I’d slightly turned myself around and I wasn’t entirely sure which direction I should be pointing in. Then I saw a wall. Walls usually lead somewhere.
I don’t remember swearing, but it was then I was pelted by a load of falling beech nuts.
After about five minutes I came to a gap in the wall and was faced with the choice of bright sunny meadow or mellow wood dimness. Out in the meadow all I could hear were birds and a very distant rumble of traffic. I was the only person there. Until the man with the dog appeared from the cut through leading to the car pack. My afternoon a-nutting was over. And I really did have to get back to work.
Big thanks to Sarah at Wild Feasts for giving me a heads up today on where to find nuts, unfortunately I didn’t have time to take her advice. Although it was rather good. If you’ve ever wondered how larch tastes, check out one of her lovely foraging recipes in the Resources below.
And if you want more have-a-go folklore following the ritual year, come back tomorrow. Or subscribe. And don’t forget to share the love with friends, family, casual acquaintances, your dentist, that nice woman at the post office…. And if you see a steeplejack, don’t forget to slip them an acorn for good luck.
Baker, M. (2019) Discovering The Folklore of Plants, Oxford, Shire Publications
Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books
Vickery, R. (2019) Vickery’s Folk Flora, An A-Z of the Folklore and Uses of British and Irish Plants, London, Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Wright, J. (2020) The Forager’s Calendar, A Seasonal Guide to Nature’s Wild Harvests, London, Profile Books Ltd