Best-selling National Trust author remembers his "roots"

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Andy Hamilton (49) has been blown away by the success of his latest foraging book, his sixth published work. The Best Selling National Trust author and forager might now live in Bristol but, he attributes the parks and gardens of his home Northampton, some good teachers and, a trip to see his local paper being printed as major influences for his success.

Look up Northampton on Google Maps and zoom out, not only is it surrounded by a sea of green but the town is peppered with green spaces too. We made the most of these as kids and we’d cycle up to Eastfield park to look for frog spawn, climb trees and play football. Or if we were feeling adventurous we’d head over to Abington Park and explore the woods, the stream that flows between the lakes or we’d run up and down tank hill. Occasionally we’d go as far as the ends of the earth – Lings or the Racecourse. Our garden was big too, certainly in comparison to my tiny city garden. I know that all this green space got myself and my brother Dave (also a natural history author) interested in the wild world.

Green spaces are not just an important part of childhood they are important for adults too. When I was commissioned to write the First Time Forager it was part of a series of wellbeing books published by the National Trust. They were fully aware that our increasing dependence on technology is causing problems with anxiety and depression, especially amongst the younger people. The books urge us to do something about it. To go outside.

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Foraging does that it gives you a reason to go outside and in many ways you are going outside to taste exotic flavours on your doorstep. That is perhaps the best way to think of the wild food cabinet as something unique, each flavour is a new adventure, something to fire the imagination. There is always something new to learn. The first challenge is learning to identify the plants. This becomes easier with practice.

Andy Hamilton foragingAndy Hamilton foraging
Andy Hamilton foraging

Agency job to dream job

When I lived in Northampton I worked on the agency circuit at various warehouses, offices, factories and food factories across the shire. I had no experience in anything I did from one week to the next and I was, of course, terrible at many of the jobs I took on. In fact, over various different contracts I managed to get sacked three times from the same job, dye my privates red with additives meant for crisps, I got covered from head to toe in beef mince and I sawed the top off my thumb. Hopefully, new foragers won’t have quite as much a calamitous time but equally they can’t expect to be great at plant ID immediately. We learn these skills as we go along, we pick up a bit at time. Just remember the one most important rule, be 100% about what you eat before you eat it. That’s it!

But you might be surprised to learn that there are many plants you already know about. Blackberries will be out soon, Apples are fattening up and raspberries are turning red up and down the country. I can bet there isn’t many of your reading this that hasn’t tried these fruits. I also imagine that most of you have picked them wild too, making you experienced foragers who are unlikely to chop off the tops of their thumbs!

The people of Northampton

Foraging on the AlpsForaging on the Alps
Foraging on the Alps

It wasn’t just the green spaces of Northampton that led me to this point in my life it was the people. My Mum, who experienced homeless as a teenager, went back to study whilst we were all small. She studied to become a teacher and eventually become the head at Little Houghton primary. I’m sure this instilled a sense in us that anything was possible. Giving us the drive and determination needed for the mammoth task of writing a book.

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What also helped me personally were two teachers, Mrs Andrews from Weston Favell Upper (now academy) and Mrs Leader who taught at what was Cherry Orchard Middle. Both of them encouraged me to write and helped give me the self-belief needed to put myself out there. So many writers keep their stuff hidden from view and both these teachers would force me to share my work. Something I hated at the time but now understand the value of and am immensely thankful for.

The influence of the local press

I think too, a trip to see the local paper being printed can’t be dismissed as an influence on my life. I knew I wanted to be a writer of some kind from a very early age. The leaders of my scout Troop, 8th St Albans, got wind of this and took us to see the Chronicle and Echo being printed. I didn’t know any writers back then, the whole world of publishing anything felt like a far off fantasyland. Meeting the journalists, seeing the whole process of writing, type setting (with block print) and printing made it all much closer and real. Turned it from fantasy to reality.

Andy out foragingAndy out foraging
Andy out foraging

I’m approaching 50 this year and I think that’s partly why I feel so reflective. Age has given me an appreciation for my home town and its people; especially those who’ve helped me along the way. Seeds will grow and flourish if you give them the right start in life, the same can be said about people too and Northampton is full of some pretty good soil.