When I was a child, for one week every August my extended family would squeeze into a small cottage in Llangrannog, so tiny the adults kept bashing their heads on the low beams. I remember the musical sound of the brook at night, the bright coloured windmills we bought in the small seafront shop, the rock pool creatures, picnics on the beach. And all these years later gorse flowers can transport me right back there, because the air was scented with its coconut perfume. We’d walk along the cliffs among the yellow spiky bushes, watching red-beaked choughs diving among the rocks. Then later, ravenous from the walk and the sea-salty wind we’d have chocolate and coconut biscuits for tea, and I’d remember the gorse again.
I’m having a go at making rum with these aromatic flowers. The gorse needs to be picked on a warm morning and is at its best in March and April.
But planned foraging days have had to be cancelled after some stormy weather, so it’s in early May that friends, dogs and I go for a wander around the Spirit of Llynfi Woodland Project, a Welsh Government funded scheme on the site of the former Coegnant Colliery and Maesteg Washery. Its aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of the surrounding communities as well as reducing flood risk and promoting biodiversity, and it’s a beautiful, peaceful place and the paths are lined with gorse.
Just a handful of flowers each - that’s all we need. The dogs cool down in the streams and ponds along the way and my friends and I chat about everything and about nothing, and a one year old child riding in a backpack smiles for the whole walk, whispering to herself in her secret language. Later, we all add our flowers to 350ml of white rum with a heaped spoonful of sugar and share the photographs with one another before hiding the bottles away in a dark place for three days.
I’ve wanted to make gorse rum ever since I wrote it into a story, ‘Birdcage,’ about a strange woman living alone in the dunes. The story was published in book number seven of The Ghastling, a wonderful biannual publication of short stories and illustrations; I thoroughly recommend it if you like ghosts and spirits.
And for another kind of spirit, I’m excited about tasting my first batch of gorse rum.