How to tell a blewit from a destroying angel

Wild about wild mushrooms but fearful of fungi? Rupert Isaacson on a course to guide you safely around nature's larder

IF YOU'RE a fan of wild mushrooms and wish you knew your way around the hundreds of edible species that pop up every autumn, Kindrogan is the place for you. One of the first field studies centres founded in the UK, Kindrogan has been teaching people the way around the natural world for over 50 years. Based in a Victorian manor in Perthshire, Kindrogan runs two courses devoted to the identification of fungi - a weekend and a week-long course.

Perthshire's mixed hill, farm, and forest country is a rich picking-ground for fungi. Various species of edible boletus and wood blewits, as well as the elusive chanterelle, grow in the old oak and birch woodlands. Field mushrooms, ink caps, puffballs and parasols grow in the pastures. More obscure edibles, such as jew's ear - a velvety purple-coloured tree fungus - also proliferate.

Of course, you are not only shown the edible species: poisonous ones like death cap, panther cap, and destroying angel (all thankfully rare), fly agaric and the other - surprisingly few - dangerous species are found and identified. If they do not appear during the walks, the suspect mushrooms are shown on slide. The field course leaders also show you how to identify whether something is edible by certain tests: with some species you can cut a section of the flesh away and see if it changes colour - this is especially helpful with boletus. Whether the flesh turns blue, yellow or does not change determines whether it is a benevolent or malevolent species. You are also taught how to make reliable spore tests for identifying the less obvious species - the ones where there is little outward difference between the edible and non-edible. By taking off the head of the mushroom, placing it on paper and leaving it for a set amount of time, you can identify what it is by the shape and colour of the spores left on the sheet.

These courses are a great excuse for taking a walk through beautiful countryside, with a sense of purpose thrown in. There is something quietly exciting about looking for mushrooms - little treasures growing in the hidden places of the landscape. One quickly becomes a child again, rushing about exclaiming: "Here's one!"And in fact, because the courses are open to children, they are a great way to have fun with your kids.

Kindrogan's fungi courses only run during the mushroom season - roughly September and October. But should you decide to go at another time of year there are other field study courses from spring to the end of the autumn. Best are the courses that teach you to identify things you have always known were there but never knew the names of: for example you can take courses about moths, or spiders, or mosses and ferns. You can spend three days just learning to identify bird calls, or to identify trees. These range from very basic programmes, to more specialised scientific studies aimed at people with a university-level grounding in biology - it's up to you.

8 Rupert Isaacson's book, `The Action Guide to Britain', where this material originates, is available from the Harvill Press, price pounds 12.99.

FACT FILE

Contacts

Kindrogan Field Centre, Ennochdhu,

By Blairgowrie, Perthshire, PH10 7PG, Scotland, Tel (01250) 881286, Fax (01250) 881433.

Season

May to November.

Accommodation

Family rooms, twin, and single rooms available for up to 90 people.

Food

Full board included. Vegetarian and special diets catered for. Coffee room and bar at centre.

Children

All ages welcome.

Disabled Facilities

Some disabled clients can be accommodated, contact centre for details.

Insurance

Guests should provide their own holiday insurance.

Safety

Staff trained in first aid.

Affiliations

Scottish Field Studies Association.

Tariffs

Prices include tuition, full board accommodation, and transport during course. A three-day introduction to Fungi course (pounds 84) runs in September. One week courses (pounds 270) are sometimes available, as are a variety of other botanical and wildlife courses. Some examples are: lichens (one week), pounds 275; mountain flowers (one week), pounds 275; introducing mosses (three days), pounds 84; ferns (three days), pounds 120; bird sounds (three days), pounds 84; autumn birds (one week), pounds 270; introduction to spiders (four days), pounds 120; moths (one week), pounds 270; spring surprises walk (three days): pounds 84

Booking

pounds 20-pounds 50 deposit required, non refundable. Bookings normally made in advance; late bookings sometimes accepted if space available.

Access

Off the A9, 10 miles north-east of Pitlochry. Trains and buses to Pitlochry.

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