Lockdown walks in London (Winter/Spring 2021)

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath, 28th Dec 2020

 

It is January 2023, and I have not updated my blog for about 2 years. Although a lot has happened in the past three years, everything seems like a blur to me now. How did I pass my time during the lockdown days? When did the lockdown end? I don’t recall much now. Luckily, I did take many photos during that surreal period, and now I am looking at them trying to recall my weekly activities. After being stuck in Hong Kong for most of 2020, I returned to the U.K. at the beginning of Dec 2020, just days before the second/ third lockdown was announced by Boris Johnson. In hindsight, I would not have returned if I had known that there would be another lockdown. However, I was lucky to have missed the initial lockdowns in 2020, and only had to endure four months of lockdown in London, which turned out to be not as challenging as I had imagined.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

winter

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

hampstead heath

Hampstead Heath from winter to spring

 

For months, I did not take any public transport and I walked everywhere. I walked to Camden Town, Hampstead Heath, Paddington, Oxford Street, Regent street, Covent Garden, Kings Cross etc. I saw a London that I have never seen before – deserted. Yet it enabled me to appreciate the city’s beautiful architecture, especially around Oxford Street. Perhaps the hardest part for me during the lockdown was not being able to meet up with friends (apart from a couple who live near me), and I had to rely on the weekly farmers’ market for some human interactions (not via zoom or Facetime). And over the few months, I became rather obsessed with cooking – though as much as I enjoyed creating new dishes, I was completely sick of eating my own cooking by the end of the lockdown.

 

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

primrose hill

Primrose Hill

 

Walking around London during the lockdown made me notice the surroundings more – I started to see all the architectural details that I had missed in the past. Usually I would not look up while walking down Oxford Street as I am more concerned with avoiding the crowds around me. Yet without crowds or heaps of tourists, I was able to saunder down the streets and appreciate the historic architecture in the city.

 

Regent's Park

Regent's Park  Regent's Park

Regent's Park

regent's park

Regent’s Park

 

Oxford Street and Camden market are places that I would normally avoid as I don’t really like crowded places. However, during the lockdown, it gave me joy to wander through the empty (and rather eerie) Camden market. Meanwhile I also felt sympathetic towards the shops and businesses, and was particularly sad to see my favourite eateries/cafes in the neighbourhood close down due to the pandemic.

 

chalk farm

camden town  camden town

camden town

regent's canal

camden tow

camden town

camden town

Camden Town and Regent’s canal

 

At the end of winter, Hampstead Heath and Regent’s park were becoming as packed as Bond Street before the pandemic, and I started to change my walking routes. Instead of going to parks, I did more walks along the Regent’s canal. I headed east towards Kings Cross and west towards Paddington along the canal… these walks lasted only a few hours but they were uplifting especially on a clear and sunny day.

 

kings cross

kings cross

Kings Cross’s Coal Drops Yard

 

Two years on, it seems unlikely that we will experience another lockdown soon (fingers crossed), and what I miss most about that period is the sounds of nature ( like birds chirping while walking down the streets) and cleaner air. The pandemic made many of us (city dwellers) evaluate our relationships with nature and our cities. It is hardly surprising that many Londoners decided to move to the countryside during/ after the pandemic. Nature has healing power, which is why so many of us turned to nature during an anxious and unpredictable period.

 

abbey road  abbey road

covid

Little venice

Little venice

paddington

paddington

paddington

Top: Abbey Road; Second: Maida Vale; 3rd & 4th: Little Venice; 5th to bottom: Paddington

 

According to a report commissioned by the City of London Corporation, London is the greenest major city in Europe and the third greenest city of its size in the world. The metropolis contains 35,000 acres of public parks, woodlands and gardens, hence 40% of its surface area is made up of publicly accessible green space. Our public green space is precious, and I hope Londoners will continue to cherish and protect it.

 

london  bbc

regent street

carnaby street  carnaby street

oxford street

riba  riba

Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Oxford Street; Bottom: RIBA

 

mosque

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Top: The London Central Mosque; Regent’s Park’s Outer Circle

 

covent garden

covent garden

Covent garden

 

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

chorley wood

A long walk around Chorleywood and Hertfordshire in spring

Autumn/winter wild food foraging in Hampstead Heath

hampstead heath

 

Although wild food foraging is nothing new, it has become quite popular in recent years. I think this is due to our growing interest in sustainability and back-to-basics lifestyle after decades of consumerism. As we know, endless purchase of consumer goods and fast fashion does not fulfil our lives, nor does it make us happier.

Yet how can we change our behaviour/lifestyle living in metropolis like London? Besides buying less, recycling more and shopping at the local farmers market, we can also attempt wild food foraging. After a fascinating funghi foraging workshop in Hampstead Heath a few years back, I was keen to learn more about foraging but never managed to do so until I enrolled onto a wild food foraging course with Jason Irving from Foraging Wild Food.

Jason is an experienced forager, herbalist and ethnobotanist. He used to work as head forager at UK’s leading supplier of wild food, Forager Ltd, for two years. Next year, he will be doing his PHD research in Central America, and our one-day course was the last one of the year.

 

hampstead heath

lime tree  lime tree

Lime tree (Tilia spp.)

 

The sun and blue sky made us feel slightly better for being out and about on a cold late autumn/winter’s morning. Since I live not far from Hamsptead Heath, the heath is like my back garden where I would visit in all seasons. However, I had no idea about the vast array of wild food available here besides funghi. The 3-hour walk around the heath was flabbergasting for a newbie like me. I learned a lot about the usage of many seeds and leaves, which not only can be used as herbal medicine, but also in cooking and beverages. Jason also made us a cake and hot drink from wild fruits and herbs, which was surprisingly delicious.

 

Hog weed seed  common sorrel

Left: Hog weed seed; Right: Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

 

Although I made some notes and took photos on the day, I don’t think I would be able to differentiate all the edible plants and seeds after just one course. There is still much to learn, and I guess getting a foraging book would be a good start. Since there are many foraging courses available in London, I probably would do another one in the summer when more herbs and ripe fruits are ready to be picked.

 

Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata)  Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

Left: Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata); Right: Hedge bedstraw (Galium mollugo)

 

Although wild food foraging can be fun, there is also the danger of picking poisonous plants without knowing (we often hear that with funghi-picking). Therefore, it is important to do more research or pick with someone more knowledgeable at the beginning.

 

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)  Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Left: Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) Right: Elder (Sambucus nigra)

 

The issue of global food shortages reminds us that we cannot take our food supply for granted anymore. What if one day we find ourselves in supermarkets full of empty shelves? If this happens, then how would we survive? Wild food foraging is not only about survival skills, it is also about sustainability and reconnecting with nature. If we undertstand the origin of each ingredient that goes into our food, then we are likely to appreciate it more.

 

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca)  img_4958-min

Left: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioca); Right: Beech (Fagus sylvestris)

 

Sadly, over-foraging has also become an issue in recent years. I was told that many Eastern Europeans would mass pick edible funghi and sell them to restaurants for commercial gains despite the fact that it is illegal to do so. Even the head chef of Noma –often voted as the restaurant in the wold– was accused of illegally picking wild mushrooms in Hampstead Heath 10 years ago.

 

sweet chestnut  yarrow

Left: Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa); Right: Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

 

Wild food foraging can be a satisfying and uplifting experience, but if we disrupt the eco-system by over-picking, then we are doing more harm than good. At the end of the day, it is crucial to find a balance. If we don’t respect our environment, we may regret it one day when it is too late.

 

hampstead heath

hampstead heath  hampstead heath

hampstead heath

 

Capturing autumn colours

hampstead heath

Hampstead heath

 

This autumn, we have had some beautiful sunny days with vivid blue sky in London, therefore I couldn’t resist taking the time off (during the week) to enjoy nature in this bustling city. And I didn’t have to go far since Hampstead Heath is the sanctuary for nature in London.

 

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Hampstead Heath

 

I often feel that when people are disconnected with nature, they are likely to disconnect with reality. Nature reflects the universe, and it reminds us of the cycle of life. When we take time to observe nature, we would open up our minds and see things in a larger context beyond our narrow world.

Like Japan, the UK also has fairly distinctive seasons, so perhaps we can learn from the Japanese and celebrate each season with joy, gratitude and curiosity.

 

autumn leaves autumn leaveshampstead heath

 Yellow and brown

 

During the few months in autumn, I would often walk around with my eyes fixated on the pavement (not when I am crossing busy streets) because I am so drawn towards the beautiful patterns formed by fallen leaves. Aside from the different coloured and shaped leaves, there are also fallen apples and conkers with spiky green shells – all of these are great works of art created by nature.

 

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 Autumn leaves

 

Besides the visual aspect, I particularly enjoy trampling on dried fallen leaves and listening to the rustling sounds created by my shoes/boots on the leaves. The act somehow reminds me of childhood, when life was simple and carefree. There are times in our lives when acting childlike can make us forget the burden that accumulates over time as adults.

 

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 Apples and conkers

 

I truly believe that art and beauty is all around us, and if only we take the time to observe, we would be stunned by what nature has to offer. Furthermore, solitude in nature provides us the time to connect with ourselves; and if you ever experience negative emotions, an few hours in nature can be as effective as a counseling session. Try it to see for yourself.

 

hampstead heathautumn foglondon sunset london sunset

Hampstead’s Modernist gem: Isokon gallery

isokon building

 

Earlier in the year I wrote an entry on Hampstead’s Modernist architecture, and I mentioned the Isokon gallery which opens only in the weekends from March until October.

I finally made another visit to this Grade I listed iconic building on a sunny and warm day (notice the contrast of the photos taken in winter vs summer), and I highly recommend this gallery to all Modernist design and architecture lovers.

 

isokon building isokon buildingisokon buildingisokon buildingisokon building

 

The newly furbished gallery is housed inside the old garage, and although it is quite compact in size, it is fascinating and extremely informative. There are photographs and historical facts about the building, its founders and the architect, as well as the renovation process from a derelict building to its current remarkable state (by Avanti Architects). And if you are interested in modernist architecture in Hampstead, there is a map of the area that indicates the locations of these buildings and their famous residents.

 

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The gallery also showcases original furniture from the 1930s including some plywood pieces produced by Jack Pritchard under the Isokon furniture brand. Pritchard collaborated with the building’s famous Bauhaus residents including Walter Gropius (Side Table GT2), Marcel Breuer (Long chair) and Laszlo Moholy Nagy (chair) to produce some iconic pieces for the flats. Simplicity and functionality is crucial in the design of these pieces, and unsurprisingly, they still look timeless 80 years on.

At the entrance, there is a small shop that sells books, designs and souvenir related to Modernism; but best of all, visitors can view a preserved kitchen with original fittings and appliances which reveals how everyday design has changed over time and shaped our lives today.

 

The Isokon Gallery opens every Saturday and Sunday (11am – 4pm) from March until October. Address: Lawn Road, Hampstead, London, NW3 2XD.

 

 

Modernist architecture in Hampstead

isokan building

Isokon building/ Lawn Road Flats in Belsize Park

 

A lot of Londoners and foreigners love Hampstead for its history and villagey ambience, and the heath is considered a refuge for wildlife and nature in London. This area has always been a magnet for the rich and famous, as well as the artistic and intellectual elite; and it is not hard to see why.

Yet this area is also home to many well-known modernist architecture, notably the iconic Grade I lised Isokon building (also known as the Lawn Road flats) in Belsize Park. This minimalist architecture comprises of 32 flats was designed by Canadian architect Wells Coates for Jack and Molly Pritchard in 1934. Its early famous residents included Bauhaus émigrés Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy and even Agatha Christie. The building was restored about 10 years ago by Avanti Architects, and to celebrate the building’s 80th birthday, the Isokan Gallery was opened to the public from April until October. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to visit the gallery (hopefully it will reopen in March), but I was still impressed by how timeless and striking the building’s exterior looks from street level. The architect was said to have been inspired by the works of Le Corbusier, while the original Isokon plywood furniture (produced by a company founded by Pritchard) was predominately inspired by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (click here to read my earlier post of my visit to the architect’s studio and home in Helsinki).

 

isokan buildingisokan buildingisokan buildingisokan building stanbury court stanbury court bunker in belsize park

3rd row & bottom left: Stanbury Court on Haverstock Hill; Bottom right: A WWII bunker in Belsize Park

 

Not far from the Isokon building is a less well-known Stanbury Court, built only 2 years after the Isokon building in 1936. The massive (when compared to the nearby buildings) and conspicuous white block consists of 53 flats, and has some interesting art deco features on its facade.

On the opposite side of the road further uphill, there is a white circular World war II deep level shelter built in the early 1940s that can be easily missed by passerby, even though it is fairly distinctive.

Another hidden ‘secret’ in the area is Parkhill Road and Mall studios (now privately-owned and forbidden to outsiders) where famous artists such as Henry Moore, Piet Mondriaan, Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, Sir James Linton and Sir George Clausen once lived.

 

2 willow road 2 willow road 2 willow road

 

Moving up towards Hampstead, 2 Willow Road is another iconic Modernist architecture designed by architect Ernő Goldfinger in 1939 for him and his family. Now run by the National Trust, and the house is open to the public by guided tours. It is well worth visiting if you are interested in Modernist architecture and design because the interior and furnishings have left unchanged since his death in 1987.

 

66 Frognal66 Frognal 66 Frognal66 frognal Maxwell Fry's sun housesun house Formerly Gracie Field’s house

Top 3 rows: 66 Frognal; 4th & bottom left: Sun House on Frognal Way; Bottom right: Former Gracie Field’s house

 

On Frognal Lane, one house stands out from the rest, and it is the Grade II listed 66 Frognal designed by Connell, Ward and Lucas for solicitor Geoffrey Walford in 1938. The house was subject of a lengthy planning battle with oppositions from local residents and planning officials before it was built (thankfully, the plan was granted in the end). Over the years, house had been altered by different owners and finally in 2000, Avanti Architects was commissioned by the new owner to rebuild and restore the house in a manner sympathetic to the original design including the colour of the facade. The commission won a RIBA Conservation Award 2005, and you can view the interior of the house (including an indoor swimming pool) via the firm’s website here.

Round the corner on Frognal Way is the Sun House designed by the renowned English modernist architect E. Maxwell Fry and built between 1934-5. This was the first Modernist concrete house to be built in London, and many of its features like the balcony and columns resemble Le Corbusier‘s Villa Stein in France. At the end of the street, you can also find the former house of Gracie Field built in 1934.

 

frognal close41 Frognal Lane13b Arkwright Road13b Arkwright RoadUCS & frognal garden

Top row: Frognal Close; 2nd row: 41 Frognal Lane; 3rd & 4th rows: 13b Arkwright Road; Bottom: University College School & Frognal garden

 

A few minutes downhill you will find Frognal Close, a cul-de-sac of six houses designed by Ernst Freud, son of Sigmund Freud (whose museum is about 5 minutes’ walk away) in 1937. Slightly further down on 41 Frognal Lane, another interesting modernist home was built later in 1968 by Alexander Flinder.

Nearby on 13b Arkwright Road, you will find a house that stands out from the rest because of its unusual glass brick facade and a side elongated porthole. The house was designed by Godfrey Samuel of Samuel and Harding in 1939, and it has two front entrances including one slope that leads to the basement.

 

spedan close branch hill estatespedan closespedan closebranch hill estatespedan closespedan closespedan close branch hill estatespedan close

Spedan Close/ Branch Hill Estate off Heysham Lane

 

One of hidden modernist architecture gems in the area is probably the Branch Hill Estate or Spedan Close. Designed by Gordon Benson and Alan Forsyth from Camden’s Architect Department in 1978, the estate resembles the Grade II listed modernist housing estate, Dunboyne Road (see below) in the nearby Gospel Oak. This estate is a fine example of social housing in modern times, yet it was also the most expensive at that period.

The secluded estate is located off Branch Hill next to a care home, and it is not visible from the main road. It is hard to believe that this is a purpose-built housing estate because it looks more like a set of Mediterranean villas! Built on a steep hill, the main entrance is from the top with a car park under a grass/concrete roof.

 

Dunboyne Road estate

The facade of Dunboyne Road estate designed in 1966 by Neave Brown from the Camden’s Architects’ Department and built between 1971 and 1977

 

The 21 pairs of 2-storey semi-detached houses are built on 3 rows, and in order to access to the bottom, one would have to walk down some ‘dangerous-looking’ (see above) sloping steps that are unlikely to be granted today. Aside from a small front garden, each house also has a roof top terrace. And since the houses face west, most residents would be able to watch sunsets from their homes.

While Modernist architects’ utopian housing ideal has failed, this estate is one of the few that can be celebrated. It works because of the smaller scale, green and quiet environment; and besides functionality, the quality of living seemed to be a priority for the architects. Along with estates like Dunboyne Road, Barbican and Golden Lane (see my earlier post on it here) etc, these successful cases of social housing prove that utopian housing could work if the focus was more on the quality rather than the quantity.

 

blackburn houseblackburn housea modern house on 49 Denning Roadnew house by Guard Tillman Pollock ArchitectsThe Priory by Rick Matherbelsize lane 40 ornan road

Top left & middle: Blackburn house; Top right: A house on 49 Denning Road; 2nd row: New house by Guard Tillman Pollock Architects; 3rd row: The Priory by Rick Mather (1997) Bottom row: A mews house off Belsize Place; Bottom right: 40 Ornan Road designed by John Winter in 1971

 

If you spend some time walking off the main street in Hampstead and Belsize Park, you will come across many intriguing white modernist houses. One of them is Blackburn house located in Rosslyn Mews just off Hampstead High street. This mews house was designed and remodelled by Peter Wilson and Chassay Wright for Janice and David Blackburn in 1988. The house is used a residence, an office and a gallery, which was a new concept at the time when it was built. There are several notable postmodern architectural features on its facade like the use of white, an asymmetrical extended entrance area, the non-orthogonal framed window and an exposed silver pipe.

Two other minimalist houses that stand out nearby include the New House designed by Guard Tillman Pollock Architects on Willoughby Road, and The Priory on 5 Upper Terrace built between 1993-7 by the late American architect Rick Mather. The former was shortlisted for a RIBA award in 2012, while the latter was the runner up for the RIBA Stirling prize in 1998.

 

modern house by Webb architects Hopkins' house Hopkins' house50 Pilgrim's lane A modern house on Keats Grove

Top left: A house on Redington Road designed by Webb Archietect; Top right: 6 1/2 Redington Road designed by John McAslam; 2nd row & 3rd left: Hopkins’ house; Bottom middle: 50 Pilgrim’s Lane; Bottom right: A house on Keats Grove

 

The use of glass is commonly seen in modern architecture, and there are some houses in the area that utilise this material to either allow maximum sunlight or as an prominent element in its architectural style. On Redington Road, two houses stand out from the rest of the Victorian style houses. One of them is a part white, part brick house designed by Webb Architects in 2008; the other is a glass and brick structure that was a former 1950s cottage orginally designed by John McAslam and reinterpreted by Pennington Phillips in 2007. Another intriguing one is the glass and metal box-like Hopkins’ house on 49A Downshire Hill designed by Michael and Patricia Hopkins for themselves in 1976. Minimal and timeless, this house is one of a kind, and one of my favourites in the area.

 

Admirals Houseadmirals house belsize lane

Top & bottom left: Admirals House; Bottom right: A castle-style house on Belsize Lane

 

Although not a modernist building, but there is one house that is worth check out while you are in the area and it is the Admiral’s House on Admiral’s Walk. The house was built around 1700 and was bought by a naval officer, Fountain North in 1791 who reconstructed its roof to resemble a ship’s quarterdeck. The house was often painted by John Constable who used to live nearby. The house’s famous former tenants include architect Sir George Gilbert Scott (who designed St Pancras Station and Albert Memorial) and writer PL Travers, whose famous novel “Mary Poppins” was said to be partly inspired by the house.

 

hampstead theatre hampstead theatreswiss cottage librarylondon central school of dramacentral school of speech and dramahampstead theatre swiss cottage library

Top row: Exterior of Hampstead theatre; 2nd row left & bottom right: Swiss Cottage library; 2nd row middle & right: Central School of Speech and drama; Bottom left: Interior of Hampstead theatre

 

Finally, moving away from Hampstead and towards Swiss Cottage, there are a few notable buildings worth checking out. One of them is the Grade II listed modernist/ brutalist style Swiss Cottage Library designed by Sir Basil Spence in 1962-64. The library was remodelled by John McAslan + Partners in 2003 as part of the redevelopment project in the area. The interior of the library is spacious and bright, in my opinion, it is one of the finest public libraries in London.

Close to the library is the recently-revamped Hampstead Theatre, the first freestanding theatre to be built in London since the National Theatre in 1975. Designed by Bennetts Associates Architects from 1994-2003, the theatre won the RIBA Award in 2003. The theatre has a 325-seat split-level auditorium and a bar/cafe on its ground floor, and a smaller and cosy free-seating theatre in the basement. I have enjoyed various performances here (both upstairs and downstairs), and I think the close distance between the stage and the movable seating helps to create a more intimate environment for the actors and the audience which is rare to find in the West End theatres.

Right opposite the theatre is another interesting contemporary building which is part of the Central School of Speech and drama designed by Jestico and Whiles in 2005. The bold and slightly imposing structure was shortlisted for the RIBA regional award in 2006; and thanks to the theatre opposite, this building doesn’t look as out of place amongst the post-war buildings and Victorian houses nearby.

 

Originally, I wanted to create a route/ locate all the buildings for this entry, but I think it is more fun to spend some time exploring the area on foot by yourself. I am sure there are many more hidden gems in the area that I have missed, and for a more comprehensive guide, you can check out the Hampstead section of Modern London houses website compiled by David Anderson, which also includes a map of most modernist houses in the area.

 

 

All about Fungi – foraging in Hampstead Heath

fungifungi fungi

 

I have always loved eating mushrooms, ( it’s funny to say this but Campbell’s mushroom soup was one of my favourite when I was a kid) years ago, I even bought a hardback cookbook on mushrooms only. About two years ago, I met a couple on a hike who like to go fungi foraging abroad and in rural England. On one hike, we encountered a variety of wild fungi and they pointed out to me the ones that were edible and ones that were poisonous. I was fascinated and wanted to learn more.

I had no idea how popular fungi foraging is in the U.K. these days, it seems like it has become one of the ‘trendiest’ activities for many, thanks partly to the celebrity chefs who have been promoting it endlessly. I tried to find a fungi workshop about 2 months ago but most of them were fully booked. Eventually, I managed to book myself onto a one-day workshop ( the last one of the year) ran by Fungi to be with in Hampstead Heath.

 

fungi fungifungiautumn fungi

 

The day started with an hour of introduction into the basics and characteristics of fungi, followed by a walk in the heath. And then the typical English weather set in, pouring down while we were out and about but stopped as soon as we got in! We were told that there are over 600 species in the heath alone, but due to the fallen leaves, it was very hard to spot the ‘camouflaged’ fungi, but we managed to find a variety including huge ones ( which I have never noticed before) on tree barks.

After the walk, we had a delicious lunch, followed by putting our knowledge to the test and trying to identify what we discovered on the walk. This proved to be extremely difficult. I realised that the workshop was a good introduction, but I will need a lot more time and ‘studying’ to gain the knowledge needed to identify the vast variety. Even after the workshop, I don’t have the confidence to go foraging without assistance, so in the meantime, I will stick to my supermarket mushrooms…

 

hampstead heath hampstead heath

 

Currently, there is an on-going debate and concern on fungi foraging in the U.K. because of irresponsible picking by Eastern Europeans and/or pickers collecting in mass for commercial usage ( then selling to restaurants). Although it is legal for for people to pick fungi for their own personal usage in the UK, it is illegal to sell fungi for profit-making. Fungi hotspots like Epping and New forests have become the target for these illegal activities, and it is a real shame that people do not respect nature and the eco system. I only wish that people can see the long-term damage they are creating by their short-term personal gains.

Fungi are fascinating organisms, and I hope I will have more opportunities and time to learn more about them in the future.