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Country Walk

The Air Up There

Where you can find the best, freshest, tastiest air in Britain? Rebecca Seal takes a deep breath and asks some of our best olfactory experts.

Have you ever really thought about air? About how it can smell or even taste? Sure, you probably notice if the air around you is a little ripe, or smells of chips, and you may notice just-sprayed air freshener or cut grass in the heat of summer – but for most of us, that’s it. We’re dependent on the stuff and surrounded by it, but rarely pay it any real attention. Once you do start thinking about it though, it’s clear that, much like personal tastes in food or wine, air is a highly subjective thing – and people can veer from mountains to kebab shops in their choice of Britain’s perfect air.

The only people who can be definite about it are the scientists. Dr Geoff Dollard monitors the invisible pollutants that can lower air quality for AEA, a consultancy that advises the government, and for him, good air is pretty simple: ‘The main source of pollution in the form of nitrous oxides and particulates in the UK is burning fossil fuels. And the further you are from the sources – mostly cars – the better the air quality usually is.’ But beyond good quality, where is the elusive best air? We asked some people with impeccable taste, and noses, to help us find out.

Heston Blumenthal - Chef 

Cornwall. It’s fresh and salty and you get the smell of seaweed. It always makes me hungry.

Awarded three Michelin stars for The Fat Duck
in Bray

Bruce Palling  – Food columnist  

My favourite air (outside of the Himalayas) drifts over Eilean Shona, a private island off the Scottish Highlands on the west coast. The only contamination it is subject to, is whatever imperfections are to be found in Newfoundland, its closest landfall to the west. For me, its greatest attraction is the slightly iodised tang it exudes outdoors, while indoors it is frequently blended with the finest Bordeaux on the planet.

Writes for The Wall Street Journal, Europe

John Torode – Restaurateur, Chef and Presenter of MasterChef 

Of course, I would say beach air and, as I am not allowed to say Australia, I will say the beach in Northumberland near the amazing Dunstanburgh Castle, just around the corner from Craster. Saltwater-filled air and the hint of smoke from the smokers of the famous Craster Kippers.

Runs Smiths of Smithfields and The Luxe in London, presents MasterChef

Valentine Warner – Chef 

It is a toss-up between the wall of sweet peas in my parents’ kitchen garden or the incredible blanket of bluebells where we lived in Dorset. I’ve gone for the bluebell wood, a secretive place nestled in the vale below Lewesdon Hill. The smell was a heady mix of stream, the flowers, wild woods and farming. We used to go on magical picnics; happy days.

Presented What to Eat Now, and has just published The Good Table (Mitchell Beazley)

Tom Harrow - Wine expert  

Between Crunnock and Buttermere in the northern Lake District, there is a remote waterfall called Scale Force. Just at the bottom – where the water hits the stones – it smells like white Burgundy. Wine bores like me are always saying things taste like white stones under water, and it’s that smell.

Reviews wine lists as well as running wine events at www.winechap.com

Dawn Davies - Wine buyer 

Smell is like a memory key, far more so than visual things, and it’s very much at the centre of my life. When I cycle home through Shepherd’s Bush, right by the Hammersmith and City line Tube stop, I go past a kebab shop which always reminds me of a market in Zanzibar Town. I’ve never gone in so I don’t know what it is they cook which reminds me so strongly – and not going in is part of the intrigue.

Wine and spirits buyer at Selfridges, previously head sommelier at The Ledbury, London

Henrietta Lovell - Tea selecter

The best air is where I live – in the centre of London. In the still, cold winter when you walk through the Avenue Gardens of Regent’s Park, the viburnum’s heady aroma is like a song after a long silence. My street is lined with huge London plane trees and in autumn they drop huge, fragrant leaves. If you’re lucky, on a dark winter evening, someone will be burning leaves. That is the best air in the world.

Founded the Rare Tea Company

Tim Hughes - Chef-director 

I love the air on Highdown in the South Downs near Worthing. I go there with my dog, Lucy, especially on sunny days. To the east you can see the Seven Sisters; to the west, the Isle of Wight. The mixture of salty sea air, rapeseed and grasses, mixed with a little ‘horse’ on the down is intoxicating.

Chef director of Caprice Holdings’, whose restaurants include The Ivy, Caprice, Scotts and J Sheekey

Christopher Cooper - Sommelier 

My favourite air is in Kensington Gardens. A mixture of fresh air, tree blossom, horseshit, bus fumes, cut grass and general London smog. It’s so intoxicating and I can’t get enough of it on my days off.

Looks after the wine lists for all 13 of Soho House Group’s European sites, including Soho House Berlin and Cecconi’s London

Mathew Keech - Coffee specialist 

Being from New Zealand, I am biased towards a fresh sea breeze and on trips to Cornwall a highlight has always been climbing out on to the cliffs at Land’s End. The waves crashing
on to the rocks below release negatively charged ions that give these cliffs the freshest, crispest and – with that sea-salt sprinkle – tastiest air in Britain.

Works for Green Cup Coffee, a Fairtrade company

James Ramsden - Food writer

The best-tasting air is around my parents’ house in Yorkshire, near West Tanfield, at the foot of the Dales. Particularly in the winter when there is a whisper of woodsmoke, mixed with decaying leaves. It tastes of fires and hot tea.

Writes for the Guardian, Financial Times and The Times and is the author of Small Adventues in Cooking (Quadrille)

Emily Maben - Perfumer 

The best air is in the stacks at the members-only London Library. Founded in 1841, the stacks house thousands of books, some centuries old. You can breathe in the musky, vanilla scent of aged pages and spines, the leather of ancient bindings and the gluey, inky scent of new novels. Possibly not the freshest air, but the most educated!

Head of marketing for Penhaligon’s of London, scent-makers for 140 years

Tim Gage - Perfumer 

For me, it’s the air at the top of Snowdon – very fresh and unpolluted, hard to re-create in a perfume, because really it’s the smell of nothing.

President of the British Society of Perfumers

Melissa Coles – Beer writer  

I’m lucky enough to live near Fuller’s Brewery in west London and the air when the malted barley meets hot water never fails to give me goosebumps.

Author of Let Me Tell You About Beer (Anova Books)

Joe McCanta – Mixologist 

One of the most sweetly heady airs I’ve ever breathed is near a cottage owned by my cousin
in Brookside, Wiltshire. Something about the mix of fresh grass, wood smoke, old oaks, herb gardens and flower patches makes for an aroma that is so complex, so pleasing, and so purifying that it can’t be described but must just be experienced.

Grey Goose Vodka mixologist and founder of Juiceology juices, www.tastejuiceology.com

Stephen Terry - Chef-proprietor  

My favourite air can be breathed at the top of the Sugarloaf Mountain near Abergavenny. It’s a good walk to climb it, rewarded by magnificent 360° views and the freshest-feeling air for the lungs.

Chef proprietor of The Hardwick, Abergavenny

Paul A Young - Chocolatier 

Staithes, North Yorkshire, is a tiny fishing village famous for Captain Cook, hidden and unique. Its air smells of seaweed, ozone and coal smoke. It’s atmospheric and stormy in winter, beautifully light in summer.

Author of Adventures with Chocolate (Kyle Books)

Mark Jones editor - Do Not Disturb 

Springtime halfway up Yr Eifl, a mountain on the Llyn Peninsular in North Wales. The air is flinty, mineral, grassy and very, very clean – a breathable form of the best Sauvignon Blanc you’ve ever tasted.

Do Not Disturb Magazine

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