"does anyone have any favourite "english" grists or tricks?"
Yes, use sugar.
I just tapped my latest British ale this past weekend, and it is quite tasty. 85% Simpson's Maris Otter, 10% Lyle's Golden syrup, 5% Hugh Baird Carastan. A little inverted sugar gives a nice toffee flavor that pairs well with the dirt hops.
you sure the dirt flavor isnt from from so many of the english hops we get stateside being past their prime? I know this sounds semantic, but I have tasted earthiness in hops, and then straight dirt flavor from hops, and the difference seemed to be hop freshness.
I don't distinguish a difference between "earthiness" and "dirt" flavor. That said, a reasonably fresh bottle of Theakston's Old Peculier has the classic Fuggles dirt hop flavor that I have been able to replicate in clone attempts.
My scale for English dirt hop flavor, in terms of most to less pronounced, would be:
Bramling Cross - Fuggles - Target - Challenger - Northdown
FYI, unlike Denny, I like the flavor of dirt hops. And, EKGs have no dirt hop flavor at all (to my taste buds).