Blackberry picking is absolutely one of my most favourite things to do in the whole world. Despite the stickiness from all the oozing purple juices, sweatiness from covering up in August and scratchiness from all the prickles, it takes me right back to being a child with nothing else to focus on but getting a pile full of plump berries and the future prospect of a deep, sweet crumble.
You can’t tweet, text or email whilst blackberry picking. Not only because your hands are too grubby but also because you escape to another world where mobile phones don’t exist. Mine is the world of pulling on long cords and wellies, tying my hair back and setting out determined to beat Howard Benson to the best blackberry bush on the side of Farmer Jack’s field. The field was on a hill, with a stream running down it’s edge on the right hand side, and a long snaking line of bramble bushes forming the barrier between the field and the houses to the right. The bushes were narrow at the bottom but we’d to jump the wide soggy grass to get to them. They always seemed to ripen last, so the race was on in the first few days to get to the top of the field.
Here were super thick green shrubs boasting yellow flowers and giant spiders, intermingled with sneaky brambles laden with the fattest berries. Only the bravest kids would stick their hands through webbed gaps to reach plump treasure, or else persuade their dad to bring a short ladder to rest on the bushes so they could clamber up. You’d to time this perfectly when most were ripe, ’cause he’d invariably only agree do it once. Dads would look a little like Mr M & Carl did last week at Withy Baths, arms folded in observant amusement at our pain & intensity.
It was a dilemma, when to stop stripping the bush you were on and move on to the next one. If some kid moved first and I heard their squeals of delight as they discovered a huge cache on the next bush, my competitive heart would sink. Timing was everything, but a willingness to get scratched to hell helped. I’d shimmy through gaps and under thorned branches into the tightest spaces, turning on a tuppence, dropping purple pearls into my fruit carton and flicking off insects, preferably at my chief competitor. Skinny Howard was as gung-ho and we’d gingerly test putting our feet down to get right inside the bushes ’cause in places the buggars would grow over the stream and if you weren’t careful you’d suddenly drop three feet and your cache would fly up into the air. Disaster! However, he or she who dares wins and risks had to be taken to get the fullest haul and be crowned best picker of the day.
That feeling when you find a whole branch of juicy ripe ones and you know they’re ALL yours, no squidginess, no dried up dead ones, none hard & green but all of them black and delicious and ready is just brilliant. There’s nothing like it. Despite going home ripped to shreds, bleeding and still picking mini-thorns out hours later, despite staining fingers and clothes, despite jumping every time a spider runs over outstretched fingers reaching just another inch, blackberry picking’s the best free fun going. I’ve no idea whether kids still go picking in Farmer Jack’s field, he’s probably sold it off for housing and the kids pick Apps on their iPads instead, and it only lives on in my memory, but I have a replacement – the Withy Baths MotherShip. Tucked away on the land which was once designated for a third pool (never built), protected from the wind and warmed by the sun grows an amazing bush, jam packed full of berries, everywhere you look and everywhere you reach.
So, on Thursday 10th Sept as part of Heritage Open Days, we’ve picked, washed & prepped, and will be serving Blackberry Cocktails with nibbles when we launch our brand new Coffee Stop and Sponsor-A-Tile. Who knows, I might even make some blackberry crumble 🙂