Recalling Mark Cocker’s tale in “Claxton” about his teenage daughter refusing to tell her parents where she finds blackberries when they can’t, I planned to check our local supply in a similarly lean season.
I have no problem letting people know where I go; several others go there anyway, and foraging is free for all. My route follows four paths or lanes. The first was the Needham Market road until a nineteenth century vicar appplied for a diversion to preserve his privacy. Then it follows a lane called The Hollows leading towards the pub we call our local since the one in the village closed, after which it turns back following field edges to the path known as The Drift. The distance is about three miles: just what I needed after an indulgent holiday.
Early October is late in some years for the first signs of autumn. This year the brilliant weather from July to September has held the season back but not, unfortunately, given soft fruit much chance to develop. The first bushes were little better than I’d found on different walks. At least the predicted rain held off and the walk became very warm, if never – owing to frequent stops for photography and fruit-picking – leading to that breathlessness supposed to be healthy.
Even where the berries are few they sometimes offer a composition against ivy or rosehips. The arable fields had been ploughed and harrowed, so there were shapes and patterns to add interest. Once I thought I heard a deer but saw nothing. There were few birds: gulls and crows picking among the harrow marks, and the call of a green woodpecker from a wood. Part of the route passes a former lime kiln, and signs of lime quarrying appear on the surface of ploughland.
Wild colours are complemented by planted ones by cottages and outside one a redundant step had provided space for Virginia creeper and some fungi taking advantage of the little recent rain in warm weather.
One of the most concentrated gatherings of blackberries was, as often, at the side of a lane. This can be frustrating if traffic pollution affects the fruit. The Hollows offers small risk, however, as only a few people live beside it and traffic is slight.
At the top of the route, after a dog-leg, there have been bullace. Not this year, it seems. This is not surpriising since the brambles growing nearby had only wizened fruit. Sloes seem less dependent on rain, however, and one tree had plenty.
How little rain there has been became clear along the remaining path leading to The Drift. This is usually muddy with large puddles even after weeks without rain. This month it is dry.
A few last berries were on offer shortly before The Drift, when the village comes back into view. The foot of the meadow below what was the vicarage had some more. A small box should be enough to mix with apple for this evening, and the exertion was as much as could be wished.