There is something supremely satisfying about the late summer ritual of blackberry picking – an hour or so to concentrate on one small but absorbing task. Today I foraged on well trodden ground near the Desalination Plant (on Jersey’s south west coast), and my legs are still stinging from the nettles I encountered as a I tried to push further into the undergrowth in search of untouched bunches of fruit.
One of my early memories is of accompanying my Grandfather as he unhurriedly picked blackberries, following beaten down paths through the brambles, and then bringing them back for my Grandmother to turn into blackberry jam, which they would eat on bread, topped off with cream. When I was a bit older, my brother and I used to get sent out to pick blackberries from the brambles near our house, with instructions not to return until we had 2lbs (1kg) each. It was a chore, and we used to make frequent trips back to the house to get our bowls weighed, before invariably finding that they had not been filled enough and being sent back out by my mother to finish the job.
It’s hard to pinpoint when my relationship to blackberry picking changed, but by the time I was living in West London in the mid 1990’s, I was beginning to catch the train down to Dorset with the express intention of going blackberry picking. Early in the morning I’d cycle to Waterloo station and catch the train to the little station at Wool, on the Isle of Purbeck. As you head out of Wool towards Lulworth Cove, the road starts to climb, and the banks were overflowing with fruit. After I’d filled a container, I’d ride or walk on to the coast, revelling in the moment when the great sweep of Weymouth bay came into view. Since it was the end of summer there was a softness to the light and a mellowness in the air that gave those days a special atmosphere. Shady dips in the ground felt cool and damp.
Now I’m back to picking blackberries in the place where it all began.