Despite the long hot summer, I was surprised to discover blackberries had not suffered in any way. Drought had not reduced berry production. On the contrary, they were larger and juicier than in previous years. Blackberrying is a real attraction. They’ve been loved and picked across the world for generations. Their seeds have even been found in the stomach of a Neolithic man dug up from the Essex clay. Ignore the scuffing and scratches and get back to nature. It’s worth the toil.
There’s already a bumper crop of berries on the rowan trees. The bright crimson fruits are all the more noticeable for being concentrated in tight branches in the foliage, giving the tree a red, spotty appearance from afar. They’ll be welcomed by the flocks of redwings and fieldfares when they arrive from Scandinavia this autumn.
Sheep and cattle have been supplementing their diet during the drought. We’ve watched sheep shaking a bough of the ash tree to browse on its leaves in West Heslerton. Cattle turned to sycamore leaves at Castlebeck, and pal Martin commented on cows eating oak leaves in Kilburn!
Many wild flowers at this time of year seem to be in shades of pink/purple. Rosebay willowherb on the moors was rapidly going to seed, but knapweed flaunted vivid purple hard-heads, a fine contrast against the creamy ‘foam’ of meadowsweet.
The bell heather was fading, but the true heather or ling formed thick, springy mats over the acid moorland soil. The name ‘ling’ is derived from the Anglo-Saxon work ‘lig’ meaning ‘fire’, as it was once an important fuel.
The strong, pliable stems of heather were bound together in bundles and secured to poles to make brooms.
How wonderfully heather is adapted to withstand hostile conditions and the trampling of hikers’ feet. The flowers too are well adapted, and feel stiffly ‘everlasting’ in quality. They produce an abundance of nectar collected by bees for providing one of our finest varieties of honey.
In the Scottish Highlands the croft walls were made of heather stems bonded together with peat. Roofs were thatched, and beds made of clumps of tough, resilient and supporting stems. Such beds were comfortable, springy and fragrant too. Stems were woven into ropes and made into baskets. Flowering spikes made an orange dye, a spice for beer, and a sweet tea. I could go on, but just to say, a sprig of white heather brings good luck.
The corncrake population is mainly on Scottish islands, but the RSPB is aiming to restore their numbers. Our friend Dena recalls when she was a youngster, she used to hear them calling at Northstead, near Scarborough. Have you heard them locally?