Nature

Blackberry Ways

Buckinghamshire blackberries

The Monday Photo

Autumn is nearly here. Out taking photos for last week’s Thursday post on the East West Rail project, I found plenty of ripe blackberries in the hedges by the lanes, so I picked quite a lot and ate them on the spot.

But these lovely ones in the photo were way out of reach. Oh well, there were plenty more further along the hedge.

I’m told that there are hundreds of species of blackberries across the country. Over the centuries the blackberries have bred differently from the ones on the far side of a line of hills, or on the other side of a big river.

That day I had some blackberries from Winslow, and more near the old Swanbourne station perhaps two and a half miles away. The bushes seemed spikely alike to me and the berries all tasted the same, but perhaps some from twenty miles away might be different.

I’ve made a nice drink from blackberries, from a recipe my dad gave me. It’s very simple:

Pick a load of blackberries. Remove any twigs, but do not wash them.

Put the blackberries in a demijohn; do not fill it over half way. Add the same volume of sugar, and put a cork and trap in the mouth of the demijohn.

Natural yeast on the blackberries will ensure fermentation. Leave the demijohn for about a year in a warmish spot, making sure the trap always has water in it. Collect a few empty spirits bottles over the year; you will need them.

You’ll now have a demijohn full of dark red liquid. Filter the liquid and add vodka; 1 part liquid to one part vodka. It doesn’t have to be the good stuff. Put it all into bottles; you'll also have to bottles the vodka came in.

Clean the demijohn, cork, and trap, and start again with that year’s crop of blackberries.

You can see that a quarter of a demijohn of blackberries and the same volume of sugar will give you about four pints, two and a quarter litres of liquid. This is doubled once you add the vodka. But it isn’t something you can drink a lot of at once. Even with the vodka it’s still a bit sweet as I know from the couple of times I’ve made it.

Having said all that, I have about a gallon’s worth of blackberries and sugar that has been left fermenting for about five years. If I ever get round to finishing the process I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Have you ever made something like this? Do you have a recipe? Please comment below!


May Days

May blossom

The Monday Photo

It’s May, and the hedgerows are decorated with great sprays of small white flowers. It is May blossom, the flowers of the hawthorn tree.

The hawthorn is the most common small tree in much of England, and it’s all because of sheep. When the great open fields of medieval times were enclosed for sheep farming, the farmers planted countless miles of hawthorn saplings on the edges of fields. Once grown, the spiky trees made a very effective stock-proof hedge.

Even today, you can see Hawthorn trees everywhere in hedgerows, and they are still used to make hedges. You can buy 105 plants at once if you want to; that’s enough to make a single row hedge 85 feet, or 26 metres long.

A Hawthorn will revert to its natural tree form given a chance, and livestock will be able to breach the hedge. That’s where the hedgelayer comes in, laying the hedge by cutting the stem near the base and bending it over, forming a thick and bushy hedge that animals can’t get through.

In May in North Bucks you can easily spot the hawthorn trees as they present their May blossom in hedgerows everywhere. 

The Hawthorn supports hundreds of insect species. It provides nectar and pollen for bees. 

Dormice eat the flowers, and birds nest safely in the dense foliage. I would plant a hawthorn in my garden today if I could find enough space for it.

Crataegus Monogyna is
the latin name for Hawthorn.

 


The Rest of Christmas

Snowing  and treeIn the Ouzel Valley Park, Milton Keynes

The North Bucks Wanderer (that’s me, folks) will be taking some time off, so there will be no post next week. But I will back to regular posting on Wednesday 8th of January, two weeks from today. (I’m posting this on Christmas Eve)

I will be selecting some of my favourite photos for an end of year revue on that first post of the New Year. Many will be ones already published in this year’s posts.

But a few will be photos that couldn’t be used although I liked them, usually because the post was already too long. There might even be a few photos from my archives, just because I want to show you them,like the first three photos here.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the first two are of the same tree. These two and the next one were taken in the Ouzel Valley Park, in Milton Keynes. The last one was taken just last week, at the tiny village of Grove, right on the edge of the county. It’s the lock keeper’s cottage.

Happy Christmas and all that. There will be some of you out there who find this time of year to be rather a struggle. To you especially, my best wishes.

Tree  snowIt's that tree again.

Winter trees  Ouzel valleyThough this seems to be out in the country, these trees are also in the Ouzel Valley Park, in the middle of Milton Keynes.

Xmas tree  at Grove  in BucksThe lock keeper's cottage, Grove.


Ancient Hollington Wood

(This is the second post about bluebell woods in the North Bucks Wanderer’s stomping ground. The first post is here.)

It was Saint George’s Day. I had already visited two woods that day, this was the third and last.

Hollington Wood is privately owned, and although there are no footpaths through the wood, there are two permissive paths that are nearly always open. The wood is a couple of miles South of Olney, not far from the A509. It has a very nice display of bluebells this year, including at least one albino example.

I drove up the back road to Olney, then came out South from the town and back towards Milton Keynes. I turned left on to the Newport Road, about 250 yards past the Newton Blossomville turn. The Newport Road was the old main road, now bypassed.

Bluebell in Hollington WoodBy the permissive path.

Continue reading "Ancient Hollington Wood" »


The Flower of Saint George

One of the most English of flowers is the bluebell, and what better day for me to go to see them than Saint George’s Day?

Shenley Wood
In the early 1990s I worked on the building site that would become Woodhill Prison. The main road went no further South than the prison, and one lunchtime I walked over to the woods, which back then were still in the countryside.

It was a sunny day in late April. To my great surprise, the woods were full of bluebells, the flower of Saint George.

Shenley wood bluebells by pathBy the path, Shenley Wood.

Continue reading "The Flower of Saint George" »