27 August 2010


The Rivelin Valley on the outskirts of Sheffield (Click to enlarge)
Last Sunday, I took a constitutional walk in the Rivelin Valley. Just a stone's throw from the city proper, it is characterised by ancient dry stone walls, old country properties of various dimensions, meadows and green pastures. Tumbling along the bottom of the valley and guarded by woods is the Rivelin stream itself. Once this sweet little river powered at least eight watermills en route to the larger River Don which it meets and enlarges at Hillsborough. Today the evidence of those mills has been cunningly disguised by Mother Nature who has a rare talent for healing the wounds that industry invariably leaves behind.

West of Sheffield there are many paths - public rights of way. Some are well-trodden but others retain an air of secrecy and you will often find stiles hidden by summer vegetation with no sign that anybody has climbed them for months. I guess some walkers will imagine that our country paths have been devised for city strollers with rucksacks, flasks and Gortex boots but this network of footpaths is in reality a legacy of past times when country people in a pre-motor vehicle era had to get from a to b - usually for a purpose - delivering eggs, going to church, visiting friends or sweethearts, driving sheep or pigs, paying bills, buying manure or hay. There was much more purposeful walking in past centuries.

On Sunday, I came across one of these secret paths and as I scrambled over the be-nettled millstone steps that led through a small fallow field, I noticed such an abundance of brambles in briary tangles that I made a mental note to return and pick a container full for jam-making and crumbles. Sadly, the weather this week has been rather unsettled so it wasn't until I got up today that I felt confident the late morning would be summery and rainfree.

For almost two hours I picked but I was well-prepared with garden gloves, secaturs and suitable clothing to get right in amongst the thorny runners and nettles. Nobody passed by apart from one solitary walker whom I startled as he emerged from the bushes at the bottom, no doubt lost in his own thoughts and not expecting to see a soul.

Eventually, I tottered up the grassy slope, with a bramble-brimming Tupperware cake container to the dead-end lane where I had earlier parked my trusty Astra. It had been a lovely late summer morning with butterflies and swallows in the air. No sign of the rabbits I saw on Sunday with their debilitating eye infections that reminded me of mixamatosis. Perhaps it was that. They had loitered a couple of yards along the path chewing leaves, clearly unaware of my size elevens plodding along. Maybe, mercifully, I should have killed them.

Back home I weighed my booty. Ten and a half pounds of juicy black brambles. Co-incidentally that was my birth weight though I should point out that I am of course not a bramble... I'm a banana!


  1. Elizabeth7:59 pm

    You know my feelings about brambles...suffice to say your crumbles are in no danger from me, but your post does remind me of two of my current favourite poems - Seamus Heaney's, 'Blackberry Picking' and Galway Kinnell's 'Blackberry Eating.'

    That photograph at the bottom is gorgeous,by the way; I can almost taste the m......!

    10 and half pounds, eh? I sincerely hope you were kind to your mam for a very long time afterwards. xx

  2. I echo Elizabeth's comment - my heart goes out to your poor mother! Blackberries round here are still green and look as if they will never ripen.

  3. Your post was so well-written, I was there! Except I would have forgotten the gloves etc, and would have used some plastic bag and squashed 'em all. But they would have still made wonderful apple-and-blackberry pies! What a lovely day. Thank you. Diid you get a black tongue?


  4. Mr. Puddin',

    I hate to be stupid but I don't know what black brambles are. Are they black raspberries or blackberries? Or are those one in the same? Gosh, I am dumb. But, I love berries of any ilk so send a pound or two my way, if you please kind sir.

  5. I often think about picking wild fruit and then never getting around to it at the weekends...I'm still on the work wheel.. and so so jealous of you...but enjoy living the 'country' life through your words and pictures.
    ps. my daughter was 10.5 pounds....now is long and thin and gorgeous....

  6. I'm a bit in the dark about brambles too. Are they the same thing as blackberries. In the southern part of Oz where it is cooler they have "blackberries" which grow wild and are a pest ( probably introduced). I don't know if they are brambles or blackberries now but I don't know if we grow blackberries commercially.
    Anyhow your whole outing sounds good to me and if they are the same as blackberries , lucky you. Blackberry crumble says"England" to me.

    On the topic of you public walkways - I love them. I love the way they can wind right through the middle of a farmer's buildings and yards, past the farmer's wife hanging her clothes on the line and it doesn't bother them. It's the way it's always been. There is no way anybody here would let you roam over their land like that. You miss out on a lots of lovely places here because they are on private property.

  7. ELIZABETH & JENNY Regarding her last two babies, Mum said that it was just like shelling peas.
    KATHERINE I had a black tongue and hands so scratched that strangers would have concluded that I'd been indulging in a spot of self-harming.
    MA THYME We always call them brambles but I believe that some people DO call them blackberries. In ancient times, British people used brambles/blackberry bushes as defensive barriers.
    HELEN HELSIE I'm so pleased that you have walked some of England's curious pathways - most of them are much older than Australia's European heritage though I suppose the aboriginal peoples had pathways they had trodden for hundreds if not thousands of years.

  8. To me, brambles are just thorny bushes. As I read, though, I wondered if you meant what we call blackberries. Sure enough, the drool-inducing photograph confirmed my suspicions!

    The countryside around Sheffield looks very much like the countryside around Canton, believe it or not. We are in the foothills of the Southern Appalachians.

  9. Nah then, gerrof ma manor and gerrof ma berries!

    Did you discover the overgrown Victorian swimming pool/paddling pool in the dense overgrowth that preceded the current paddling pools built in the 70s?

    Rivelin Valley did have aspirations to be a posh relaxation paradise to rival Buxton in the early 20th century.

    Long beofre the local farming family made millions (probably billions today with inflation) selling their land for private and corporation housing right up the hill.

  10. RHYMES WITH.... I accept that perhaps the countryside west of Sheffield is similar to the environs of Canton but we don't have red indian reservations or clusters of wigwams and our black people do not work in chains on plantations.
    LORD BOOTH of RIVELIN (Tory peer) The "manor" does not belong to you. Even serfs like me are allowed to amble there. Having recently completed a world tour I am surprised that you have so far failed to blog about it. What are you hiding?

  11. I'm going to say this once and only once.

    We do not have red Indian reservations. We do not have clusters of wigwams. We do not have black people working in chains on plantations. We haven't said "our black people" in 150 years but I find it interesting that you did. Perhaps you are a fan of Isak Dinesen (Baroness Karen Blixen) who called the workers on her coffee plantation in Kenya "my Kikuyu"....

    Ya make an innocent comment about similarities in topography and what does it get ya? A kick in the teeth, that's what it gets ya. While that may play well in, say, Sheffield and Hull, over here it does not.

    I'm not angry. I'm just sayin'...

  12. I love blackberries and the Seamus Heaney poem is one of my favourites too.

  13. I'm still waiting myself. Blame Lady Booth.


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