Friday, September 14, 2007

A Country Lane...

I commented recently to a friend, that sometimes, in the midst of a busy or stressful day, I forget exactly what I have right here on my doorstep. I only have to step out of my gate into the lane and there in front of me stretches miles of fields and countryside. So I thought I would share my recent country walk with you...

On this particular warm and sunny September day, I set off to collect blackberries. Our cottage is almost at the end of the lane, and once out of the gate, after walking little more than a few hundred feet, the lane merges into a grassy track bordered by abundant hedgerows which are filled with hips, haws, elderberries and blackberries.

Hips are the fruit of the wild rose and have a very high level of vitamin C. During the second world war and a time of rationing, children collected sackloads of hips which were made into 'Rosehip Syrup', a valuable vitamin C supplement for the war years. To make rose hip tea, boil the hips for a couple of minutes, allowing them to split open, then drain and serve. You will have a lovely pale pink tea!

The hawthorn tree is a very long-lived tree, living for 250 years or more and its fruit provides good food for immigrating birds such as the redwing and fieldfare.

The wildlife have a rich source of food in the autumn hedgerows, but there's always plenty to go round - for humans too! Elderflower presse is a very refreshing drink - or perhaps elderberry wine would be your preferred tipple!

Of all the wild fruits growing in the English countryside, the blackberry has to be my favourite and our lane and surrounding fields are full of blackberry bushes! At this time of year we see many families trooping past our cottage heading off to gather the fruit. Some are rather more keen than others and carry stepladders and huge cool boxes!! We occasionally joke to them that they need a permit to pick 'our' blackberries!!

Within a few minutes of leaving the cottage, I reached the bridge, and stopped to look down at the steadily flowing water, a small tributory of the River Ock. At this point, I had the choice of turning right, climbing the stile and walking through the field which runs parallel with the water. Or turning left, and walking through fields which eventually take me out to the back of the village and across further fields. By continuing straight on, I could walk for a few miles with the fields stretched out either side of me and the hedgerows full of wildlife, until I reached the nearest village, arriving close to their village pub - how convenient! The pub is called The Chequers, a common name for English inns. The name is related to the chequers board but not for the obvious reason - its origin is in an ancient drink once served in inns, which was made from the fruit of the Wild Service Tree, or as it is also known, the Chequers Tree - its square-shaped bark resembles the markings on a chequerboard. This tree is rare these days, usually found at sites of ancient woodland in parts of Southern England and Wales.

I stopped to say hello to two four-legged bathers and decided to take the right turning by the river and stepped over the stile into the field. Here, the blackberry bushes are particularly abundant and I gathered as many blackberries as my basket would hold. I spent some time listening to the birdsong and enjoying the scenery. Wherever I looked, I could see only countryside and I revelled in the fact that not a single house or manmade structure was visible. Soon it was time to return to the cottage so I headed back home for an afternoon of baking...

This is the result - an apple and blackberry pie - but it wasn't me who spent the afternoon baking - this was made by my husband! (Okay, so it's a little bit dark around the edges - was I complaining?! Of course not!)

It tasted as delicious as it looks - so I will be heading out again soon for more blackberries - I rather fancy a crumble this time!