The other day I got a message from my mate Jimmy. It read ‘did I see you picking blackberries earlier on?’ You sure did, Jimmy, you sure did. That must have been you tooting your horn the other night as I worked my way steadily up the top road, filling my bread bag with gorgeous pies-in-waiting.

It's funny how not every year is a great year for wild fruit. I don’t remember 2022 being a good blackberry year but it was a fantastic season for apples and an amazing season for plums. Last year I picked apple after apple from the trees at the side of the A635 and the tree at the top of the Bridle Path near the X19 was absolutely laden. That autumn I wandered down the Bridle Path and you could hardly move for fallen plums and the trees were, to invent a new word, plumfull. This year the tree at the top of the Bridle just has a couple of apples on it, as big as full stops, and there’s no sign of the plums as yet. Maybe that means that next year they’ll be even better. Meanwhile, I’ve got blackberries to gather.

My family were always big on blackberry picking and one of my earliest memories is of my mother’s despair when I accidentally (or ‘accidentally’, because I was fed up with picking blackberries) kicked a tub of blackberries into some long grass somewhere out near Penistone where we’d gone for the day and none of us could be bothered to pick them again. ‘The birds can have them’ my mother said, giving me a stern look. ‘But the birds can’t make blackberry pies’ she continued, giving me an even sterner look. So when I pick the blackberries I reckon I’m carrying on a family tradition and I hope I’m somehow atoning for that kicked tub and my grumpy impatience when my parents insisted on going to just one bush and picking just a few more berries.

When I set off for my evening stroll I always follow my late mother-in-law’s advice to put a bread bag in my pocket; I wander up what we still call The Top Road, although I’ve never found a bottom road, towards Ardsley from Darfield and soon my bread bag begins to bulge with berries. Each bush is laden with enormous blackberries the size of watermelons; I’m exaggerating but only a little. My bread bag is getting fuller and heavier. It seems almost impossible that I will get another blackberry in, but I do. Oh, I do.

It's not without jeopardy, of course, this blackberry-picking sport. I don’t want you to think it’s for the faint-hearted. Well, I’m really just saying that so that you’ll leave the best berries for me, but it’s true that you can gat thorns in your fingers and it’s also true that blackberry bushes are often surrounded by vast patches of stinging nettles the sort of which my Uncle Charlie used to say ‘They don’t sting me, them nettles, but they’ll sting you!’ Note to self: he was right.

Maybe it’s the stinging and the prickling that puts people off because all summer I’ve not seen anybody else picking them; in years gone by there have been one or two others with determined looks and ready bread bags but this years I’m like somebody plying an ancient and almost lost trade; I’m like the last coracle-maker in Wales or the last Alpenhorn-builder in an almost lost and forgotten Swiss Valley. The X19 will pass and a child will say ‘Mummy, why is that white-haired old gentleman plunging his hands into that hedgerow’ and his mother will say, ‘Ah, my girl, that is someone practicing the ancient and dying art of blackberry picking.’ ‘But why is he doing it, mummy, when he can buy the blackberries at the shop?’ ‘Ah, that’s the mystery, my child, why indeed does he pick them when they are available in the supermarket?’

When I get the blackberries home I tip them into a bowl full of water and let them stand overnight so that any bugs can crawl away, and I then put them in a tub and keep them in the fridge to put on my porridge or to scatter across my yogurt and as I’m eating them there’s the extra satisfaction, part of something deeply ingrained in the human DNA, of being a hunter-gatherer.

See you on the top road with a bread bag!