Monday, 22 August 2011


There is a footpath from Salisbury to Winchester called the Clarendon Way. It is about thirty miles from train station to train station, which means it can be walked in one day if you set out early around the Solstice and walk briskly.

Walking blues. 
Papa and I discovered the Clarendon Way several years ago BC* when we were time-rich and cash-poor, which is very fertile soil to plant the seeds of a lifelong rambling habit in.

The Clarendon Way begins where Salisbury dissipates into a farmer's field. The field is splayed across a clutch of smooth chalky hills that fold into woodland at the creases. Hills like these appear strangely symmetrical to a girl from the Rocky Mountains: like those drawn by a child, or the curves of an egg batter folding in on itself.**

The farmer's field leads upward to the ruins of Clarendon Palace on a hill, where cows graze on tall weeds around the few remaining stone walls of the structure. From here the path meanders off off into deep gruffalo wood, where you can easily get lost if you are not paying enough attention.

Eventually the path disappears in a tiny confusing village, where the local pub is a little like the Slaughtered Lamb. The village has a beautiful name: Winterslow. I suspect it means 'place of many lost ramblers' in old English.

Foraging for mischief. 
All fairly bog standard stuff, if you come from England. In fact, you have probably dozed off by now if you are English, or tottered off for a pint at the Slaughtered Lamb. But the first time a Nuevo Mexicana sees such a landscape, she can be forgiven for being filled with wonder and thinking that perhaps she's stumbled upon heaven.

Papa and I both grew up in the high desert, so we were entirely unprepared for what we saw along the Clarendon Way: a gazillion blackberries. The hedges were buckling under the weight of them, and no one else seemed to be stopping or taking notice except for us two. We ate hundreds - possibly thousands - giggling like little kids. Our tongues and our hands were fuschia. Our entire insides must have turned purple. We ate until we could eat no more.

Youthful memories tend to get sealed in saccharine laminate as time goes by - glossed over and folded into the egg batter narrative of life.*** But there are these little moments of intense sensory discovery that stay fresh and really stick to the mind like cockleburs.

We look for blackberries every year now. When Ana came along, she joined the summer pilgrimage, and Ali has been inducted too.

This year we scavenged on the Heath, and turned what remained of our loot (after taste testing) into pear and blackberry crumble.

I have learned that it is dangerous to return to the actual location of your happiest memories. For this reason, I fear the blackberry way has become more a place in time than in actual geography.

So we will forage wherever the wind takes us. Who knows? Maybe the wind will take us back to Salisbury again someday.

Blackberries grow on thorny indestructible vines - essentially barbed wire - with the sort of scary lust for plant life that is only matched by kudzu. And they did so long before riots went digital.

I suspect the organic not electronic form of my favourite berry will long outlive us mere humans, kept company by twinkies and cockroaches.

*Before chaos.
**As a lapsed Lutheran, I can only visualise things in terms of casserole.
***As above, I blame my casserole genes.


  1. AlexanderResidence22 August 2011 at 10:27

    I love your similes, you're making me think I must make more effort with mine! You've also got me thinking, so I may be hijacking your comments slightly here but... I went back to the berry picking grounds of my childhood this week too. I stood on the rambling hills admiring the 360 views. It is so flat here in the east of the UK, I miss the west. Something else was missing for us too of course, my dear mum. But it was still sticky, sweet magic to return. And we laughed at the way we used to plead to be allowed to be released from our child labour as we froze on the hillside and she cried out 'just a few more berries'.

  2. Beautifully described... My old neck of the woods. My grandparents live in Wallop (best named village ever!), which is not far from Salisbury. It is so beautiful around there! 30 miles in one day is quite hard core though, glad you stopped in the pub! Emma :) PS. blackberries are nearly out here too, can't wait!

  3. Lucky you! Such a lovely bit of the world (and I love the name Wallop :) - you must pine after it in blackberry season.

  4. Bless you - what a lovely memory. My papa (who I miss dearly) used to say 'just around the next corner' all the time to us kids. Such wonderful phrases and memories our beloved ones leave us with. Helps to get us through the times we miss them the most :)

  5. We have a blackberry bush down the end of the garden, have never used the berries from it for anything... What if there was worms in the berries!!!!

  6. Blackberries tend to be covered in to wash them off or if that's not an option because you're outside...just don't look too carefully - eek!

  7. workinglondonmummy22 August 2011 at 22:16

    yum yum I do like the idea of searching for berries! would love to see the recipe for pear and blackberry crumble. Love the pictures. x

  8. what a wondrous tale you weave... alas all the blackberries near my house are separated from the footpath by a stream and I never can quite reach them. I may just have to throw caution to the wind now and get my feet wet...

  9. Or build a lego raft and row to them? The possibilities for a domestic accident, er I mean foraging adventure are endless...enjoy :)

  10. Thanks! Not so much a recipe alas. I just mix together whatever pears (cored, peeled, chopped) I have to hand with some blackberries, handful of sugar, pinch of corn flour, dash cinnamon and 1 lemon juiced/zested. Then I top it with crumble stuff: so 1 part flour, 1 part sugar, 1 part butter, and bake at 180 for about 40 minutes. Hard to get wrong, crumble!

  11. Oh wow, I adored reading this as much as the images. You write so beautifully and I felt like I was drifting back to my childhood as I read. My family would always gather blackberries every year, it was a very special tradition and one which I remember very fondly and treasure. I grew up in Hampshire and worked in Winchester for a while, so I know and love that part of the country well x Thank you

  12. Thank you Sarah, what a wonderful bit of the world to grow up in! Maybe in a few years when they are a bit older, your girls will surely enjoy their visits back there to pick summer blackberries :)

  13. Ahh how lovely and blackberry time already. How time flies. I shall be out this weekend and hopefully will manage to take some home for crumble if the little ones don't eat them all as fast as they are picked!

  14. The little ones can be VERY speedy where blackberries are involved, eh? Have fun, enjoy your crumble!