Blackberrying in the South Downs

It is some time since I updated the blog, largely because myself and the team have been very busy editing our recent oral history interviews and work with partner schools.

But with the new term approaching and summer entering its final weeks, I was reminded of the writings of that great South Downs writer, Tickner Edwardes, one time bee-keeper and vicar of Burpham.

In his charming book ‘A Downland Year’, published in 1939, he had some useful advise for those seeking to pick blackberries too early in the year. Only the country people, he tells us, those who really know the South Downs, can find the elusive ‘furze-berries,’ the earliest and juciest of the crop, that appear in mid-August –

“The first basket of blackberries – not a very big one, indeed, but still a beginning – has come into the village; and soon we shall all be making secret excursions to some favourite picking-place.”

“But there will be no blackberries to gather from the hedgerows by lane or field hereabouts for weeks to come. The folk who trudge hither from the town on a rumour of blackberry-picking having started, will go home again with empty baskets unless they happen to know how the case stands.”

“These very early blackberries are all downland produce. We call them furze-berries in this part of Sussex; and they grow in the sheltering midst of the gorse-patches that are dotted among the waste of remote green hills. The furze-berries are exceptionally big and fine-flavoured. Nearly all Sussex villagers of the old school have their own furzes, whither they resort for blackberries, the whereabouts of which is kept a family secret, sometimes for generations.”

The Rev. Tickner Edwardes can be seen in archive film footage on this website, https://southdownsgenerations.org.uk/old-films/

Please let us know how your blackberrying goes this year. When did you gather your first harvest and where was it?