We all know that Sustrans routes are great for getting from A to B safely, healthily and scenically, helping you to keep fit and do your bit for for the environment at the same time. But, they also have other attractions, particularly at this time of year.
This hasn’t been the best of summers, but one of the few benefits of the rain and lack of sun in June and July is that the hedgerows are still heavy with fruit: brambles, rose hips and even elderberries that usually ripen six to eight weeks ago, are still there.
And as many Sustrans routes run along old railways and canal towpaths – ideal hunting grounds for hedgerow fruit – you’ll be spoilt for choice. Even when the route runs along a country lane, you’re still in the driving seat, so to speak, as you can cycle further away from the half a mile radius out of the villages and car parks, which is as far as most of the pedestrian and car driving fruit pickers get to.
Normally I find mid to late August as the best time for the blackberry harvest, but walking the West Highland Way (which shares Sustrans Route 7 for parts of the route) in early September I was amazed at how many wild brambles were still to ripen.
Nearer home, Route 54 between Burton and Lichfield, is (or was until I gathered the elderberries) ideal hedgerow territory, running parallel to the Trent and Mersey Canal for a few miles and then along some high-hedged lanes.
So, pack some plastic bags in your panniers and see what you can find in the hedgerows, – but hurry because as the sun weakens, any fruit that is left will rot quickly. Blackberries will be past their best, but slows are just beginning to ripen – add sugar and a bottle of vodka/gin, leave in a dark place for as long as you can – and they make a deliciously rich (and potent!) liqueur.
Elderberries make a full-bodied (and equally potent) wine, or can be boiled up with crab apples and rose hips to make a delicious jelly. (Recipes to follow in next post.) You can even use rowan berries, as well, but do take care and if you’re not too sure of your berries, err on the safe side with those you are familiar with.
So, in a few months time you can indulge in some mouthwatering jellies and agreeable drinks, without guilt, knowing you have picked, delivered and cooked them, all by your own efforts. Bon appetite!