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Blackberry picking in Ballycastle

My purple fingers gave the game away. The tell-tale signs of my blackberry picking on a sunny afternoon as I slowly feasted my way along the briers fringing a hilly boreen near Ballycastle.

September into early October is blackberry picking time in our house when we drive to one of our favourite foraging spots to fill lunch boxes with the delicious wild fruit.

My thoughts are never far from the tasty rewards awaiting my efforts such as a mug of tea and blackberry pudding. 

The fruit is delicious straight from the bush, but even more enjoyable when mixed with apples from the garden and baked in an upside-down cake, a heavenly treat on a chilly Autumn evening.

Blackberries are one of nature’s convenience foods, hanging from the briers, free to be picked. Just add some blackberries to your porridge or muesli for a delicious breakfast.

The drive north from Ballina was a delight, the hedgerows were ablaze with the vibrant red and scarlet of the urn-shaped hawthorn berries, loudly proclaiming the arrival of Autumn.

The delicate white-pink flowers of the blackberry bush in Spring. Photo: Anthony Hickey
The delicate white-pink flowers of the blackberry bush in Spring. Photo: Anthony Hickey

Such a beautiful sight is an invitation to forage along seashore and in the countryside for the wild food that is free and abundant here in North Mayo.

Blackberry lane

It’s been great year for all kinds of wild and garden fruits, including the ubiquitous blackberry bush. Ditches and hedgerows were draped in tangles of colourful brambles, dripping with juicy blackberries in various stages of ripening, from green to red, and the dark purple-berries that are plump and ripe.

Blackberry picking over the years has taken us to many parts of North Mayo but one of our favourite places is along the quiet country lanes on the Sralagagh Loop, overlooking the beautiful village of Ballycastle.

Of course, the fattest and juiciest blackberries are often the hardest to reach, deep within the tangled web of brambles or over the ditch and just out of arm’s reach.

Blackberries in various stages of ripening. Photo: Anthony Hickey
Blackberries in various stages of ripening. Photo: Anthony Hickey

For me, a morning blackberry picking is the perfect escape from our noisy, always-connected world of mobile phone messaging and babble, a so-called social media world controlled by a greedy few in which humans were never more disconnected from one another.

I like to think that foraging is a form of mindfulness – a wonderful way to escape the toil of daily life for some inner peace and detachment.

Only birdsong and the gurgling of the swollen Ballinglen and Bellananaminnan Rivers, tumbling down from the mountains after the Autumn deluges, interrupt the silence with their soothing sounds – nature’s musical accompaniment to the tranquility.

By Anthony Hickey

Follow writer and photographer, Anthony Hickey, as he travels around his native Co. Mayo, Ireland.

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