Sunday, 2 August 2009

Sunday stroll with the blackberry pickers of Haringey

This has been one of those rare weekends marooned in London with scarce major plans to speak of. This morning I competed in the Newham 10K (which, incidentally, was very well organised indeed), which freed up this afternoon to go for a walk in the sunshine.

And so I took myself to Finsbury Park. Little did I know that I would be accompanied on the Piccadilly Line all the way from South Kensington by hordes of Arsenal and Glasgow Rangers supporters making their way to the Emirates. Good-natured they were, however I am delighted that I did not have to share carriages with such a crowd on the way home!

The Parkland Walk follows the course of an old north Lodnon railway through the borough of Haringey. Since the line's closure in the 1970s it has been reconfigured into a linear trail from Finsbury Park, via Highgate, towards Alexandra Park (and Palace). The occasional vehicle noise or whoosh of a train aside, it is a pleasant oak-ash-and-birch-lined portion of countryside in the heart of London that on this warm, sun-soaked Sunday afternoon was filled with runners, cyclists, families and...blackberry pickers.

My first thought was, isn't this rather early for blackberries? Do urban blackberries make their appearance sooner in the season than our Sussex blackberries? I know that one must refrain from picking them post-Michaelmas, but I admit that was not certain when they arrived. I have since done a bit of research and I can confirm that it is not unusual to see blackberries ripening at the end of July and beginning of August, even if they are more typically in season towards the end of summer and into autumn. Well there you go...

Anyway back to the path and its pickers. Haringey is famous for its racial diversity and this was well-represented amongst these fruity foragers. A white Englishwoman and Chinesewoman were gossiping away in Mandarin as they plucked their harvest from the hedgerows. I spoke to a Greek man, carrying a supermarket plastic bag brimming with bounty, who comes here almost every weekend until the branches are bare. Here, there, and everywhere along the route a similar activity was unfolding. I had stepped from the multicultural Finsbury streets and into a warren of rural delights!

The path continues on towards Highgate in much the same demeanour, a highlight along the way being the ruins of Crouch End station rising from the anarchic jungle. If you pass along here be sure to spot the Spriggan peeping out from under one of the arches.

The route took me through Queen's Wood, a stretch of ancient woodland next to Highgate tube. Great English oaks towered over me, blocking out much of the daylight, as I hunted down the Queen's Wood Cafe for a read of the Sunday papers and a refreshing cup of tea. I soon settled upon the ramshackle structure and flopped on to a comfy armchair with a green tea and a healthy wedge of blackberry polenta cake. I couldn't help but wonder whether these same blackberries were collected from the same walkway that I had been following. How marvellous it would have been if they were but I forgot to ask, so I will never know for sure. Under the whimsical strictures of artistic licence I shall pretend that they were. The story wouldn't quite be the same otherwise.

At 5pm the adhan could be heard over the treeline of Highgate Wood nearby. I think only in London could one sit sipping tea and munching polenta cake, surrounded by a disembodied Sunday Times, in the depths of an ancient forest, as the muezzin summons Mohammed's faithful from far and wide.

I complain often of city life but persevere and search true enough and you never know what you might stumble upon. Perhaps I should escape to the country less often? On second thoughts, definitely not. Yet less often will I talk of London-bound weekends as 'marooned'.

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