‘Blackberry week’ this year begins on October 28—that’s the starting date of the schools’ half term holiday in our part of north east England. I guess when it was first given that name it was because it roughly coincided with the moment blackberries were at their best for picking—though even when our children were at school it was a bit late for the tastiest fruits. In the late seventies and early eighties blackberries were generally ripest a few weeks earlier, at the start of October or the very end of September.
Around 1980, when I was starting to be a published writer, I wanted to be sure I got my facts right. I didn’t want to show my heroine wandering lanes scented with the fragrance of hawthorn in July only for someone to say, ‘But there wouldn’t be hawthorn in bloom then. It’s called May blossom for a reason!’
So I started to make detailed notes, month by month, of what came into bloom when, which birds were around, when the trees changed colour, when fruits were ripe. I can see that in those days ‘May’ blossom was in flower in early June, so I guess it was only in the south that it earned its familiar name. These days it really is May blossom, even in County Durham, sometimes starting to emerge as early as late April.
And that’s the pattern I find everywhere when I read my notes. By 1990 the timing had shifted forward by about a month. Now, it’s often more like six weeks. Climate change recorded entirely by accident, but beyond argument…
I note that some of our local blackberries have even started putting out new flowers, in this warm late September. I wonder if they’ll have ripe fruits before Christmas…?