Tuesday 1 September 2020

Ditch Witchery in Elder Season

The mornings are getting chilly, and the valley floods with mist first thing in the morning. It really was time to get out and pick elderberries. No self-respecting hedgewitch, or indeed ditchwitch, could fail to get a few bottles of elderberry syrup sorted ready for winter. It's a sovereign remedy against all diseases and viruses, and if you daub it on your boat hatch the Angel of Death will move on without stopping, probably.

A lot of the elderberries have already gone over, like this sad lot here.

But I'd spotted a few trees that were heavy with ripe fruit, two days ago when I cycled into Bath. So I went out with my bike and a carrier bag. I was only just in time.

Funny how some trees' fruit ripen sooner than others; so it can be green on one tree and fully ripe on the next one. It's like the conker trees that are ranked along the roads on the Bristol Downs where we used to live. When young K was much younger, we'd go out collecting conkers in her tricycle basket, and sometimes a tree would be so burdened with them that they'd rain down. "It's heavened with conkers," she remarked once as they showered down on us. It was like a slightly less perilous version of Gloucestershire Roulette, where you stand underneath a perry pear tree and hope not to get thumped on the bonce by a pear. Pear trees are tall, and pears are hard, right up until they're soft.

The two Bathampton ravens were cronking busily in the trees, then circled for a while watching me teetering on tiptoe to grab the elderberries.

The hairy willowherb's seed pods are splitting open to reveal the herringbone pattern of the seeds. Shame you can't see it particularly well in this picture, but they are rather nice to examine 

As the sun rose over the hill, the light came down into the valley, illuminating this little field and big tree and reminding me of RS Thomas' poem The Bright Field

The wild hops festoon the hedgerow here.

...and the Himalayan balsam is entirely unabashed at being an invasive foreigner. The seed pods explode when you touch them.

and suddenly all the hawthorn berries are ripe too

People talk about the slow pace of life on the canal. Here it is demonstrated; the reflections of the cows linger long after the cows have walked on.

The Old Man's Beard is flowering too. On frosty mornings it shines brilliantly in the sun, and is so plentiful along the Avon valley that it looks like a second May.

The sun reached me as I passed Warleigh, still peaceful this early in the morning. It gets heaving with daytrippers these days.

Passing Diggers, the boater community. Nearly home.


Home on Eve, and stripping the berries off the stalks. I made nearly two pints of syrup.



  1. 'heavened with conkers' x
    enjoyed the words and the photos and the ditchwitchery very much x

  2. I loved the picture of the cows and yes...inspiration to go and find my R S Thomas books. Thanks for a really wonderful blog Dru

  3. I love the picture of the cows, great! also thanks for sending me hunting for my RS Thomas...not read his stuff for ages. Thanks for a wonderful blog Dru.

    1. Thank you Jay! I'm sorry, but I only just found your comment in the 'awaiting moderation' section (I had to add comment moderation because I was getting spammed...)

  4. Lovely words, images and resonance. I love 'pears are hard right up until they are soft'
    My dad once remarked that 'you have to sit up all night with a pear'

    And 'heavened with conkers'...what a wonderful image!

    1. There's a great pear anecdote in Jane Grigson's Fruit Book, which unfortunately I lent to someone and can't remember who. Damn.