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Whinberry Picking – ‘A Cautionary Tale’

At the end of July, I decided to go whinberry picking. I had fortunately booked the hottest week of the year off work (more luck than judgement) and needed to get outdoors for some fresh air. I knew where to find them as we had been on a walk previously and spotted them just starting to bud.

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Off I headed toward Crompton Moor and Brushes Clough, one of our favourite local walks, which we enjoy in all seasons for its variation of wildlife and plants. It sure was a hot day and plenty of people were out and about near to the reservoir, playing with their dogs and even swimming – fabulous 😊

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I found the first batch no problem near to the reservoir and proceeded to start picking, listening to all the squeals and laughter from below. ‘Good to be out’ I thought to myself and worked my way along the bushes.

The best time to pick whinberries is between July and September, this can vary depending on which part of the country you are in. Whinberries have a variety of different names and spellings such as whinberries (northern England spelling), whimberries or whynberries. Other variations are blaeberries, bilberries, whortleberries or huckleberries (as in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn). The confusion in the variety of names has arisen as different regions have different names for the fruit and people thinking that it is therefore a different fruit, when in fact it is the same one!

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Other influences come from ‘folk’ names for the fruit from Finland and Scandinavia where they have been historically used and the translation of “blabaer” becoming “blueberry”. These little fruits are quite difficult to collect and you can end up with quite a lot of leaves as well. The also leave quite a heavy red stain on your fingers, but it is worth it for the flavour, which is a bit like a blueberry but with a deeper, richer flavour.

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It is also said to have various medical uses, being linked to helping night vision with the RAF pilots although this could have been carrots? Whinberries have been used throughout the ages for different eye treatments. The plant has also been used to treat various conditions such as chronic fatigue, gout, haemorroids, diabetes, UTI infections and osteoarthritis.

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Moving on, I then decided to venture higher up on a secluded track where I knew there were more whinberries. This had become quite overgrown with a lot of brambles as well. I fought my way through carefully as I was wearing shorts and found a lot more fruit, so managed to fill my bag even more. On reaching the top of the track I thought I would sit down and have another drink before descending back over the fields. The dense foliage cleared but unfortunately, I was brought to a full stop. In front of me in the clearing lyng on a towel was a naked man – luckily he was lying face down !,  ‘oh eck’ I thought what do I do now, should I say ‘excuse me’ or perhaps just tip- toe around him. He was rather a large framed chap so that probably would have been impossible. Make a decision quick I thought – mindful that I was alone in a quiet area and he was starkers! So, I hastily retreated back into the brambles and down the fill albeit abit too fast, cutting my legs in the process.

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I did safely get to the bottom, a bit sweaty and flustered and I definitely needed a drink now before setting off again!

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I got home with quite a large bag of whinberries but with lacerated legs and flopped into a chair. My daughter wanted to know why I was suffering with lacerations, so I explained my debacle. She howled with laughter and said I wasn’t safe to go out. She was probably right though, I can get myself into some pickles sometimes. She had been feeling a bit down though, so it cheered her up. She also made some fantastic little cakes with them, so it was worth it in the end 😊

Written by Cath Hebdon

I live in a small town called Shaw on the outskirts of Oldham.
I work as an Admin Officer for the NHS (Pennine Care)
My hobbies include Zumba, Yoga, Walking, Travelling and listening to music- I love live gigs !

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