October 1st - One of the relatively unsung heroes of the hedgerow is Hawthorn, or May. It’s dark red fruit - haws - are maturing well now. Full of goodness, they stay in good condition on the branches and provide sustenance for the birds in the darkest depths of winter, when softer, more palatable fruits like blackberries have long gone Just like they will with garden Cotoneasters, blackbirds will defend a laden bush at all costs against other birds, and haws are bitter enough to only be eaten out of desperation.
Hawthorn is the mainstay of most rural hedging, and populates a lot of woodland. It really is the stalwart of the great British hedgerow.
August 20th - another fruit that’s set to be in abundance this autumn are haws, the berries of the hawthorn. Bright red, bitter and woody, they’re not toxic and can make decent jams and wines; but to me, their primary purpose is to provide sustenance for the birds, who flock for their goodness in winter. At the moment, these copious tiny berries are orange-green, and these fine examples were spotted in the hedgerow at Green Lane.
Enough sun and they’ll be pillar-box red, another fine sight and indicator of the passing year.
April 15th - Green shoots. Nature got fed up of waiting, and kicked the season’s arse. And… we’re off. Magical.
March 3rd - This is what happens when you ignore your gut feelings. This clumsy photo is my gloved had, turning a bike tyre inside out to show a hawthorn spine pushed right through it. Miraculously, it hadn’t yet caused a flat. I was very lucky.
I’ve been fettling the bike a lot lately, and fitted new tyres I bought last year. I thought them to be my favourite tyre - Schwalbe Marathon Plus. They are tough as old boots, and very resistant to thorns and other nasties. When I unwrapped the tyres, they were just normal Marathons - a lighter weight tyre without the tough protection. Not wanting to waste the purchase, I fitted the skinnier tyres. I rode them for a week, thinking they were OK.
Yesterday, I had two rear-wheel punctures on the canal towpath near Hopwas, both caused by Hawthorn, the curse of towpath cycling. As I came home, I developed a third slow puncture, and resolved to change back to a pair of Marathon Plus tyres when I could next day.
As I came to do the swap tonight, I found the front tyre - which had been OK - had a 7mm thorn through, waiting to pop the inner tube.
Schwalbe Marathon Plus are excellent. Marathons are a good tyre, but they’re just not up to towpath use, as I knew when I fitted them. Sometimes it’s best to listen to your instincts.
December 5th - It was cold today, and I felt it. Winter has me in it’s grip now, and the mornings are bright, icy and clear; the evenings dark, damp and very, very chilly. Today, as I came home through Walsall Wood, I passed the Drunken Duck pub, one of the oldest in the village. Various renamed The Hawthorn and Tipplers, this house has been a stable fixture of Walsall Wood Life for over a century, and still seems popular. With the warm-looking lights on this cold winter night, it’s hard to resist parking up the bike and popping in…
September 20th - A busy, draining day. I had urgent and unexpected stuff to attend to in Redditch, so headed out early. Expecting a quiet journey, it was horrid, and the task I had to undertake didn’t go smoothly either. At 11:30am, I left Redditch and had to go to Tyseley, so to get a bit of perspective I cycled up the Arrow Valley cycle route back to Redditch Station. It’s interesting how, even in this most unusual of years, some things have prospered. One of those things is hawthorn. Everywhere I go, hedgerows and trees are laden with deep red berries. Some say this is the sign of nature preparing for a hard winter.
The fruits themselves are edible but quite bland, and not actually berries at all; they are pomes, the same structure and type of fruit as apples. Haws are said to have health and fertility promoting properties, and can be used to make wine or jams. Birds love them, and will survive on this plentiful, sugar-laden bounty during the long months of winter.
July 10th - This is a terrible photo, but illustrates something that always comes as a shock. The first vanguard of the fruiting season are the formation of haws on the hawthorn hedges and thickets. These hard, bitter berries will take the rest of the summer to ripen, before being eaten by the birds over winter. The sight of these fruits swelling and turning crimson is a harbinger of autumn to me, and a sign of the seasons’s passage. Together with the rain, this did not make for a terribly uplifting ride home…