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Alex James: A timeless treasure buried in the woods

Rural Notebook

Running over open fields, up wooded hillsides, lost sometimes and not caring, I plunk plunked around another blind corner and there was a blackberry bush as big as a bus, festooned over some hidden banister of shrubbery, decorated with fruit, as festive as Christmas and about twice as delightful for being completely unexpected.

It was a magnificent spectacle. I'd hardly given blackberries a thought: I've been completely dissolved in a piece of music for the last two weeks. Ten minutes worth of elaborate adagio left room for little else in my mind but all of a sudden here I was at large in the woods, something I'd been dreading, exercise, but which I found myself enjoying more than I've enjoyed anything for a long time. Running free in exquisite solitude. My dad, who is fanatical about blackberries and always knows where the best ones are, had been on several sorties over the weekend, taking various children with him including the baby, who came back with a smiling purple face and sticky hands.

I've been blackberrying since I was a child but I've never seen a bush like this before: deep, deep in the woods. I never see anyone in those woods. Sometimes a dashing hare, a flashing deer, but no people. And there it was, in the deepening evening sun: the quintessential specimen of the most English of flora at its zenith. The leaves a shade of green seen nowhere outside English woodland: the black and red berries more colourful than anything at Chelsea, almost psychedelic. I had to stop because of the smell more than anything. I haven't smelled blackberries like that since I was 10 or 11. Heavenly. I stood ecstatic, beyond time. The woods seemed suddenly to be a kind of Tudor scenario. I stood there smiling, chewing blackberries, half expecting Henry VIII to ride around the corner

No sour grapes

I was actually on the look-out for puffball mushrooms as I bounced along the pathways but I still haven't seen a single one this year in any of the places where they usually come up. It's swings and roundabouts as usual, though. For the first time ever, the grapes on the vine in the back garden are edible: really quite fat and juicy. I'll be picking the pears by the time you read this, the last of the summer fruits. Best crop ever.

Wallop hits the mark

Of the 884 cheeses entered, supreme champion at the British Cheese Awards last weekend was taken by a blue cheese for the second year running: Quenby Hall stilton. Well worth grabbing when you see it. To my surprise and delight, Little Wallop, one of my goat's cheeses, won an award, too: best soft white (camembert type).