A free pick-your-own with beautiful views!
August is the season of long school holidays, easily bored children, sunshine a la Great British Summer, and bilberries. And bilberry picking is a free activity to do whenever you want. A local secret if you know where to find them and one where social distancing is easy to implement
These tiny purple berries (akin to a dwarf blueberry) are ripe and ready to pick at this time of year. They make for rich, jewel-coloured pies and muffins. And if you have the patience to pick enough, jam. I have northern roots so know these little berries as bilberries. But you may be more familiar with them as winberries, whimberries, whortleberries, blaeberries (if you live north of the Scottish border) or fraughan in Ireland.
Here in North Wales, bilberries tend to grow on mountain and moorland areas hidden amongst the bracken, heather and gorse. Being small, they do take a lot of picking and you need to collect lots to create a quorum for something tasty. But it is well worth the effort.
For my family, sunny August days make for good bilberry picking expeditions. Grab a rucksack, pack up a picnic and plenty to drink with some plastic boxes or bags. Boxes make for better storage because the berries don’t then get squashed to glory in your rucksack on the way home. We tend to head off to Conwy Mountain. Not only can you find lots of bilberry bushes here, it is a lovely local place for a walk and explore throughout the year.
In August, Conwy Mountain is a truly beautiful place. Purple heather and golden gorse are both in full flower, teeming with bees. It’s a gorgeous, colourful backdrop. And the gorse flower smells like butter. Take a moment to stop and listen, the whole mountain sounds as if it is quietly buzzing.
This is a low-cost, screen-free old fashioned trip out. And I will guarantee that once you find your first bilberry, you will be hooked on hunting them out. Almost every child loves bilberry picking, interspersed with games of hide and seek, rolling down hills and regular stops for drinks and snacks. Competition to see who can fill their box first will be strong and little fingers and lips stained with juice. Ironically, I find that little people who usually show great reluctance to tidy their bedrooms or help set the table suddenly develop an awesome work ethic as they scrabble to collect bilberries!
It’s a free pick-your-own with views. An adventure in its own right and one that will make memories and possible family traditions.
After you’ve picked your fill of bilberries, once the lockdown has eased, perhaps you could head off into Conwy for fish and chips or a visit to local ice cream makers Parisella’s. Or to Penmaenmawr or Llanfairfechan beach to build sandcastles on the firm golden sand and for tea and cake from beachside cafes. And then home to work out what you’re going to make from your bilberry hoard. An idea for next summer when the holidays seem to go on and on?