Sharp Flavours

There have been hints of it for a few weeks now and there is no longer any doubt – autumn is well and truly upon us. But this is not the leafcrunching misty morning autumn of mellow fruitfulness, of the kind that is generally accompanied by achingly bittersweet pangs for the passing of time – instead it is the train running late wet Monday morning kind of autumn. Dank, grey and, frankly, a bit rubbish.

The office provides little in the way of solace, so I grab my coat and head off to the Sanctuary. The drizzle is easing off as I open the gate – and the first thing I see is the kingfisher. Perched on a reed not ten yards away, it is motionless, watching – then an explosion of movement, a splash and burst of colour and it is away, a flash of silver in its beak. Lunchtime for him. Kingfisher aside, and a few daft woodpigeons, there isn’t much in the way of fauna – the weather has forced everybody else inside. No matter – I have just happened across brambles, bearing the most enormous blackberries. Time to indulge! This is one the perks of the Sanctuary – nobody comes here, and the fruit is largely untouched. Earlier in the summer it is plums – there are several mirabelle trees to be found. Today it is blackberries and, hopefully, apples from the tree in the corner.

The brambles are heavy with fruit, but a squirrel starts grumbling somewhere above my head and I move on. I get to the apple tree to find that the fruit has mostly fallen and, rotting, it is lying thick on the ground. Instead, I walk to the next thicket of thorns – the berries here are not quite so big, or so sweet, but I tuck in all the same. Each one a little miracle of sharp flavour, I could happily stand here all day.

Treading carefully, I edge round the corner so that I can see if there is anything interesting on the water. There is! A heron and kingfisher are both staring intently – the latter perched on a branch above the heron’s head. Does the heron know that she has a rival? Are they watching the same fish? But here is the curious thing – the water is thick with algae! What are they looking at? Surely they can’t see the fish underneath?

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The kingfisher soon answers that question – he dives into the green murk and retires to a branch with a large fish. He sits there awhile, flipping and jerking his head as he tries to swallow the stubborn prey. This is no easy business, and I wonder if in fact the fish has been speared by the bird’s beak – it seems to be stuck. Eventually the fish is manipulated and manoeuvred into place. One last flick and down the gullet it goes.

Time for me to get back – this side is more sheltered and, despite the rain, the woodland floor has remained dry. The first of this year’s leaves have fallen, and I crunch my way home happily. Having, of course, paused for a few more blackberries.

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