Socially-distanced strawberry-picking – a lockdown experience!

I’ve been going fruit-picking at Kenyon Hall Farm for many years.  The people there are wonderful.  One year, I very stupidly decided to go on a boiling hot day, straight after blood donation, left my bottle of water in the car, and started feeling faint whilst waiting in the long queue to pay.  The lovely owner sat me down, got me a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits, and waited with me until I felt better.

I used to go fruit-picking every year, as a child.  There was a fruit farm not far from where my maternal grandparents lived, and we used to go there with them.  But, over the years, a lot of “pick your own” fruit farms have closed … so I was delighted when I came across Kenyon Hall.  When I first started going there, they just had the fields and a polytunnel.  I’ve seen them build a café and a farm shop, put in extra polytunnels as a plant centre, and even put in a kids’ playground.  It’s quite a North West institution now: people from Manchester to Liverpool go every year to pick berries in the summer and pumpkins in the autumn.  Running a fruit farm at the mercy of the Great British Weather isn’t always easy, and, even just over the last few years, we’ve had gales, heavy snow in March, floods, heatwaves and droughts, but they always manage to produce fruit for us to pick even so!

Normally, I just turn up at 9 o’clock on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and off to the strawberry fields or raspberry canes I go.  It’s amazing.  You’re very close to both the East Lancs Road and the M6 there, but it feels like being right out in the country: it always makes me feel as if I’ve been transported into an Enid Blyton summer holiday book.

But, this year, the coronavirus pandemic struck.  At first, we didn’t even know if we’d be able to go fruit-picking at all.  The website kept saying that the fruit was coming along, and that they hoped that they’d be able to open, but we just didn’t know.  However, thankfully, restrictions were eased before we got into the swing of strawberry season.  I think I’ve been in July before, but strawberries really ought to be picked in June.  It just goes.  Because June goes with Wimbledon … even though Wimbledon’s now almost entirely in July, since the decision (which I had been saying needed taking for years!) to make the grass court season a week later was taken.  There’s no Wimbledon this year 😦 .  This crazy year when, on the Saturday before Wimbledon should be starting, United are playing in an FA Cup quarter final.  But there are still strawberries.

However, there’s also social distancing.  So, as with a lot of other things at the moment, you have to book a slot for fruit-picking.  And how manic has it been?  I don’t think anyone anticipated what it would be like!   It’s always popular, but, with most kids still off school, and now having been off school for over 3 months and being very bored, and a surprising number of adults still off work, it seems as if everyone wants to go fruit-picking!  And, quite apart from the social distancing issue, it’s still relatively early in the season and there just aren’t enough strawberries to meet demand.  I sort of have it my head that the fields magically replenish themselves overnight, so that, after a day’s picking, there’ll be a load of new strawberries there in the morning!   But, er, it doesn’t work like that.  500 tickets were released this Monday for this Wednesday, and they were snapped up within 20 minutes!

I’d hoped to go on Saturday or Sunday morning.  Given that the weather’s broken with a vengeance, it’s a jolly good job that that plan didn’t work out!   I checked the website every 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon … and saw that, wa-hay, to give extra slots, they were now opening until 7pm!  Previously, the last slot’d been 3:45pm.  So I could go on a weekday.  There were evening slots for Thursday.  I grabbed one, quick!

I don’t often strike lucky, but, this time, I did.  It’d been a boiling hot day, but it’d cooled down a bit by half 5 … and the hot, dry weather meant that the field was dusty, not muddy, so I could kneel down rather than having to keep bending over!    I filled my four punnets, and the little punnet that you got included with the booking price, and I smiled all the way through.  What a lovely, lovely evening.  And what lovely, lovely strawberries!  And they do always taste that bit better when you’ve picked them yourself!

Thank you so much, Kenyon Hall.  You’re bringing a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.  You always do, but it’s appreciated all the more in this very difficult year.   I just wish that I could wave a magic wand so that the field would magically replenish itself every night!  All being well,  I’ll be back when the raspberries come!   In the meantime, I shall eat some more of these lovely strawberries.