It’s that time of year when raspberries and strawberries and now cherries are everywhere to be seen; growing on the bushes, fattening up under plastic tunnels, being sold at the side of the road or getting loaded onto lorries en route to supermarkets all over the UK. Here in East Scotland the smell of fruit is everywhere.
The ripening of the strawberries and raspberries signifies the arrival of students from all over Europe, particularly the Czech Republic and Poland. These young people come here in their hundreds to pick the berries, make some money to fund their studies and, of course, learn English. It’s common to see them hitch-hiking on their days off, heading to St Andrews or Edinburgh. I will always stop to give them a lift, a reminder of my student days in Ireland.
But it wasn’t always the foreign students who came to work in the berry picking. It’s not long ago since the berry pickers were much more local, coming from the nearest big town of Dundee or even as far away as Glasgow.
Then the pickers were usually mothers and their children who wanted to escape the smoke and busy streets of the industrial cities and come instead to holiday in the beautiful, fertile valley of Strathmore. They typically stayed in ramshackle huts provided by the farmers, spending the day picking berries and sitting around the campfires in the evening, singing songs and telling stories. The children would love the freedom of the countryside; school was finished for months and there was pocket money to be made by picking the berries.
The countryside around Alyth changes with the seasons as do the people who work, holiday and study here.