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The Secret Gardens

Turn back the clock to Cromarty in the 50’s; still austere times.

To supplement weekly housekeeping and pocket money, housewives and their children found little jobs to do. One of these such jobs was berry picking. For several weeks during the summer, a procession of mothers and children, grannies and grandchildren, made the short journey to the end of town. In the massively high wall, almost hidden from view, there was a little door through which we would all traipse. On gaining entry, we were faced with hundreds of strawberry plants, their juicy red fruits beckoning, almost teasing us to throw ourselves on the ground and eat at will! It was very difficult not to succumb, and many of the younger children spent the day with their faces covered in red juice. But this was work; the strawberries were picked, and at the end of each day we brought our pickings into the old East Church Hall where the fruits were weighed. Names were written down in the little book.

When the strawberries were all picked, it was time for the raspberries. These were found in a huge field, accessed through the grounds of Cromarty House. We had a system of tying a basket round our necks, putting in a couple of empty punnets, and walking up and down the ‘dreels’, picking the fruit from the bushes. At the end of each day, the punnets were taken into the shed and weighed. Our names were noted against the number of punnets picked.

When the season was done, we waited until we got the knock on the door from the Laird, who personally paid us our wages. What excitement when we ripped open the envelopes to see half-crowns tumbling out! Berry picking was a regular activity in Cromarty, enjoyed by children and adults alike. The camaraderie was exceptional, and we all got on with each other.

But these were no secret gardens; they were working gardens. The work was provided by the Laird, who paid us fair prices for our labours.