Walter Raymond (1852-1931), wrote many popular books and articles for over 30 years, but today, sadly, he is almost forgotten, even in his beloved Somerset.
For sixteen years, Walter Raymond rented a cottage in Withypool, which he named ‘Hazelgrove-Plucknut’ in the many articles he wrote about the Exmoor village for national newspapers and periodicals and in the two much-loved books published in the early years of the last century – The Book of Simple Delights and The Book of Crafts and Character.
The following extract from The Book of Simple Delights, first published in 1906 and which ran for at least four editions, describes the gathering of whortle berries or ‘wurts‘ on the moor above the village on a warm summer day. The village children have just started their summer holidays and with three youngsters the author sets out to harvest some ‘wurts‘.
‘For the whortleberries – “wurts“ they called them, and even “hurts” – were turning purple-ripe on the moor, and the holidays had begun. Those summer holidays, that began on no fixed date, but were a removable festival, changing according to the season, so that the children might gather the wild harvest of the moorland. There were little more than a score though they made enough noise for a hundred as they ran down the village street.
‘I have an affection for this moorland village street. It is so far away, so quaint so old world.
‘It runs along the hill-side, with little by-ways up the incline, so that the houses stand one behind and above the other. But the squat embattle tower of the old grey church rears higher than them all.
‘Before each cottage is a slanting garden. Ranks of peas and tall scarlet runners, laden at the time with flowers, as well as files of broad beans with black bulging pods left too long without picking, run parallel with the path of flat stones from the front door to the hatch. There are tall hollyhocks, groups of blue monks-hood, and here and there a fuchsia bush, bearing tiny red flowers less than an inch in length.
‘All sorts of creepers clamber over the white-washed fronts and geraniums blind the downstair windows. There is a clothes-line, too, from which, when the air is drying, household clouts and wonderful garments of many hues and sizes flutter gaily in the wind. The faggot pile and dark brown stack of turves stand close by. The smoke that rises out of the chimneys is blue and has no smuts.
Down the valley, merrily humming around rocks and boulders, leaps the silver river; and above the woods and the enclosed fields that skirt its course, both before and behind the village, lies the broad moor where the whortleberries grow.
It is quite a little industry, this picking of “wurts,“ though it lasts only about three weeks. No other fruit possesses so unexpected a flavour. None gives so fine a blend of with the scald-cream, which is one of the most admirable institutions of the neighbourhood. So there is invariably a great demand. And when the crop is small, why, the price goes so much higher. We must all go “a-wurting.“ If not for trade, as a sort of picnic.
‘To Norton Moor we went.
‘We began with a mile of lane. But a glorious lane between walled banks with sheltering beech hedgerows high above. On either hand were bright green ferns and tall purple foxgloves, to which great bumble-bees paid visits, buzzing from flower to flower all up the tapering stem, and silent only went they crept in to drink. Wild strawberries, with deep crimson fruit, sprang from the crevices and hung ripening above the mossy stones. Wild raspberries, too, on Lillipution canes, drawing an ancestry, it may be, from bird-carried seed of a more cultured stock, flourished in profusion,
‘Out of the shady lane, by a narrow pathway up the slope, where bracken grows waist-high after the old heather has been burnt off, we climbed to the ridge of the open breezy moor. Masses of purple heather and the paler-coloured ling were in full flower: and growing amongst them, and intermingled everywhere, was the little dark green myrtle-shaped myrtle-shaped leaf, that half conceals a berry almost the size of a black-currant and covered with a thicker bloom than the wild sloe. Honey-bees were humming on all sides, and butterflies went flitting by in the sun. Upon the brown hill-side of the next ridge, where wild ponies were dotted about and here and there broke the even line against the sky, was passing the dark shadow of an August thundercloud.’
The Western Gazette in its obituary to Walter Raymond on 10 April 1931, wrote that he was; ‘A national writer who wrote about Somerset because he knew and loved the county. He made his readers feel and see the places and people they loved so well. He has been described as the“Thomas Hardy of Somerset.“