A cider-soaked jaunt through the West Country's orchards

Article from Daily Mail.

There's been cider made in Somerset ever since the Normans brought it here, and while it's hard to miss the gorgeous, boozy waft that cider farms give off, you can also track them down on the Visit Somerset website.

It gives a list of some 20 cider-makers who not only welcome visitors, but often give them free samples, too. This being the harvest season, the time could not be riper for an all-out assault on the apple orchards, and there's no better place to set up campaign HQ than the eccentric, hilltop mansion that is the Beryl boutique B&B, all antiques and four-poster beds, strategically located in the Mendips, near Wells.

Picking apples at a cider farm

From here, you are within striking distance of a dozen different cider farms. Some have got big, brown official signs pointing you in their direction, like the handsomely straw-thatched complex-with-tea-rooms that is Perry's Cider Mills, in pretty Dowlish Wake. Others, like Parsonage Farm at West Lyng (signature brew Parson's Choice), are more informal, father-and-daughter affairs.

Practically all are family-run, and have been for more than a century; at Thatchers Cider, Sandford, they're the fourth generation; at Hecks Farmhouse Cider, Street, the sixth. As a little boy, David Sheppy, who runs Sheppy's Cider Farm, at Bradford-on-Tone, used to sell cider with his mum from a roadside shed.

'English cider has a tradition every bit as deep-rooted as French  wine-making,' declares Julian Temperley, who owns Burrow Hill Farm, in Kingsbury Episcopi.

His apple-spattered clothes belie the fact that his daughter is Alice Temperley, dressmaker-to-the Duchess of Cambridge. You pick up the cider language, too. The apple varieties all have atmospherically ancient names (Lambrook Pippin, Fair Maid of Taunton, Slack-Ma-Girdle), though when you go out into the orchards you see that they are not picked by hand from the trees, but scooped up from the ground by mini-tractors.

Once the fruit has been ferried back to the farm, you can watch the apples being wrapped in coarse cloths known as 'hairs' (they originally used horsehair), then stacked on wooden boards in layers, to form a 'cheese'.

Next, the juice is squeezed out, and the dried pulp, or 'pomace' fed to the local livestock. The liquid is then left to mature in barrels as big as windmills. At Richs Cider Farm, in Watchfield, a pair of oak vats holds 10,000 and 6,000 gallons apeice.

At the larger, more modern farms, shiny new stainless steel towers are taking over, but there are still plenty of rustic, often rusting, old agricultural implements on display, and rickety, old wooden wagons that used to ferry the agricultural workers to and from the fields.

Speaking of which, it's a good idea to get a non-drinker to take the wheel for the journey home.



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Country Focus
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Programme serving people living in the countryside, including blessing the tree for a good harvest and preserving old Welsh varieties of apples and pear trees.

...and we invite you to join us! Within the walls of Caldicot Castle, we bring together producers from across Wales to showcase the craft of cider making. Come for a day, stay for the weekend.