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