The Cuckoo this year has been well on song and has apparently been paying heed to the old poem: The cuckoo comes in April, Sings his song in May,
Changes tune in the middle of June, and then he flies away.
We heard the first notes on April 24th, my Granny's birthday anniversary. She was always delighted if that was when the cuckoo made its appearance. We have heard the call every day since and noted the tune has made a distinct change. The 'oo' at the end of the 'cuck' is now an 'oo-oo' with a distinct uplift of the final 'oo'. It's probably on Youtube but for us it means the solstice is approaching.
Late April and early May saw a very good strong blossom and it was well timed for this year's Big Apple Blossomtime weekend over the May Day Bank Holiday. However the cooler temperatures since have meant that there is not a huge set. Perhaps just as well as a heavy crop might have needed thinning if they had all come to fruition. Note the precise meaning of the word in this context!
One thing that did come to fruition was the display in Putley Parish Hall of a set of portraits of local cidermakers painted by Jean Nowell, artist and perry maker extraordinaire. Jean spent time with them all in their natural habitat, took photos and made sketches before creating the large portraits. These were 'curated', as I like to call it, by Hugh and myself hanging them from the hall roof supports. So displayed, the cidermakers were looking down on their drinks arrayed on the tables below. Jean presided over a reception on Sunday evening with her typical modesty and erudite wit. The portraits may well go on display again elsewhere.
The middle weekend in May, when the Michelin cider trees behind the Big Hug were shouting their loudest, was the time when my godson Ben Godsall celebrated marrying his fiancé Helen Meredith at Dragon Orchard. The official legal bit had been held the previous Tuesday in St Faith's Chapel at Westminster Abbey, where Ben's father (one of my oldest friends) has been doing some part-time work. He is a priest would you believe. However Ben and Helen very much wanted their main celebration to be held here and 180 guests enjoyed a fantastic event with Weston's Shire horses and dray bringing the bridal party to the orchard. There were shotguns and blossom and many sides of beef and copious amounts of Once Upon A Tree drinks to wash it down. Ben and Helen have just completed doctorates at London Zoo, so had a quite a collection of conservation friends who delighted in the orchard setting and the shire ambience.
This week Annie and I are conducting a couple of Putley based walks for the Herefordshire Walking Festival. We will be celebrating the Herefordshire Pomona with a stroll around the parish exploring the links between Gladstone's Balance of Payments deficit in the 1870's, the Woolhope Club and my great Grandfather. Later in the week we are wandering over to The Wonder landslip site. We shall be sampling the Chapel Pleck sparkling perry, the Wonder dessert pear wine and the draught cider Tumpy Ground – all linked to the 1575 landslip. Now that really is what passes for a good time round here!
There will also be a summer solstice celebration in the orchard organised by walking artist Jess Allen. This will mark the end of her 'Trans-missions' walk following the power lines right across
Herefordshire and concluding here with the June 21st event. See www.trans-missions.org.uk
We have just been to the Three Counties Show and done a day on the cider stand at Malvern. It still retains its local agricultural flavour and it very much provides an opportunity for the coming together of the Farming Community to 'show and tell'. However we have also visited the Bath and West Show near Shepton Mallet a couple of weeks ago. A first for us and well worth the trip as we were able to pick up a cup. It is the largest Cider & Perry Competition and Simon had entered a number of classes. I was delighted to receive the trophy from Lord King for our Chapel Pleck, awarded the Champion Perry.
Our neighbours Brian and Fran Robbins collected an award for the Best Single Variety Cider for their Yarlington Mill and Tom Oliver received a well deserved Lifetime Award. So Herefordshire brought some prestigious prizes away from Somerset, where they seem to believe the best cider is made! [We also had first place in sweet cider & gold award for our Blenheim Superb, although we didn't realise until a few weeks after! - Simon].
Harry was my great Grandfather who spent most of his working life planting up and managing the Putley Court Estate for Squire John Riley at the end of the 1800s. Recently we have been discussing the creation of a range of less alcoholic ciders to sell as a draught and also carbonated in 50cl bottles. Simon has just released the Harry Taylor range which includes the medium cider Thrown Hat and the dry cider Crooked Branch. The label quotes Harry saying, "If an apple tree is pruned well, you can throw your hat through it' and continues ' Harry's descendants are still here, throwing hats and growing fantastic fruit – with quality that is evident to the very last drop! So hats off to you Harry!'
Anna Beck 1946-2015
I first met Anna at a rugby match at Twickenham in the early 70s, having become friends with Roger during our teaching practice at Devonport High School in Plymouth. We not only remained firm friends from then on but they became fantastic supporters of Dragon Orchard. Anna, as a Management Consultant supplied wonderful advice for both the orchard and Wallwalkers over the years. Whenever we were musing on what to do, Anna was always available with wise counsel. We saw her just a few weeks before she died and even though she was in some discomfort, she remained keenly interested in everything that was going on.
Her Memorial Service was held in a wonderful woodland setting near Christchurch and fittingly the rain that had been heavy all morning relented and the sun shone as we sent her on her way.