The Woolpack

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One of our favourite itineraries - walk the Laurie Lee trail, followed by lunch at The Woolpack, and then pay one’s respects at Lee’s simple gravestone in the church bang opposite the pub.

The Laurie Lee Wildlife Way is a 5 mile walk through the achingly beautiful Slad Valley, up some heart-pumpingly steep slopes, down some knee-testing descents, over grasslands and through woods - the best of England. Lee’s poetry makes its appearance on 10 posts along the way, so by the time The Woolpack comes into view 2 - 3 hours later, one is invigorated mentally as well as physically and in need of a pint (sometimes there’s Bushel+Peck cider or perry available).

The Woolpack itself is, in some ways, a perfect pub. First and foremost, it retains that key element which all pubs should have - it still feels like a place in which to drink and in which locals do drink. But it also does what pubs now need to do in order to survive and that is provide great food for people passing through. The Woolpack manages to do both brilliantly.

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And when the sun shines and it’s crowded there’s a terrace on which to relax, overlooking the valley. Suggest you visit - it’s GL7 6QA if you use SatNav rather than an old fashioned map and if you use an old fashioned map the Slad Valley is north of Stroud, Gloucestershire.

So there you have it. And thank you if you’ve read this far.

Winchcombe: gained an "e" but lost its orchards

In 1921, Winchcomb (as it was spelled then) must have been a riot of blossom at this time of year, with orchards straddling the main roads into the town and peppering the surrounding countryside.

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Not so now. There remain the relics of just 4 old orchards, one of which is under threat of being submerged beneath 5 Executive Style Homes (not what the Town wants or needs).

Some of this loss was inevitable; the population of Great Britain has increased by 50% since 1921, from 44 to 66 million. More people living longer need more homes in which to live and the majority of the orchards lost around Winchcomb have been lost to new housing. That’s the price of development, of change, of progress. Of course, not all the old fruit trees have been lost. Some legacy trees can still be seen in back gardens; we gather pears from one such (particularly productive) perry pear tree, from a garden in what was land parcel 375, 2.682 acres in size, to the north of the town. But isolated legacy trees have nowhere near the same visual appeal or habitat value as several or many trees gathered together in an orchard.

What’s more striking to an orchardist (which is what we call ourselves when we’re not making cider) is the loss of the orchards to the east of the River Isbourne (the only river in England, we’ve been told, that flows northwards, in that its mouth is north of its source). None of this land has been developed (yet), it’s still all farmland and open countryside and yet all the orchards, bar one, have gone. The nation’s agricultural policies in the 1960s and 1970s saw to that.

It’s this loss that partly inspired us to start making cider in the way that we do, using only unsprayed apples from gardens and traditional orchards in Gloucestershire, our home county. It’s not the easiest or the cheapest way to make cider, but it is helping to save some of the remaining traditional orchards in the county.

Local history

When and how did Winchcombe gain its “e”? Was this a deliberate decision, made by the Town Council, after a public consultation, serious debate and a formal motion, proposed, seconded and approved whilst in session? Or was this a result of a sign-writer adding an “e” by mistake when placing a new sign on the edge of town?

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And when did Duck Street become Vineyard Street, and Chapel lane become Cowl Lane? And why? What happened to the town’s swimming baths, and outdoor affair in a meander of the Beesmore Brook (dangerously close to the sewage tanks)? With England’s propensity to record everything properly the answers, no doubt, can be found within the Town or County archives, if one had the time. We, however, have cider to make and orchards to save.

So there you have it. And if you’ve read this far, thank you.


The Champagne Method??

Sir Kenelm Digby, painted by Anthony van Dyck, 1640

Sir Kenelm Digby, painted by Anthony van Dyck, 1640

La Méthode Champenoise didn’t originate in the Champagne region of France. It comes from Gloucestershire. Obviously.

In the early 17th century, the fuel used to make glass was wood but excessive destruction of woodland led James I to issue a proclamation in 1615 prohibiting its use in glassworks. As a result, experiments using coal began in earnest. Initially, the resulting glass was very dark, almost black, as a result of the sulphur content of coal - not ideal for windows but not such a problem for bottles. The process was improved, including the use of chimneys to improve the draught, which removed the sulphurous fumes more quickly. Where the experiments were successful, the higher temperatures achieved using coal produced stronger bottles made from this thick, dark glass. In 1632, Sir Kenelm Digby was awarded a patent, when it was accepted that the bottles were the result of a new process. Sir Kenelm did his experiments in London, but the process was implemented and fine-tuned in the glassworks in Newnham, Gloucestershire.

The Civil War then intervened and disturbed things somewhat, including the destruction of the Newnham glassworks. However, every cloud has a silver lining. Up until then, cider was the drink of the cider-making counties … but not elsewhere. As a result of the war, troops and officers from elsewhere in the country came across cider as they marched up and down through cider-country - and, of course, it made an impact. After the war, the former soldiers wanted to maintain their newly acquired cider habit and so shipments of cider and perry to other parts of the country began in earnest. Generally, cider would be shipped in barrels but some was shipped in the new glass bottles and, being stronger, they didn’t explode. Also, it was noted that the quality of cider in glass bottles improved, a result of secondary fermentation and the product developing a softly sparkling quality. Glassworks in cider-country proliferated as more and more cider was shipped around the country in glass bottles; by the end of the century, 18 of 39 glassworks in England were located in cider-land (if one includes Stourbridge as being in cider-land).

The glassmaking industry migrated from the Forest of Dean towards Bristol, a significant trading port, and “English glass bottles” were shipped from there to all over the world; North America, Europe … and the Champagne region of France. At the same time, cider-makers began to manage the secondary fermentation by adding a little sugar to the product before bottling and corking it. In 1662, all of this was noted by a founder member of The Royal Society, Dr. Christopher Merrett of Winchcombe, Gloucestershire (where we so happen to live). And so the process now referred to as the Méthode Champenoise was developed and recorded, made possible only by the new tougher glass (verre anglais) and the ingenuity of English cider- and perry-makers.

Long before Dom Pérignon emerged from his Benedictine monastery in Hautvillers.

But, to avoid any suspicion of unpleasant and over-exuberant patriotism in which we will play no part, let it be noted that the first record of sparkling wine predates the work of Sir Kenelm Digby and Dr. Christopher Merrett by 100 years; Blanquette de Limoux was developed by Benedictine monks in the Abbaye de Saint Hilaire, near Carcassonne, in 1531.

So, there you have it. And if you’ve read this far, thank you.

Acknowledgement to Jim Chapman of Hartpury Heritage Trust and Treasurer of the Gloucestershire Orchard Trust. For the full and complete story, read Orchards… those other industries, by Jim Chapman, published by The Hartpury Heritage Trust, Gloucestershire, May 2016.







The particularly peculiar planting patterns of perry pears ...

The detailed answer to our little question on our Instagram page …

There were, perhaps, 5 possible reasons we planted the perry pears in the way we did.

It could have been randomly. It wasn’t.

It could have been done in alphabetical order. It wasn’t (obviously).

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It could have been done to take account of the geography of the orchard. It wasn’t. (More on this in another blog, if there’s sufficient demand.)

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It could have been done, as our lone entrant suggested, in the order in which blossom appears on each tree, to assist with pollination. This is a very sensible way in which to plant fruit trees, particularly in a domestic setting or in a small orchard and several of the orchards we’ve planted have been arranged in this pattern, for a very good reason. Most apples and pears are not self-fertile (and those that are grow more fruit where cross-pollination can take place) and the vast majority of apples and pears are self-sterile - they cannot pollinate themselves. They therefore need to be pollinated by another tree of the same Genus (apple pollinating apple, pear pollinating pear) but of a different Variety … a Court Pendu Plat apple will not pollinate another Court Pendu Plat apple (we are forever delighted by the names of apples). And to improve the chance of pollination it’s advantageous to plant trees that will be in blossom at the same time close together, so the bees and hoverflies can easily hop from the flowers of one tree to the flowers of the next. For this reason, fruit trees are classed into 5 categories, A to E (imaginatively), with those in Group A flowering earliest and those in Group E flowering latest. So, plant trees in Group A close to other Group A or Group B trees, but not trees in Groups C, D or E as these won’t be in flower at the same time.

It could have been done in the order of pollination … but it wasn’t.

It was planted in the order in which the fruit ripens. The orchard is on a working farm and the pears are harvested to make perry. The fruit that ripens earliest has been planted closest to the farm, so that it can be harvested and taken to the barn for milling and pressing with no danger of damaging or disturbing later fruiting varieties; the route to later fruiting varieties will then be past trees that have already been harvested. This planting pattern also minimises damage to the land caused by tractors and trailers (apparently).

But why does the pollination pattern not matter in such an orchard? Well, in large orchards such as this there are generally plenty of trees of all pollination groups dotted around, so it doesn’t matter as much as it would in a garden with just 2 or 3 trees, where getting the pollination groups right is essential.

So, there you have it. And if you’ve read this far, thank you.

Dog therapy

At this time of year it seems as though every cider-maker - including us, we hasten to add - is posting pictures of beautiful blossom in peaceful orchards, so to ring the changes we thought we’d post something about Pippi the Dog.

Scanning for pheasants …

Scanning for pheasants …

For the first time ever in her 8 years of joyous, enthusiastic, tail-wagging life Pippi underwent the trauma of a professional grooming session today. She was beginning to look like a ridiculously fluffy teddy-bear rather than a self-respecting cocker spaniel so she was subjected to the clippers, but as a reward (and to assuage our guilt) we took her on a long walk to an orchard afterwards, her to chase pheasants, us to unwind.

For both canine and hominid, orchards are therapeutic places. Whether one is steadfastly and repetitively picking apples by hand or doing restorative pruning on a grand old tree, it’s not difficult to forget one’s woes, feel one’s pulse slow down and blood pressure drop. Although man-made, traditional orchards are in many ways the perfect example of man and nature working in harmony. The planting of fruit trees is a commitment to the land, in the way that the planting of an annual crop just isn’t. With careful and considerate management, orchards become havens of biodiversity and provide all sorts of valuable habitats in which the natural world can thrive and in return, year after year, mother nature will provide an abundant crop.

Running one’s own business can be a lonely affair. It seems there’s both a need for and a general expectation of exuberance and confidence, but there are times when one loses sight of successes and achievements, when a minor disappointment becomes a tsunami of doubt. Today was NOT such a day for us, but a chance remark gave us cause to reflect on how fortunate we are to be able to call orchards our place of work, where we can re-balance and regain perspective. And orchards are, for the most part, places which Pippi the Dog can also enjoy, and her waggy tail also has a remarkable ability to cheer everyone up. Pictures of blossom will return soon.

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