IT’S a very special day in Melplash: the opening of a new cider apple orchard.
A dedicated band of pomologists have spent years hunting down long-lost varieties of fruit from hidden corners of the county, in the Dorset Apple Tree Analysis project. Trees were identified during solemn apple-tasting sessions at West Milton Cider Club, and cuttings taken to expert nurseries in Herefordshire for careful grafting. Today, scores of serious cider-drinkers have turned up to bear witness to the triumphant return of our forgotten strains of cider apples.
Newly-turned earth is warm, wet, welcoming.
The Dorset flag flutters over the freshly-dug field.
Cider is mulling in the village hall.
Tickets are on sale for the Powerstock Cider Festival.
And to our joy, we get our hands on our very own tree, the king of Dorset cider apples, the Netherbury Golden Ball. (Apparently not the first choice for making single variety cider, as its sweetness turns somewhat sharper as the cider becomes drier, but we can blend with something like a Dabinet apple for a tip-top homemade brew.)
On land owned by Rupert Best, whose orchards keep local cider drinkers in apples, the new Linden Lea Orchard – named after the William Barnes poem – has been planted with 60 trees. There’s a great sense of ceremony: Mr Best says a few words, as does Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, Valerie Pitt-Rivers. A little person digs with gusto.
John Worle, of the John Worle nursery in Hereford, gives a talk on how to plant a cider apple tree. To my great joy, I find out ours will bear fruit next July.
I buy a copy of Growing Cider Apples: A guide to good orchard practice, and am thrilled to get it signed by the author – and top pomologist – Liz Copas.
Then, we head off to Mangerton Mill for lunch (alas, it won’t open till next month).
But we do manage to make the acquaintance of some geese…
…and even a pair of Mandarin ducks that flew in last year, and decided to stay…
…and no wonder, with such a beautiful lake to swim in! Clever ducks.