It’s so quiet, you could hear an apple drop.
All around us in Dragon Orchard, branches sag beneath the weight of fruit of various hues, waiting to be harvested before winter.
Cider farmer Norman Stanier pauses, then reads out an autumnal poem inspired by and written in the very spot in which we stand.
‘No one is certain how [the apples] decide the moment is ripe. They drop like eggs which do not break, which hold inside the seed of knowing when.’
A friend and I are exploring some of Herefordshire’s cider trails, devised to take you around the juiciest small-scale producers, historic pubs and other cider-related sites the county has to offer.
Perhaps ill-advisedly — given the number of tastings we stop off for — our mode of transport is the charming, retro Tilly, provided by local start-up It Takes 2 To Tandem (from £70 per day).
The poem, by award-winning Charles Bennett, brings to life the connection Norman has with his farm, which has been in his family for over a hundred years, and its surroundings.
But Dragon Orchard has also reinvented itself for the 21st century — as well as the poetry walk it offers ‘orchard bathing’ (a fresh take on forest bathing), movement in nature (including t’ai chi and yoga), music events and more, plus cosy accommodation in gorgeously constructed yurts (from £110pn).
It lies just off the Southern Herefordshire/Redstreak cider trail, close to the nearby Crown at Woolhope, a convivial pub serving superb Herefordshire produce.
We indulge in slow-cooked ox cheeks followed by a zingy damson and apple crumble accompanied by rhubarb cider, happy in the knowledge it will all be burned off by our exertions on Tilly.
From here we hop over to the new Porter’s Perfection trail for another tasting at the tantalisingly named Orgasmic Cider Company, a similar small-scale affair where you can taste the wares, tour the orchard and stay overnight in quirky style — the farmer, Steve, owns a gorgeously repurposed vintage railway carriage.
But our bed for the night is in the Cider Shack at Tŷ Gwyn further south on the trail, where former rocker Alex and his creative wife Laura have crafted a delightful ‘tiny house’ B&B with its own garden complete with a wooden outdoor bath, fire-pit and views of the Black Mountains (from £240 for two nights).
A couple of days a week, Alex opens his on-site cider shop as an impromptu pub for the community but you can also stock up on some of the cider at a special guest-only price to take home and, of course, enjoy in the Cider Shack of an evening, with sheep bleating in the next field, bats overhead and owls hooting all around.
Even if you think you’re not a cider fan, you may be surprised by what you find on your cider sleepover.
All these producers use traditional cider apples and add no water to their product, resulting in something a world away from commercial brands.
And, as we all know, an apple (drink) a day keeps the doctor away — so tonight I’m having several, just to be sure.
For more info, go to visitherefordshire.co.uk
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