Apple Harvest – Welton Village – Northamptonshire
I recently spent a wonderful weekend helping with the October harvest of cider apples picking the autumnal fruit with over fifty adults, children and dogs in the small Northamptonshire village of Welton. The orchard belongs to the Malvern family of the village which is located 2.6 miles (4.2 km) north of the town of Daventry.
When I arrived I was greeted by the owner John Malvern and I was soon walking across a couple of steep open fields down to the orchards containing over 1,000 apple trees.The trees are idyllically situated on southeast facing hills which slope steeply down to a valley known as the Vale of Welton and two unexpected but picturesque ponds.
It was a beautiful dry day so I started apple picking with much enthusiasm. I didn`t need any equipment to pick apples apart from a pair of old gardening gloves and a hat to protect the top of my head from the warm sun. I soon discovered that many of the apple trees are quite tall so I was very quickly forced to shake the apples from their high boughs after picking clean the lower branches. Standing under a tree shaking the trunk violently was a dangerous exploit with apples raining down all around me including on to my head, back and shoulders. The hat certainly helped protect the top of my head from some very hard apples!
Once down on the ground of course I would then have to bend down to collect up all of the `windfalls` for storage in the large blue plastic containers. Apple picking can be back breaking work and after a short time I also began to feel a slight strain in my neck muscles as I was spending so much time looking up into the trees. I called it `Apple neck`. I also wished I had chosen to wear wellington boots as the early morning dew on the grasses surrounding the trees soon saturated my shoes and socks.Soggy feet is not a comfortable position in which to pick apples!
As the morning wore on many more villagers joined the `apple picking` with children gleefully picking up the apples off the ground and several well behaved family dogs tearing around the trees chasing each other fully enjoying the freedom of the outdoor spaces. Although everyone was involved in completing a level of physical effort there was a festival atmosphere with the sound of laughter and the hum of conversations swirling around the trees.Everyone appeared to be having a good time enjoying the company of others and contributing to the village harvest.
I was surprised to find some apple varieties growing very tightly together on a single stem and that I could fill several large containers with the apples off just one tree! There were a lot of apples to be picked from a single tree and some required large poles to dislodge stubborn apples from the higher branches if they still refused to fall after a determined shake!
I found it comforting to see that so many people had chosen to give up a large part of their precious weekend to help bring in the apple harvest for no monetary reward but for the satisfaction of helping with the annual harvest and a few bottles of last year`s vintage cider for their efforts.
At lunch time the pickers gathered in what I called The Retreat and were provided with hot dogs and water or if you preferred you could indulge in a little of the orchards much stronger produce – the cider. I am not a regular cider drinker so I opted for a cool bottle of fizzy mineral water to satisfy my thirst. It was a wonderful community occasion and I spoke to many of the pickers who return every year with their family members to celebrate the event together.
Taking part in the apple harvest also reminded me of a poem I had studied many years ago by the American poet Robert Frost titled `After Apple Picking`. In the poem Frost recalls a day he had spent picking apples on a ladder. As he begins to fall asleep he starts to dream of the apples he has picked in front of his eyes and can still feel the pressure of the ladder on the bottom of his foot and the “swaying” of the branches of the tree.
I didn’t dream of apples that weekend but I did come away from those couple of days `apple picking` happy in the knowledge that in many small villages across England other close knit communities were probably doing the same thing. Sharing in and celebrating the harvest together as a community.
The easy going and very knowledgeable John Malvern and his family have been making cider in their family-run cider works overlooking the rolling Northamptonshire hills for over sixteen years. The first apple trees were planted in 2004 with the help of a local poacher. John produced the original 7.2% `Poachers` cider – and named it in honour of the `poacher` who had helped him plant those first orchards. Apparently the local gentleman in question is quite rightly proud of the title!
Since Poachers the family have added `Keepers` to their award winning stable of ciders and in 2012 they introduced the less potent 4.8% Black Jetty. The family have always used traditional methods to produce their award winning Vale of Welton ciders. All of their cider is grown, produced and bottled on site using a blend of their own cider apples. There is no concentrated apple juice or artificial flavouring used in the manufacturing process. Welton Vale supply many local pubs and shops across Northamptonshire and neighbouring counties and have won many national awards.
The families orchards contain over 1,000 apple trees which are situated on southeast facing slopes to capture the suns warmth. The family blend three of the classic cider apple varieties including Dabinett, Chisel Jersey and Browns Apple. Reinette D’ Obry, Red Falstaff and Red Bramley can also be found in their orchards as well as a beautiful old Crab apple tree.
I really enjoyed my time `apple picking` and will look forward to doing it all again next year. If you would like to join in the annual `apple picking harvest I would recommend it without hesitation. See you there next year?
Vale of Welton
Home Farm Stables, Ashby Road
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