I live on the edge of the wild hills and forests, amongst rocky escarpments and meandering rivers. My house stands on a lane along which Romans trod as they marched from their hilltop fort and the mines of Deep Dean to the banks of the River Wye where their boats embarked. The river winds on passed King Arthur's Cave and the castles of Wilton, Goodrich and the mighty Chepstow and the mystical ruins of Tintern Abbey in its wooded valley.
I now venture out of the lands of wood and water almost everyday and cross over the Marcle Ridge to the rolling pasturelands and orchards in the valley below. This is cider country and on Saturday I am going to give a workshop at the beautiful Dragon Orchard at Putley (see www.onceuponatree.co.uk, isn't that a wonderful name?). The Dragon Orchard is owned by the lovely Ann and Norman Stanier who live in a stunning eco-house in the orchard. At the workshop we will be making door wreaths with greenery from the orchard hedgerows which can be taken home and hung to welcome guests at the festive season. I am having an enlightening time researching the folklore of the greenwood at Christmas time and finding it difficult to know where to stop as I steep myself in ancient legends and myths in preparation for the day.
Ann will be making mince pies and if they are as good as the spicy pickled quinces that she made and let me sample we will be in for a treat, they were Christmas in a jar and quite unique. I know that I shall have to visit their Christmas shop before I leave because there is something special about the juices, wines and ciders, as well as the beautiful craftwork and local produce that comes directly from the land under your feet. There is something about the Dragon Orchard that makes you want to be a part of it and I am considering becoming a member of the cropsharers scheme, not only for the share of the fruit and the events, but for that little sense of belonging that draws you when you walk the fields.
When I lived at The Old Cider Mill at the edge of the Forest of Dean I planted a small orchard in the paddock amongst the remaining old perry pear trees. I was sad to leave it behind when I moved house but if I pass along that lane now I can see my trees growing tall and strong and my wish is that they are bearing good fruit. I hope that, if you live nearby, you might consider joining us at the Dragon Orchard on Saturday as there are a few spaces left. Come and share with us the magic of the orchard at Christmastime and hear the folklore and symbols of the hedgerow plants that we use so that their meanings will be carried forward into the present from the ancient times.