Saturday, 31 May 2008

Northampton Beer Festival

Stuck out on the edge of the county as we are here in Middleton, it's a bit of a trek to get to the Northampton Beer Festival. Two bus journeys, and a 15 minute walk out of town to Delapre Abbey made it a 2 hour journey time in all. Fine weather and a fine range of ales made the journey worthwhile.

I say fine ales, but I'll have to take other peoples word for that since I didn't actually drink any. I was there for the smaller range of ciders and perrys, mostly from the award winning Welsh producer Gwynt-Y Ddraig. The Two Trees and Malvern Hills perrys were the highlight for me. Really good quality perry is such a rarity outside of the Three Counties that it's always worth trying it whenever you can find it. The Malvern Hills was particularly interesting to me as this is one of the varieties we may be pressing later this year. If we can get anywhere near this standard I'll be very happy. Gwynt-Y-Ddraig ciders are often available at the Queen Adelaide, Kingsthorpe and the Queen Victoria in Leicester.

Local interest was upheld by our own Rockingham Forest Cider, and Malcolm Grant's Eve's Wilding Cider. Malcolm makes his cider just up the road in Kettering, and very good it is too.

The festival was well attended, and not surprisingly many there were Northampton Saints rugby fans. Good job I had my vintage Leicester Tigers shirt on then! There was much banter in evidence, with Saracens and Gloucester fans also pitching in for good measure. Paul from the Queen Adelaide had organised this year's cider bar, and is as staunch a Gloucester fan as you'll find. He didn't seem to hold it against me, though serving through gritted teeth can give a man a rather funny look!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Hatton Arms on the Telly....

...Well sort of. Hatton Arms licensees Shaun Williams & Kirstin Ward tell it how it is as part of the Evening Telegraph's Support Your Local Pub campaign (follow the link). There's even a short video of the interview with Shaun & Kirstin standing proudly behind the row of handpumps in the bar. Our Rockingham Forest Cider pumpclip can be seen on the right, stuck to the little blackboard which advertises the current range of ales and ciders.

A nice job from the Evening Telegraph, it's good to see a newspaper getting behind our local pubs rather than jumping on the binge-drinking bandwagon. As you can see, the Hatton is well worth a visit, particularly over the weekend of the Welland Valley Beer Festival, if only to try some of that Hog Roast!

Springwatch at Rockingham Forest Cider

The last couple of weeks have given us a sneak preview of Summer weather, and the orchard is full of life. The cider apple trees are now showing their late blossom, whilst the Bramley has shed most of it's pink petals over the orchard floor. Let's hope the insects are busy pollinating it all. We won't get much off the cider apple trees this year, but you can never have too many apple pies.

The orchard continues to attract wildlife, and a fair selection of not-so-wild life. Every day recently we've been visited by the various game birds which managed to escape the great shoot of early Spring. Several cock Pheasants have been seen fighting over the broody hens, which just goes to show that 'Yob-Culture' is not just a human trait. These birds don't even have the excuse of cheap supermarket booze to explain their rowdy behaviour. It would seem that the urge to mate is even stronger than a four-pack of super-strength lager.

A pair of lovely Red Legged Partridges have been visiting morning and evening for a peck at Karen's bird seed mountain. They are lovely looking birds, and brave enough to come right down to the kitchen door in search of food. However, if I catch them pecking at my Brassicas again, they'll be reclassified as a 'Brace of Tasty Partridges' before the Summer's out.

Red Kites have become a fairly common sight in the Rockingham Forest since their re-introduction from Spain several years ago. I've been attempting to get a good photo of a Kite since we moved to the area, without too much success so far. This is my latest attempt at snapping a bird which appears daily over Middleton looking for a tasty bit of roadkill. They really are spectacular birds, soaring effortlessly on a windy day and putting the fear of god into the local Crow population. The quest for a better photo goes on, the Kites are doing their bit, I just need a bigger lens and a faster camera.

The dawn chorus has reached deafening levels recently, it's that super-strength mating urge again. In amongst the plethora of common garden birds; House Sparrows, Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds, Blue Tits, Wrens, Starlings, and the inevitable Cabbage-eating Wood Pigeons, we thought we'd spotted a Bullfinch. Scourge of fruit growers, but rare and colourful, a Bullfinch would be quite a visitor. Closer inspection revealed it as the much commoner Chaffinch. Oh well, at least the fruit buds on our apple trees are safe.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Eaglethorpe Old Orchard

Bank holiday Monday turned out nice this year. We did the usual bank holiday stuff, a spot of gardening, a visit to a May Fayre, and spent too much money at a garden centre. We also took time out to visit another of Northamptonshire's lovely Pocket Parks, a beautiful blossom-laden orchard near Oundle, and perhaps the model for our own neglected village orchard.

The village of Warmington is bypassed by the A605 Oundle - Peterborough road, and it was the building of this bypass which led to the creation of the pocket park. Unfortunately the new road carved straight through the heart of the old orchard, so this remaining section is quite small, but we found that even the traffic noise from the adjacent road didn't spoil the peaceful ambience of this delightful space.

The site is known variously as Warmington Old Orchard, and The Orchard, Eaglethorpe, and I suppose the latter name is more accurate since it resides in the tiny Hamlet of Eaglethorpe. We initially followed directions from the excellent England in Particular website, which proved to be less than useful. It didn't help that Warmington is blessed with two pocket parks, and sign-posting for the orchard only appears when you're nearly there. My advice is to have a look at the map on the above website, it's certainly worth the hunt.