Meanwhile it was high time for one of our irregular staff outings, and a good excuse to visit our friend John's lovely old orchard in Worcesetershire. Ace apple and pear wranglers Paul & Sue accompanied me to the orchard to help check out the forthcoming crop, but more on that later. Lunch was spent at the excellent Fleece Inn at nearby Bretforton, a truly historic pub, owned (and recently restored following a devastating fire) by the mighty National Trust. A National Trust property it may be, but it's run by its licensees as a true village local, not just a pretty tourist attraction.
So what makes the Fleece so special? The obvious answer is the building itself, a timber framed medieval former farmhouse, with adjacent Barn and orchard garden. The Fleece has a timeless, peaceful quality. There's a gaggle of friendly locals chewing the fat at the bar, Chickens clucking around the orchard (always a plus sign for Karen and myself), and the nooks, crannies, antique furniture and fittings are all authentic, not bought-in for the job. There's even a resident poet who'll recite a few lines to you as an accompaniment to your pint (whether you like it or not!).
Beer and Cider play a major role in the success of the Fleece too. The Hook Norton and Uley Ales were in excellent condition, and reassuringly local to this part of the Cotswolds. More local still was the home-made Fleece Folly traditional cider, which had just the right amount of 'tang', and was refreshingly (and properly) medium/dry, just how I like it. The cider is made on a replica twin-screw cider press, fed pomace by a restored scratter made by A. Day of Mark in Somerset. These wonderful pieces of equipment can be seen in use at the Fleece Inn's annual Apple & Ale Festival (1st - 3rd Oct). Over 20 ales, and 20 ciders and perrys will be available at this event, and I'm desperately trying to work out how I can fit this into one of our harvesting trips this year.
Put simply, the Fleece is up there with the very best of British pubs. A rural classic, and well worth the detour should you find yourself zipping along the A46 near Evesham any time soon.
Coming Soon: 2010 Orchard Report