Archives for the month of: September, 2013

Plenty of apples here at the moment. This weeks working holiday volunteers have been picking them in our orchard. Community Apple Pressing Day is coming up soon (28th Sept), hope to see you there.


The orchard has done really well this year, a combination of good weather (not least for the bees at pollination time), the age of the trees and good pruning. Its really nice to see the traditional varieties thriving and providing both wildlife habitat and food. I am really proud of what we have achieved in the Town Orchard, and am just as excited seeing the Speckled Wood Orchard which we planted 2 years ago starting to develop and grow.

apples ripening 2

Meanwhile over at Slindon the cider press restoration project has been completed. Jointing and fitting together of the timbers was carried out in their workshop with the help of the Slindon Ranger Team.

Assembling the press 1

Seeing the journey of our sustainably produced timber right through from tree to final form gives me a huge kick. There is nothing more pleasing than seeing our wood being used for something which I hope will encourage people to get involved in their local countryside and localy produced food.

Assembling the press 1a

Traditionally oak from this part of the country was thought of as the best quality you could get. Of course I am biased, but it is certainly fantastic timber to work with.

assembling the press 2

We took over pretty much the whole workshop as the press came together. Everyone wanted to see what was going on, I really hope they all like it!

assembling the press 3

We made it to a slightly different design to the Swan Barn Press. But the principle is the same, the metal screw is turned to excert force downwards on a big wooden plate, this presses down on a stack of crushed apple and the juice flows out to be collected in a wooden box. When you remove the bung from the box the juice flows out into whatever you want to collect it in. The spent apple (known as Pommace) was traditionally fed to pigs, but also often found its way onto compost heaps. One of the traditional old varieties we have growing in our orchard was grafted from a tree that was found growing out of a pile of discarded pommace in the 1800’s.

finished press

I am chuffed to bits with the finnished press, I hope lots of people get the chance to use it in the coming years. The timbers that make it up were pretty heavy, and we think the whole thing weighs just over a tonne. The only way to move it is by tractor!

press on tractor

If you are near Slindon and want to see it in action they have an apple pressing event on 12th October and it is going to be at the Arundel Food Festival on 19th October. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way the Slindon Press turned out, but am really looking forward to using the Swan Barn Farm press again at our pressing days over the next couple of weeks. I have challenged them to a Cider tasting competition later in the year!

Having only been presented with the screw for the press there was quite a bit of new metalwork that needed to be bought and fitted to get the project off the ground.

Unfortunately when it comes to buying nuts, bolts and tie straps unless you spend a lot of money the only ones it is relatively easy to get are galvanised and distinctly shiney looking, not really what you want for cider press restoration. I managed (again with lots of help from John, thankyou!) to source the bits we needed, but they needed some pretty severe distressing, and I don’t mean by calling them names.

The plan we came up with was a highly scientific programme of hitting hard with a hammer, dragging round behind a landrover on string, chucking in a very hot fire and then leaving in a water trough for 24 hours…


It was a bit of a messy faff cleaning them up after so that the threads all worked nicely, and some might say it wasn’t worth the effort, I guess you just have to judge for yourself from the before and after bolts below. I know which one I reckon looks the part.


All of the parts in the press are really oversize and heavy, lucky for the Slindon team the thing is going to be huge, otherwise after all this work I reckon I’d be sneaking it in my pocket and dragging it back to Black Down!

Next was fitting the boss in the top beam.


The boss holds the screw up in the air, so needs to be really snug in the beam otherwise the whole thing would just drop rather than pressing. Much nifty drilling and chiseling later it was being driven into a beam with a very large hammer. When it was halfway in I must confess to weak thoughts of blimey, if this doesn’t drive all the way home we are never getting it out again. But, with a few more judicious hits success was achieved. Suffice to say the bolts that hold it in place are entirely decorative, that thing is never coming out.


Mortice cutting in the top beam next. I wanted to get a few of the key joints cut to give a plan to work to next week when there are more people helping. That way the maths could be done in advance without too much thinking on my feet. The mortices are the slots cut into the beam that will later recieve and hold the legs in place.

The other job that I knew was going to be really tricky, and therefore wanted to get out of the way was making the plattern (which is what I am reliably informed is the correct name for the plate of a press).

It is made out of a large chunck of oak sawn out of the middle of a tree. It needs holding together with metal tie straps otherwise the force it excerts on the crushed apples to extract the juice would split it apart. Katie and Lauren did a fantastic job of marking out and recessing the straps into the wood.


It was really fiddly and complicated, there are straps underneath as well as on top and they all need to line up perfectly. Daves penchant for working in inches when working in wood probably doesn’t help much either.

Recessing the metal meant lots of marking and measuring, but we were really pleased with the result.


Next comes lots more joint cutting and fitting together… wish us luck!


Maybe its because I have been walking more again the last few weeks, or maybe it was that email exchange Jane, but it is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.

The countryside may not have the cure for your ailments, but it certainly can hold the key to peace of mind and recovery.

I don’t care where you live, somewhere near you there is a path like this, and it can lead anywhere you like.

This one took me to a view that took my breath away.


I recently read a book about Robert Hunter, one of the founders of The National Trust. Maybe its this, or maybe too much listening to Ewan Mcoll. But I know we are so lucky in this country. I love where I live and am constantly refreshed by the changing of the seasons and the colours of the trees. If you look, and its really not that hard, on the OS map for where you live, you will find dotted green lines and blocks of land coloured in a funny shade of yellow. These are very special things. Footpaths and Open access land. These things were hard fought for, and are there for us all.

They can take you, for free, to some of the most incredible places you could imagine.

Robert Hunter, Octavia Hill, Hardwick Rawnsley and those brave people on Kinder Scout (along with so many more) left us a legacy for which we have a huge debt.

We all have free, open and unfettered access to the countryside. I am lucky enough to enjoy it most days. But also know it has the capacity to provide for so many more millions of people the most potent medicine they could possibly wish to find.

On my local patch at the moment the Rowan trees are stunning. The berries in the sunlight are bright bolts of lightning for your eyes.


The heather is blooming and amongst it the bees are making the most of the late summer harvest.


Willow and I frequently look for answers (and less often find them) just half an hour from our doorstep.


Take a look for those green lines and blocks of yellow. Unless we use what was so hard won it will cease to have value. You will be surprised where they can take you…

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