/ Wales2016

Sun 18 - Cider, Beer and God

It’s Sunday. Wonder if there is a car boot? Oh, there is, is there. And it doesn’t start until 11am - how jolly civilised. Now I’m an old hand at this car boot/radio rally lark - I know an 11am start is really a 9:30 start with all the best stuff gone before 10 but we’re on holiday, let’s take it slowly and arrive, fashionably late, at 10:45 for the 11am car boot.
Weird, there’s a full field of camping tables, wallpaper-pasting tables, all empty but with overflowing boxes stacked next to them guarded by chattering families whilst punters mill around expectantly. Most strange! Then 11am beckons, an air-horn sounds and suddenly boxes are unpacked like fury whilst hordes of bargain hunters try to beat the unpackers to the precious bargains contained therein. I’ve never been to a car boot sale with a timed start before - very much “Robot Wars’” - 3-2-1 Activate! It’s a big boot sale too, Liz’s step counter reckons we’ve clocked up well over the mile before finishing the last row. And preciousses? Well, a brand new Owl shaking toy for Amelia, Enid Blyton’s “Amelia Jane” book, just because of the name. “The Theory Of Everything” blu-ray and “The Lady With The Van” dvd for me, Alice in Wonderland/Looking Glass paperback with Mervyn Peake illustrations, a bargain at 20p, 2 balls of Regia sock wool for Liz. Not a huge haul but a fun way to spend an hour or nearly two.
On then to today’s real plan, drive a little of the Hereford Cider Trail and take in a cider manufacturer visit. Of course, there is only one starting point, Westons at Much Marcle, probably the UK’s largest cider producer (do Bulmers do anything these days other than Strongbow?) and home of the legendary Old Rosie (Rosie being the description of your nose after drinking it and Old being the feeling in your legs). Actually we were there but a few minutes, long enough to admire the fleet of VW campervans in the carpark and to discover the shop had nothing we didn’t know about and at prices marginally more expensive than Tescos. Actually the shop did have a couple of previously unknown beverages but us real cider drinkers don’t consider fermented apple juice flavoured with blackberry or rhubarb as proper cider!
Campervans at Westons Cider
So on round the cider trail, Er, no actually, it seems most places are shut on Sundays. So plan B - Hereford and Mappa Mundi in the Cathedral. Well the good news is the cathedral was open but the not so good news was that the chained library and Mappa Mundi were closed on Sunday. So we’re not sure if the huge vellum map in a case entitled “Mappa Mundi” was actually the original or the recent digital facsimile (digital it might be, but this facsimile was also printed on vellum). Still it was an interesting artefact, part attempt at geography and part attempt at theology.
The cathedral, like most cathedrals, passed a pleasant 40 minutes or so. You don’t have to be religious to simply imagine being a peasant several centuries ago, living in a tiny smoke-filled hovel and being taken at an early age into this VAST space with fan vaulted ceilings higher than imagination can soar, and colours, what colours adorning all the walls (for bright murals were all the rage in pre-reformation cathedrals) only to be made drab by the lights streaming through the windows. This God must be something special to command such a building. And even today modern stained glass radiates like no other light. Liverpool’s Catholic Cathedral (Paddy’s Wigwam) exemplifies this more than most but here in Hereford the Lady Chapel shone above all else
Stained Glass Hereford CathedralStained Glass Hereford Cathedral
Sunday’s are depressing days; in the sleepy city the larger chain stores still draw in crowds eager to buy the same mass produced tat that was available every other day of the week, whilst the interesting shops, owned and worked by people who need a day of rest are sensibly at home enjoying something more substantial than the fare the High Street’s only food shop, Greggs has on offer.
I mentioned beer in today’s title but have been surprisingly quiet about it - until now. And not so much beer either but hops. Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Shropshire produce over half of the country’s hops.
‘Turkeys, heresy, hops and beer, came into the UK, all in one year’ was believed to refer to sometime around about 1527 the official start of the English reformation. Prior to that ale was flovoured with all-manner of herbs and spices but those crafty Flemish brewers realised that the hop (humulus lupus to you and I ) not only imparted an interesting bitter flavour to fermented barley but actually kept it fresher longer. Don’t forget, back in those days, pure water was even rarer than a decent 3g wireless signal today and so the common folk relied on good, fresh beer or ale to keep up the hydration levels after a long day at the gym (or more likely a very long day toiling in the fields).
Of course, hops have changed, particularly over the last few years. When I were a lad and brewed my own beer then British Hops were Goldings and Fuggles, with newcomers like Styrian Goldings or Brambling Cross and those ‘oh, so exotic’ European hops: Saaz and Hallateur. Then something happened - somebody in America (no-one knows who, it is a mystery lost in time) discovered they had taste buds and Budweisser1just didn’t seem to stimulate them. So they experimented with new beer styles and, as an antidote to Bud and Miller & Coors lites they looked to the opposite end of the beer spectrum - the venerable IPA. India Pale Ale - Ale, pale in colour that was sufficiently high hopped (i.e. packed with natural humulin flavoured preservative) that could make it all the way from its home Burton-upon-Trent to the Raj in Poona. So these new American brewers experimented with hops with huge ibus (International Bitterness Units - the really, really bitter hoppy taste) and varietals such as Amarillo, Cascade,Chinook, and Challenger were produced. Pretty soon British brewers wanted this new refreshing extremely bitter taste and IPAs had a revival this side of the pond, but not as much as the new golden ales - championed by Hopback’s Summer Lightning which embraced these new flavoursome hops. Indeed traditional British Fuggles and Goldings hopped beers are definitely less of the norm these days.
Of course, none of this history is in the least relevant as I slam the anchors on and stop the van on a 100 yard long extruded sixpence, asking Liz to get out and pick a few of the hops that have escaped the geometrically arrange field for the freedom of the hedgerow. Little did I realise that, what appears just a yard or two off the roadside at 40mph, is a distant hedgerow protected by a bramble and nettle girded ditch, so Liz’s endeavours provide just a few cones rather than swarths of hops to decorate the van.
Still they smell nice - wonder what varietal they are.


  1. 1.What is the difference between Budweiser and making love in a canoe? None, they are both f***ing close to water.
    2.Two old boys sat in a bar:
    Looks like rain, doesn’t it?
    Yes, but with just a faint hint of hops