7 January 2018

6th Annual Wassail

Sotwell hosts one of the largest Wassail processions in England and this year's activities were as lively and wacky as ever. Wassailers met at the Red Lion for a 3 pm start and lots of villagers and their friends remembered to bring something to blow or bang - this was most definitely a hit with the younger ones!

The Wassail procession visited several orchards large and small, old and new. At each orchard bread dipped in cider was hung in the apple trees to feed the Robin, the good spirit of the orchard.  The trees were woken up in time for Spring by beating the trunks with willow sticks. It was most important to drive off the bad spirits of the orchard by producing lots of noise to scare them away - pots, pans, bells, horns and of course shotgun blasts through the trees.  And fireworks of course!

master of ceremonies for wassail in oxfordshire shotgun blasts to scare the evil spirits in brightwell cum sotwell

wassailing in oxfordshire

wassail in the orchards

The procession ended at the Stewart Village Hall with children's dances, songs and a display by the magnificent Armaleggan Border Dancers.

armaleggan border dancers at wassail 2018

amaleggan morris dancers wassail 2018

wassail fire dancers wassail 2018

man with fire brand stick for dancing

border dancers in fire dance red lion brightwell cum sotwell

fireworks in orchards wassail procession

In the evening there was a new celebration; a Wassail Dance.

The Band from Rockall lead the dances (one of the UK's youngest and most fabulous Ceilidh groups and not to missed). They included many traditional Gaelic songs and more modern numbers to get us dancing.

At one point during the evening our very own Brightwell Village Mummers’ Players burst in to entertain us with this year's play.

Mark Brock (Red Lion) provided the fully licensed bar and great food included dishes with an "orchard" theme.

This year donations from the Wassail festivities were collected for refurbishment of the village playgrounds and for Maeve's Magical Journey.

Have a look at some of the fun from 2018 on Facebook 
There is also 20162015 - 2014 on YouTube

13 October 2017

Apple Day - Sunday 15th October

What fantastic weather for Apple Day! At one point we had about 120 visitors in the gardens of the Red Lion from as far away as High Wycombe, Reading and Newbury.

As ever the highlight was Paul Chilton's giant display of heritage varieties of apples and pears; 86 varieties of apple, 24 pear and 25 different types of wild seedling apples found in hedgerows along the Wallingford bypass and on the A4130.

The tastings were very popular.  There were 12 different sweet apple varieties to taste including  King's Acre Pippin, Golden Pippin, Jonathan, American Mother (a new find in the village), Spartan, Ingrid Marie and Ashmead Kernel, as well as cooking apples Newton Wonder, Blenheim Orange, Norfolk Beefing, Bramley and Howgate Wonder.  Visitors were curious and also really surprised that they all tasted so different; some sharp or honeyed, some sweet and perfumed, others just plain weird!  This was a great opportunity for them to take some home too - their generosity raised £156 in donations.

We had juice tasting and their was plenty of different ones to try. We did 11 pressings in all; 440 litres!  We had people queuing up with their own apples and bottles.

And there was the taste sensation on the jams and chutneys. You could try three different chutneys  and choose which one you wanted in your baguette and then there was the challenge to identify the  jam bought in the supermarket and the jam made with fruit from the allotment - clear winner every time.

The kids had a great time. You can see just how much melted chocolate, marsh mallows and rice crispies is involved in decorating an apple, and there were apple stick shapes and apple painting as well. Parents seemed happy with the results as they generously gave £55 in donations.

In all we raised £800 for the community orchard and inspired people to enjoy their fruit.

10 October 2017

Scything the orchard wildflowers

It was time to cut the wildflowers in the orchard so instead of using strimmers we decided to have a one day course on scything with Austrian Scythes with Clive Leeke.  We practised getting the hang of it on short grass in the allotments and then we had a go at the real thing.

It wasn't easy but we had the excuse that the grass was knee high.  It certainly wasn't the same as a sunny wildflower meadow on some Austrian mountainside.

11 July 2017

Austrian Scything

Once again the orchard is covered with a fantastic wild flower meadow. There are all the traditional varieties like Lady's Bedstraw, Oxeye Daisy, Hoary Plantain, Yellow Rattle, Red Campion and Wild Marjoram and more.

This year, rather than strimming the meadow in a rather needs must way, we will be cutting the meadow in a more traditional way using scythes.

On Sunday 8th October Clive Leeke will be holding a master class in Austrian Scything. Spaces are limited but come along and see how it is done.  Hot chocolate and mulled cider on offer to keep you warm.

23 March 2017

The start of the new season

The group annual meeting was held yesterday to look toward the new season and make plans for activities and events for 2017.  The overwhelming consensus was that we should have an Apple Day this year. Obviously, it depends on whether there are any hard frosts at the critical blossom stage.

We also wanted to thank Paul Chilton for all his work for the group and for the village.  As a retired fruit farmer, Paul is our resident expert on anything to do with fruit trees and fruit growing.

This project started in 2009 with a survey of all the apple trees in the village.  What started as a curious question (why do we have so many?) has resulted in Brightwell cum Sotwell being identified as the village with the most fruit trees and also the most varieties in the whole of south Oxfordshire.

It is this record that wouldn't have been possible without Paul.  You can give him 10 different apples, all looking the same to the eye, but Paul will be able to name each one straight away. No other village has identified 91 varieties.

We  presented Paul with a copy of  The New Sylva a Discourse of Forest and Orchard Trees by Sarah Simblet and Gabriel Hembery of the Sylva Foundation (from our neighbouring village Long Wittenham). The illustrations are just wonderful and Paul was clearly pleased.

25 February 2017

Shaping up

The hawthorn trees bounding the orchard had grown really high and were encroaching on the trees planted around the perimeter. They were taking out a lot of light as well so it was felt that the trees needed to be tamed.

The adult crew of volunteers were joined by 10 cubs and one beaver. No slouching or nipping off to climb trees these kids were really keen and got stuck in. In two hours we had really made a difference to the light and access and the beetles and fugus will benefit from the wildlife stacks created in the undergrowth.

3 February 2017

Learning how to prune apple trees

Saturday 4 February - 10.00
We had the opportunity to learn how to prune apple trees in a traditional orchard in the village. It looked a bit daunting at first but the trees are all a reasonable height and we had plenty of time to learn from the expert and practice our new skills. You've just got to take the plunge and make that cut.

Saturday 11 February - 10.00
This session in the community orchard required a real working party with muscle and wheelbarrow.  We pruned the 45 trees, cleared the weeds at the base and spread manure around the trees.