Every couple of years, the multinational cider producer, Thatchers Cider, opens its doors for four hours so that the public can take a look behind the scenes. For very obvious, book related reasons, this is great for me, as I often need to immerse myself in the physical geography of a place like Thatchers to visualise what my imaginary cider producer, Carters, might look like. It’s no secret that I based a lot of the more ‘cidery’ aspects of Far From the Tree on my memories of visiting Thatchers, as it seemed the logical choice when considering how my characters would operate in a cider making environment, but that’s where the similarity ends in terms of drawing on real life!
I’ve visited the Thatchers site four times over the last two years. The first time was on their last open day. We got there quite late, it was hot and I had a three month old baby and a three and a half year old daughter in tow, so circumstances weren’t ideal for meandering around, soaking up the atmosphere! I visited again in January 2014, shortly after I’d had the initial idea for Far From the Tree, to attend the North Somerset Business Showcase event, which was being held in Thatchers new kegging plant. Then, I was lucky enough to spend a morning with one of the marketing team in July of the same year, where I got my own personal tour of the place, which was hugely informative.
Since then, I’ve been in full flow, writing, editing and submitting FFTT, and, much as I’d have liked to have scored an interview with the Managing Director (or indeed, his Dad!), for which I am still hopeful because that would be a real help with book 2, that hasn’t been forthcoming, so when the open day rolled around again, I thought I’d pop on over the mere one and a half miles and refresh my memory (and, I’ll be honest, my taste buds!), and get myself immersed once more.
I have to say, it was worth the visit. While there is the slightest sense of the lord of the manor opening his estate to the yokels, it was good to see the innards of this extremely successful business. The technical side never fails to take my breath away, as there is so much state of the art engineering on site it’s really something to behold. The bottling plant alone handles twenty thousand bottles an hour. And, of course, there are those vats. Call me a hopeless romantic, but there’s something about walking into the barn where the oak vats are that triggers an assault on senses, memory, emotion and everything in between. I love that space, and I’d love to put a desk in there and write in the barn! And of course, in my imaginary world of Far From the Tree, the barn is where something very significant happens :).
One of the highlights of the morning was the tractor ride through the orchards of Myrtle Farm. Despite the dire weather, it was lovely to see the rows and rows of apple trees, of so many different varieties. We were really lucky to have none other than the venerable John Thatcher as tour guide on the trailer. Now Mr Thatcher is a man who really knows his apples (‘don’t talk to me about sales or marketing, but if you want to know anything about growing apples feel free to ask’). He spoke to us all the way round, even philosophising on the importance of one of the groves in the orchard, and his desire to have a jazz man’s wake in there! He’s very well known around these parts, and his knowledge of his craft is second to none. He’s certainly a man who has a great fondness, it would seem, for the landscape and its yield.
Other notable inclusions in the open day were a couple of live bands, a cider tasting (yummy!), and local morris men. It was great to see the Thatcher family very much in evidence, and the guides for the tours for the buildings were really friendly and knowledgeable. A lovely morning, all in all. It’s a shame it only happens every other year, as I think it’s something that would really endear the business to a wider audience if done more often. I guess there’s a lot of work involved, though!
We also went to the Michaelmas Fayre this afternoon, which was great fun. It’s pure Midsomer Murders, as I’ve often said, and there were some impressive prize winning veggies and flowers this year, as always. I could make a pun about huge marrows, but you can fill in the gaps for yourself ;). It’s on days like these I feel blessed to be part of a vibrant village culture; long may it continue.