Day three of our weekend dawned bright, sunny and warm! After a hearty breakfast we headed to Kent's oldest commercial Vineyard - Biddenden - which was established in 1969 as part of the initiative to re-introduce the wine industry to the area. Biddenden Vineyard is reached via the quaintly named Gribble Bridge Lane.
The vineyards now extend to 21 acres, the grapes grown on a wine trellis system are harvested during late September and early October. Pressing, fermentation and bottling all takes place on site and the vineyards produce White, Red and Sparkling Wines from the 10 varieties of grapes planted here.
Prior to establishing the vineyards, Little Whatmans Farm comprised of 45 acres of apple orchards and Biddenden's involvement in growing apples has not been lost. Biddenden Cider Works produces high quality traditional Strong Kentish Ciders and farm pressed pure apple juices from locally grown apples.
It was a perfect day to tour the vineyard, set in the beautiful Kent countryside, seeing and hearing about the various grapes grown there and the resulting wines made from the grapes. I've put together a little slide show of the vineyard, I think you'll agree it really is beautiful.
We were taken into the works where we saw the machinery involved in the wine and cider making process. Biddenden produce English Wine, the difference between English and British Wine is English Wines are made form fresh grapes grown in England, whilst British Wine is simply produced from foreign grape juice.
Then we got to taste both the wines and the ciders and purchased some of course. We're looking forward to sharing them, especially some warmed 'Monk's Delight Spiced Cider' - guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart. If you ever find yourself in Kent do go and visit Biddenden Winery, you won't be disappointed.
Leaving the vineyard behind we proceeded to our next stop, Tenterden, known as 'The Jewel in the Weald' for some lunch, which we enjoyed sitting in the sunshine in the garden of a local pub.
Tenterden has a Fine High Street with historic houses, shops, restaurants and pubs. William Caxton, who in 1477 printed the first English book, was said to have been born here. Keeping guard over the town is the pinnacled tower of St. Mildreds Church from where once the signal beacon warned of the approach of the Spanish Armada, and where later Lord Nelson's daughter, Horatia was the wife of the vicar. Unfortunately we didn't have very much time in Tenterden before it was time to make the lovely journey through the Kent Downs to Elham Valley Vineyard.
Elham Valley Vineyard was cultivated and planted by the original owners in 1985-86 but over recent years the health of the vines has declined, with the 2010 harvest being extremely disappointing the support stakes have inevitable rotted and need replacement. The Trust wanted to change the varieties of grapes grown to be able to produce improved quality wines and an increased range. With support of the Kent Downs Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty and The Brook Trust they are now embarking on a replanting project.
There is a small garden centre at Elham Valley which we were able to visit and though we didn't get to taste any wines we did enjoy a lovely cream tea instead. Much of the work done at the centre and many of the goods sold there are provided by disabled people. After a lovely day enjoying the Kent countryside it was time to head back to our hotel for a short rest before dinner and discussing the day's events.
I hope you'll join me for the last day of our trip in Hops & Vines Part 4.
Day two of our long weekend away found us heading for historic Canterbury, it's skyline dominated by the stunning cathedral, the oldest in England.
Canterbury Cathedral's history goes back to 597AD when St Augustine, sent by Pope Gregory the Great as a missionary, established his seat (or 'Cathedra') in Canterbury. In 1170 Archbishop Thomas Becket was murdered in the Cathedral and ever since the Cathedral has attracted thousands of pilgrims, as told famously in Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
Here is a quick summary of the Cathedral's history, you can read more here. The best know event in the Cathedral's history was the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, you can read about him here.
Through the Centuries
597 St. Agustine arrived in Kent and soon established the first Cathedral
1070 - 1077 Cathedral rebuilt by Archbishop Lanfranc
1098 - 1130 New Quire built over a Crypt (present Western Crypt)
1170 Thomas Becket murdered in the Cathedral
1175 - 1184 Quire rebuilt. Eastern Crypt, Trinity and Corona Chapels added (all as seen today)
1220 Becket's body placed in new Shrine in Trinity Chapel
1377 - 1405 Lanfranc Nave demolished and rebuilt as seen today; Cloister vaulting inserted
c1450 Pulpitum Screen constructed
1498 Bell Harry Tower extended and the Cathedral largely complete as seen today
1538 Becket's Shrine destroyed by Henry VIII
1540 Monastery dissolved by royal command
1541 New Foundation of Dean and Chapter established
1660 - 1704 Repair and refurbishing after Puritan damage
1834 North West tower rebuilt
1954 Library rebuilt, repairing War damage
1986 Altar of the Sword's Point (Martyrdom) restored
1988 Compass Rose placed in the Nave
2000 International Study Centre opened in the Precincts
We took photographs as we walked round the quaint streets of Canterbury and were able to take photographs in the Cathedral, so I've put together a slide show with the best, showing just how beautiful the town and the Cathedral are.
The next stop on our intinerary was Faversham and the Shepherd Neame Brewery. The story of Shepherd Neame began in1698 when Captain Richard Marsh of the Cinque Ports Militia, a mayor of Faversham, founded a brewery over an artesian well in the town's Court Street, then known as North Street. At that time, Faversham was a bustling port, and already enjoyed a brewing tradition dating back to the 12th century when King Stephen founded a Benedictine abbey just yards from the present brewery site. It didn't take the Cluniac monks long to discover that Faversham's pure spring water could be combined with locally-grown malting barley to produce a particularly fine ale. You can read further about the history of Shepherd Neame, Faversham here.
We enjoyed a tour of the brewery, learning about the brewing process from start to finish, before retiring to the private bar to enjoy a sample of some of the brewery's famous ales. Here's a slide show of the workings of the brewery.
Another fabulous day was had by all and unfortunately it was time to head back to the hotel. There again we still had tomorrow's itinerary to look forward to, so I hope you will join me for Hops & Vines Part 3.
You may remember we had a long weekend away a few weeks ago and from the title of this post you would be right in thinking the trip had something to do with breweries and vineyards, but that wasn't all.
We were picked up by taxi from home and transported to the nearest motorway services to join the coach which too us to our first stop, Belvoir Brewery in the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced Beaver) in Leicestershire, for a tour and tastings of their beers.
The original brewery was set up in 1995, using mostly original equipment and artefacts recovered from traditional cask ale breweries all over the country. Time honoured brewing methods are used incorporating only the finest malt and hops, including several varieties of choice whole hops from Worcester and traditionally malted best English barley.
The tour inlcuded an education video, a guided tour of the brewery and ended with a tasting session in the Sample Cellar, where we were treated to jugs of five of Belvoir Brewery's finest ales, such as Star Mild, Gordon Bennett, Beaver Best Bitter, Old Dalby Strong Ale and Star Bitter.
As you can imagine after tasting all those beers we were ready for some lunch and our next stop was Melton Mowbray, famous for it's Pork Pies and Stilton Cheese, where we had some lunch and explored the quaint streets.
Dickinson & Morris has been baking pork pies at Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe in Melton Mowbray since 1851. They have the dual acclaim of being the oldest pork pie bakery and the last remaining producer of authentic Melton Mowbray pork pie based in the town centre. In recent years, due to unprecedented demand, the baking of these pies also takes place at a larger baker located just outside Leicester. You can order their pies online here.
Stilton® Cheese derives its name from the village of Stilton, Cambridgeshire. It was sold there to coach travellers on the Great North Road, travelling between London and Scotland.
In the 18th Century, it was recorded that cheese for the Bell Inn, Stilton was procured by a Mrs Paulet, a cheese-making farmer's wife living near Melton Mowbray, for her brother-in-law Cooper Thornhill. He was reputed to have been the landlord of the inn at that time. This story therefore connects Stilton® cheese-making with the area around Melton Mowbray. Stilton® cheese may only be produced in the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and is protected by a certification trademark. This has ultimately lead to Stilton® being awarded a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by the European Commission.
The phrase 'painting the town red' originated in Melton when some young aristocrats up for the hunt went on a drunken spree in the 1800s and literally painted Melton town centre red.
Our companions, Terry and Dot, bought a couple of the famous Melton Mowbray Pork Pies and we bought some home-made chutney.
Our visit to Belvoir Brewery and Melton Mowbray over it was time to board the coach and head for our hotel, the Ramada Maidstone, which was to be our base for the weekend.