Author Archives: Neil Phillips Photo and Film

We be a mulching

Last weekend we mulched the around the trees to kill off any grass that might compete for moisture, and we left it looking very tidy (see pic below). But returning a week later some of the grass is already poking through, darn that was quick . We may have to come up with a Plan B. The Field is an organic site so we obviously can’t use any chemical sprays etc to on the grass. Ideally we’d like to stop the grass from growing down the whole of the two aisles so we are currently looking for a solution. Keeping the grass really well mown (a job I did today) helps in the short term.

IMG_2147 2

Mulched April 2018

That same weekend I paid a visit to Apple Juice maker extraordinaire Keith Goverd. Keith has been making quality English apple Juice for over 40 years and can be found every weekend at Bath Farmers Market. Keith only makes single variety apple juice and and during the late summer and autumn can be found diving around the south west searching out unusual varieties of apples to turn into quality juice. I walked away with a bottle of ‘Adams’s Pearmain’ which was delicious. An old fashioned late dessert apple, fairly dry, with the same nutty quality of a Egremont Russet, and a variety that  Keith isn’t going to let disappear. Go and say hello to Keith and buy some of his quality juice.



The New Orchard

A week or so ago  I helped to plant an orchard, 30 trees in one day.  Boy it was hard work !

Anyway, it’s going to be worth it. I’ve teamed up with Phil and his field near Wrington, taken lots of advice from the guys and gals at the Cider Workshop and at Thatchers Cider so hopefully we have a good balance of flavours which will produce  great apple juice and cider. We primarily want to produce tasty and consistent Apple Juice and have hopefully chosen a selection of trees to help us achieve this. Having our own orchard means we have complete control over how we look after, nurture and above all, when we harvest the apples. This makes a big difference to the quality of the juice. During our apple adventures in the past we have lacked any of these advantages so this is an exciting development for us.

This also means that I can make a small quantity of cider, something that I have really struggled with in the past, mainly through using a bad selection of apples, either under ripe or about to fall apart. Again, we have got advice and selected trees that will give us a good mixture of Bitter sweets and Bitter sharps, plus we can chose the optimum time to harvest the apples, so fingers crossed in a few years I’ll be producing some fairly decent cider.

Below is a list of the trees that we have selected.

 Tremletts Bitter, Dabinett, Yarlington Mill, Browns Apple, Discovery, Gilly, Laxton Superb, Ashmeads Kernal, Katy



Apple Blossom in Sandford

Apple Blossom looking good in Sandford, despite the frosts, don’t worry, your cider is safe !

Planting Dabinett Apple Trees

I’ve been busy photographing Thatchers planting Dabinett trees in one of their new orchards in Somerset. The great thing is that Thatchers get there office staff out to help out at these busy times and even MD Martin Thatcher spent hours if not days helping to plant 5 thousand trees. copyright Neil Phillips photo and film.

Late spring Apple Blossom, Somerset.

On saturday morning I popped down to Thatchers wonderful Shiplate Orchard to check a retrieve a time-lapse camera and discovered that some of the orchard was still in Blossom.  I took a few shots.

Straw Man

  1. I’d photographed Dr Hugh Tripp pressing apples through straw to make cider in a deeply traditional way around five years ago. Watching how he did this, on a smallholding that had barely changed since Victorian times, was inspiring and I was determined to film him. However, our calendars never seemed to match up; that is until a dark and damp December day last year when I finally managed to link up with him, joining him for the last pressing of the season. I filmed him picking up the final few useable apples lying alongside already decaying fruit; apples that had already given up, and were slowly returning to the earth.

    Dr Tripp uses straw to press cider not just for historical reasons or to be deliberately ‘traditional’ but because it’s practical, as the straw aids the composting of the apple pomace (the skin, seeds and pulp of the fruit which remains after pressing), helping it to return quickly return to the earth.

    This is a short film about making cider in a way rarely seen today. It’s also about the changing seasons, and understanding and working with the rhythms of nature to produce the very best the land can offer.

    Link to film here

Dr Hugh Tripp, East Pennard sparkling wine

Dr Hugh Tripp, East Pennard sparkling wine

The Oak Vats, a rare view

Many a Cider Drinker has probably dream of spending day of two in a 120.000 pint vat of Thatchers.

But the skilled craftsman pictured here are the master coopers who are ensuring the cider makers gigantic 150 year old oak vats remain in top condition for maturing it’s Somerset cider


Alistair Simm, on top of the 150 year old Oak Vats


I spent a couple of hours with cooper Alastair Simm and his team, depending deep into the vats  and getting a rarely seen view from the inside. The 11 30ft tall vats each hold 120.000 pints, but occasionally they do need to be left empty so they are able to receive some expert care to keep them in top condition.

Alastair Simms, Britain’s only master cooper and owner of White Rose Cooperage is entrusted with the upkeep of the vats at Thatchers headquarters Myrtle, at Myrtle Farm, Sandford.


Kean Hiscock depends into the deep dark Vats

A  fug of cider and sharp apples hangs heavy in the vats, which can, unsurprisingly,  make you feel rather light headed


Alistair Simms descends into Vat 10.

Constructed of three inch thick oak staves, each of the vats has it’s own character. They were built by Carty and Sons of London, dating back to the 1040s. Each Stave is numbered from 1 to 200 ish  (I forgot to do a final count) with the year roughy scrolled into the wood in Roman numerals.


All the Staves are numbered.

Apart from when the coopers are visiting, the Huge vats are full of cider.If the wood dries out, it can shrink.


The oak is fitted and finished using a traditional block plane

Even though the wood has been cut it is still a living product, so the speed of work is essential to complete the work within 48 hours – the longest they recommend a vat is empty for.


Alistair at work


Rush Vines are used to seal the gaps between the vats. It is a technique that dates back to the Egyptians.


Sean does a final check  before sealing the vats


White Rose Cooperage 


While the cider is held in the vats, usually for around six weeks, the oak softens and rounds the flavours, allowing the apple characteristics to shine through. Every Friday the Thatchers cider makers taste the cider from each vat, to judge if it is ready for next step of it’s journey


All photography copyright Neil Phillips Photography 2015

thanks for Penny Adair and Tina Rowe