I was miles too early, but spent time fuelling bike and self, and attending to other bodily needs including vanity. The bike would shortly become a great deal less shiny. huskyteer and our two companions arrived, and we set off for a mystery destination in Somerset, starting with a minor road to Milborne St Andrew and cleverly by-passing Dorchester via Piddlehinton and Charminster.
The A356, passing close to quaintly named Toller Porcorum and alongside the
Hestercombe Gardens, the other side of Taunton, was selected as the lunch stop. As we headed off there via the A303 and A358, it started to rain, and we reached Taunton in a steady downpour. It's a much larger town than I'd thought, and navigational difficulties increased our exposure. Upon arrival we were in no mood to appreciate the Lutyens design or Jekyll planting, but a plate of lasagne went down well while my gloves dried on a radiator. Well done to Hestercombe for its hospitality and for being the Somerset Fire Brigade HQ as well.
Perhaps after lunch the rain would have stopped. No such luck, but there was enough blue to make skimpy hipsters for a lightly built matelot, and as we re-re-navigated Taunton the sun reappeared. Just like the morning, but now with even more surface water, we rode through charming Somerset villages: Thornfalcon, Hatch Beauchamp, Curry Mallet, Fivehead. At Curry Rivel we were admiring a rainbow straight ahead, when a navigational glitch required a 180 and heading back into the sun's glare instead.
But we soon arrived at our destination, well chosen to suit huskyteer's tastes: the Somerset Distillery at Kingsbury Episcopi. Below the farmyard, orchards stretched away, the source of the Stoke Red and Kingston Black apples among the 40 varieties grown there. In the shop surrounded by barrels, vats and presses, samples of cider and apple brandy were on offer, tempting had I not been on wheels. As well as these and sparkling cider (méthode champenoise) they provide apple juice – cox, russet, or bramley – and fortified wines blended from juice and brandy. It's more than 30 years since Coates stopped coming up from Somerset, but a fine tradition lives on.
After a very windy ride home I stuck my nose in a glass of Five Year Old and agreed: autumn leaves, ripe fruit, wild flowers. It's less fiery than Calvados, with a spicy aftertaste, smooth and satisfying. A storm's raging outside and the bike's going to need a good clean tomorrow, but for now ... mmm, sippers.