The National Trust’s Killerton Estate near Exeter invited the MDTEMG to participate in their annual Cider and Apples Weekend on 14/15 October. Unfortunately, the dates clashed with the British National Ploughing Championship at Bishops Lydeard in nearby Somerset which a very large number of club members were attending, either as competitors or spectators. So we agreed with the Trust that we would provide a token presence, rather than a larger scale one. On the first day, we were limited to 5 tractors and 4 working stationary engines, a display of tools and small implements and vintage railway platform luggage ‘tug’. On the following day, we had one extra vintage tractor, with two fewer engines. At the outset, we all set up facing onto the driveway leading from the car parks to the orchard and along which all spectators had to pass, making for a grand lead in to the very old large orchard in which the event was taking place.
Expecting a leisurely passage of visitors and with none of us having experienced the event before, we were completely taken aback by the sheer volume of visitors, with around 4,000 people each day passing us when entering and then again when leaving! With a mix of both NT members and paying non-members, there was, unsurprisingly, a very large proportion of children, given that the event was very much pitched at that market. Unlike the vintage events in which we normally participate, there was an extraordinarily high level of interest in our displays, with large numbers of people stopping to watch the working machinery and to ask questions of all of us.
Many people thought that the tractors were static exhibits, not working examples, so it caused some incredulity when it was explained that we had driven them there, especially when it transpired that we had come from more than an hour away! Initially, we were somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of requests for children to sit on the tractors and (usually) to have their pictures taken, until we instituted a more regulated means of access. By the second day, we managed to maintain a little more control of the constant flow, but it was still seldom less than very busy.
Within the orchard itself, traders were selling a vast amount of apple-related produce, while the Trust supplied small wheelbarrows for children to collect apples to be pressed into juice. And a lot of interest, unsurprisingly, was shown in cider-making equipment and presses. Add to that the live music marquee, juggling, face-painting, food, drink and coffee stalls, artisans and artists and a wide variety of other attractions and it all made for a wonderful weekend, with even the weather being just right.