These days, music festivals seem to put as much thought into their food offerings as their musical lineup. Long gone are the days of lackluster sandwich vans or tea in polystyrene cups. Today's festivals are crawling with vegan taco trucks, portable wood-fired pizza ovens, and artisan roast coffee stalls.
Among the array of food and drink purveyors that pitched up at this summer's festivals, one in particular stands out. The Somerset Cider Bus has been a mainstay of Glastonbury and the far smaller but no less well-loved End of the Road festival in Dorset. Operating for over 30 years, the double-decker bus and adjoining marquee serves traditional cider—cold and piping hot—and in two varieties: medium or dry. The bar is specially strengthened for dancing, and a sound system is balanced on the dashboard for blasting music into the early hours, long after the main stages have finished for the night.
But the Somerset Cider Bus is far more than just successful bar with an annual rotation of bar staff after a free ticket. The business is manned by three generations of one extraordinary family: the Temperlys, a.k.a. Somerset's own cider royalty.
I visit the Temperlys on their bus during their stint at this year's End of the Road Festival. Having been drinking cider in this very marquee until sunrise, I am flagging terribly as I meet Matilda Temperly, who greets me dressed in a cherry-red jumpsuit. I pass through the doors of the legendary bus to be welcomed by more people than I can really take on board at this hour of the day, some eating, some brushing their teeth, and some carting stacks of vinyl to the decks.
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Upstairs, amongst a jungle of linens, clothes, suitcases, and bottles, are rows of very lived-in beds. In the makeshift garden behind the bus, between trailers, tents, and drying laundry, one of the grandchildren is being given a haircut by his aunt.
Matilda briefly introduces me to the people crammed around the tiny table, ending with her father, Julian, who waves absentmindedly.
"He's a bit gormless first thing in the morning," she says.
As I settle down in the babble, Julian tells me that the family owns a farm and make their traditional cider from 100-percent juice.
"We sell from the farm—have done since the beginning of time," he says. "We bring farm cider to people who never normally have a chance to taste it. The bus becomes the shop window."
The origin of the bus is as appropriate as one could hope for. In Glastonbury's early days, over 40 years ago, Julian (whom I'm told is famous for once telling Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis that it would be a good festival if it weren't for the music) would turn up to flog his farm's cider from the back of a Land Rover, with the rest of the family eventually beginning to come along in a caravan. The bus came onto the scene through a cider deal turned rogue.
"Somebody owed my father money," says Matilda, "and he saw the bus in the corner and said, 'I'll swap it for that bus.' They said that it hadn't started for ten years, but he got in, started it, and drove it off."
She tells me that her mother, Diana, who glides through the pandemonium of the bus unperturbed, painted the exterior herself while heavily pregnant.
If the Somerset Cider Bus is a popular destination here at End of the Road festival, now in its 13th year, it's bona fide legend at Glastonbury, which I'm told is "non-negotiable in the family."
"You can't not come," Matilda says. "The only one who's ever missed a Glastonbury in their entire lives is one of my sisters, and that's because she was pushing a baby out on the Saturday—and she then tried to come on the Sunday!"
Emotions and energy levels run high each year, however.
"You work all hours, and you play all hours," she continues. "Everyone gets incredibly tired, and get whatever emotional stuff you need to off your shoulders, and go home feeling like you've been in therapy. We take bets on who's going to cry first."
The business is mostly something the middle generation help out with alongside their "real jobs" (including fashion designer, freelance photographer, and production company owner). Julian tells me that the farm in Somerset, which employs around 16 people, has been making cider for at least the last 200 years.
"Matilda comes by to boss us about occasionally," he chuckles.
"We're quite unusual because everything we do is pure apple and nothing else," Matilda comments, "and often what people are drinking is derived from concentrate and sugar, and then it's watered down—and that's not our ethos. We're as pure as it comes, and kind of hillbilly cider makers, in no way industrial."
It's a long process. Pruning takes place over January and February, distilling in March and April, and then harvesting from September through to the end of the year. Even with the hard work, however, Matilda says the two festivals are "the fun outing for the gang."
"We've been at End of the Road since the very beginning," she continues, as her sister Alice negotiates the tiny space to get a cup of tea to their dad. "It was the same bunch then that have been coming every year since."
Here, she pulls out a love letter left by a customer the previous night for one of the daughters, triggering an argument over the identity of the most likely recipient.
"So, anyway," booms Julian suddenly, "you have to do funny things to make a living in this changing world. If you just sat by the farm gate flogging cider, the chances are you wouldn't be able to make it."
And for an artisanal farm-cider company, the Temperlys aren't doing badly on that front. Their cider brandies, which they began distilling in the 80s (around the same time they got the bus), are widely respected, and sold in high profile restaurants in the UK and abroad, including those of Mark Hix.
"Our first three-year-old brandy was in '91," Matilda says, "and now we have a 20-year-old brandy. It's a labour of love, because even now, I'm looking at putting down new stocks, and thinking that in 20 years time, the nephews and nieces will be selling it."
Here, Julian exclaims: "Quick, bung me a bottle of Alchemy."
Matilda pulls down a dark bottle with a gold label. It's 11 AM but nonetheless, a circle of shot glasses are filled to the brim with a deep amber liquid. I've drunk this before, late at night, dropped into the Temperlys' signature hot cider, but never straight nor before midday. It's warm, fiery, and a perfect balance of sweet and acidic. It hits my hangover beautifully.
"This is fun before money," Matilda continues, as servers begin rotating. "I think that's the charm of it. We're here to have a party too."
And party they certainly do—not only behind the bar all day and night, but even with us when we turn up for drinks with them before heading off to dance, the young adults sneaking off from their shifts to join us at the outdoor disco under sheets of pouring rain. They've let us in on an old secret: super-strong, pure, apple cider is energising stuff.