Harvest at Gusbourne is a highlight of the autumn – and the whole year. It’s the start of new wines and new beginnings as we say goodbye to the growing season and look forward to the makings of another vintage year.
Late-October festivals like Halloween and All Souls Day have similar symbolic roots. In fact, Halloween traditions in the UK go back to pagan times. The ancient Celtic festival of Samhain lasted three days and nights, starting on the 31st October. This midpoint between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice marked the start of the shorter, darker days of winter after a hopefully bountiful harvest. It involved fire rituals, the occasional cattle sacrifice and a belief that the barriers between the earthly and spirit worlds would dissolve and allow for a bit of metaphysical mingling.
Now, of course, we have a more playful, theatrical attitude towards Halloween, while All Saints Day and All Souls Day – both Christian festivals – encourage more sacrosanct introspection to honour saints, martyrs and all those who have died. Rituals surrounding these dates take different forms around the country – from flaming tar barrel rolling and a massive bonfire in Ottery St Mary, Devon (usually on the 5th November) to a fire festival procession atop Edinburgh’s Calton Hill, and of course pumpkin-picking and carving in most regions. But long before what we now know as trick-or-treating was imported from the USA in the late 20th century, children here would go ‘guising’ – dressed in ghoulish disguises and singing a song, reciting a poem or performing another sort of ‘trick’ before collecting a treat of fruit, nuts or coins. And before pumpkins became our root-vegetable go-to, hollowed-out and carved turnips did the trick.
Here in Kent, there are plenty of pumpkin patches to wander, ghost walks to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and the possibly dubious accolade of being home to “the most haunted village in England.” Just outside Ashford is the village of Pluckley, which was bestowed the creepy honour by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1989. Its chocolate-box pretty houses, shops and pubs made it the ideal location for the 1950s-set TV series, The Darling Buds of May. Contrary to its idyllic appearance, Pluckley has allegedly been harbouring The Red Lady, The White Lady, The Screaming Bricklayer and The Watercress Woman, among other lingering spirits.
Another tradition in the east of Kent, known as ‘hoodening’, takes place in December and involves costumed villagers, a death-and-resurrection themed play and a wooden horse to represent ancestral spirits.
Closer to Gusbourne, Romney Marsh brims with ghost stories of shipwrecks, smugglers and highwaymen. When the fog rolls in from the coast, it’s easy to imagine riders on horseback making their way into the night with their purloined treasures. And as Kent’s geography has changed over the centuries, the coastline gradually inching its way shoreward, a number of villages were either abandoned due to inundation or wiped out by the Black Death during the 14th century.
Here at the winery, we’ll be looking back to our own hyper-local history as we pore over the recently re-examined Last Will and Testament of John de Goosebourne of Appledore, Kent, written in June of 1410. A soul for whom our annual harvest owes a debt of respect.
Find out more about the fascinating history of Gusbourne’s local area by exploring the Saxon Shore Way, which meanders through our vineyards in Kent.
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