Charlie Dennis, Ale-Taster

Since I returned form America I’ve had some pretty random jobs. It’s been great fun and incredibly varied which has helped ease the post-holiday blues.

One such job led me to the rural town of Ashburton in Devon. Each year residents of the town commemorate an ancient festival of bread-weighing and ale-tasting. They do so by dressing up in medieval garb and walking the streets in a procession led by the Portreeve, a figure who historically commissioned the weighing of bread and tasting of ale to ensure trading standards were complied with.

My job was to cover the festival for an editorial feature but whilst there I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Dennis who has played the role of ale taster for 3 consecutive years. Unsurprisingly it was Charlie who took us on a post-procession pub crawl of the town. Charlie is one of those people who seems to know everyone and has done everything. Trapsing after him as he buoyantly navigated the streets to our next drinking venue felt like following a local celebrity. He spoke to everyone we passed and after spending just a few minutes with him you could see why. He was open and friendly and full of interesting anecdotes spanning his time living in The Falklands as a long distance lorry driver, to more recent stories of settling back in Ashburton and being the local chimney sweep. Reflecting his enthusiasm for his role within the festival, he seems very much a pillar of the community and still finds the time to drive steam trains in his leisure.

Whilst listening to Charlie regale his tales, I asked if I could take his portrait. There was a lovely cool evening light and conveniently we were passing the church where he winds the spire clock each Sunday morning so it seemed a suitable locale for a few quick shots.

It was certainly one of the more unusual Saturday nights I have had for a while but most definitely a fun, laughter-filled one. Thanks Charlie!

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