Bridport & West Dorset News, Views, Videos & Curiosities

National Trust revives cider orchards

ciderpostcard2THE NATIONAL Trust is spending more than half a million pounds on restoring 30 cider orchards. One beneficiary is the Golden Cap estate between Bridport and Lyme Regis.

The Trust is going for traditional apple varieties such as Slack-ma-Girdle, Pig’s Snout and Hoary Morning. Beautiful evocative names, but there are problems with trying to recreate the past. I was talking about orchards the other day to Nick Poole, founder of the West Milton Cider Club and supremo of the now famous Powerstock Cider Festival, and he was objecting to old apples being planted just because they are old. One problem is, you can be left with a glut of a particular sort of apple (like Morgan Sweet, which makes an early, sweet cider; nice, but you want something else too).

A second problem is, some old apples don’t always make very good cider! It’s true! I’ve made cider with Nick in the past from apples with lovely names but not such an appealing taste. (We made some once that was only really drinkable when cut with something else). 

Also – though the pressing pictured above is an impressively compact operation – it’s not necessarily the case that farmers in the past always knew what they were doing. Historical records and odd surviving trees may show that landowners once grew certain apples in their orchards, but they don’t always prove that that they were wise to do so. What if they made mistakes? What if certain varieties failed to thrive in particular soils or micro-climates? Couldn’t that be a reason why some orchards declined? Is it sensible to insist – as Nick Poole says funding bodies do insist – on restocking orchards with the same old apples, when, actually, other sorts might do a bit better? And they’d still benefit wildlife and look pretty…

It’s worth thinking about. Although, in the end, the one thing everyone agrees on is that it’s better to have orchards restored than grubbed up. As the National Trust points outs, more than 60 per cent of traditional orchards have disappeared since the 1950s. Nick’s own blog (written with cider apple expert Liz Copas), about hunting for old varieties across Dorset,  laments what’s been lost. It’s linked to here. It’s a good read. I’ll quote you just part of one paragraph:

“On our travels we talked to people who once worked on the land, who made and drunk cider, and we began to realise that many village trees saw their last days in the 1960s when grants were offered to clear the land. Just a few useful cookers or eating apples were often the only survivors. The clearances made way for new buildings, village infill and sadly, the proliferation of road names like ‘Orchard Close’ and ‘Old Orchard Way’.

“Just tombstones where orchards once stood…”