For a brief few weeks in spring it’s quite a sight, 2,500 apple trees all in bloom. The Ampleforth Orchard is unique. Planted some 120 years ago by the monks of the Benedictine Order who worship and teach at the famous Ampleforth Abbey and College the orchard has been a precious part of the estate for some 120 years.
It’s not only the size of the orchard but its diversity that makes it special. There are 80 different apple varieties, a heritage collection with evocative names like St Edmund’s Pippin, Belle de Boskoop, Ashmead’s Kernel, Beauty of Bath, Blenheim Orange, and Yorkshire’s own Ribston Pippin, first grown at Ribston Hall near Knaresborough
At first the apples were grown for the table but 40 tons worth of apples every year far exceeds the school’s needs for apple crumble and the fruit bowl. Tim Saxby the Orchard Manager and self-confessed ‘apple nut’ reckoned the only way was to begin juicing and today they press apples for excellent and distinctive single variety apple juices and artisan cider.
Harvesting begins in August and with successive ripening runs through until mid-November. It’s quite a sight in autumn with the trees heavy with fruit, not organic but unsprayed because fruit for pressing doesn’t have to look perfect explains Tim. ‘We grow for flavour.’
At a time when thousands of acres of English orchards have been grubbed up, and our supermarket apple varieties are limited to a handful of varieties and too often foreign imports we should treasure Ampleforth’s very special orchard and enjoy its produce.
Apple juice and cider is for sale at the Ampleforth gift shop, the Cider Mill or online www.abbeyshop.ampleforth.org.uk.
There are tours of the orchard that can be combined with lunch or afternoon tea at the Ampleforth tea room.
T: 01439 766000
And if you want to plant your own tree, the excellent R.V. Roger, just outside Pickering on the Malton road, is a specialist tree nursery with 240 apple varieties who are well placed to advise on what to grow where.