National Apple Festival - a family day out in Kent
The 36 apple trees at our Kent holiday rental have yielded a bumper crop this year. It is fascinating to think that each harvested crispy Cox, cooker and crab apple links the eater in an unbroken chain back to the time of Henry VIII.
The orchard bears fruit at Barnfield House
A brief history of apples in Kent
Apples have made their appearance at various stages in the history of England, initially during the Roman occupation and then after the Normal Conquest of 1066. The first record of apple growing in Kent appears in a map of Canterbury dating from 1165, which shows an orchard within the grounds of the Benedictine Christchurch Abbey. But the county’s pre-eminence as England’s leading apple grower really started some 400 years later, when Henry VIII’s fruiterer Richard Harris planted the first pippins in Teynham in 1533. Fast forward 350 years and, by the close of the 19th Century, over 25,000 acres of Kent were devoted to apple orchards. By then Charles Dickens, Kent’s most famous literary resident, had proclaimed in Pickwick Papers “Kent, sir – everyone knows Kent – apples, cherries, hops and women”.
Today, though the acreage is nowhere near the Victorian heydays, Kent remains England’s premier apple growing region. Given its apple heritage, it is perhaps not surprising that the county is also home to the UK’s National Fruit Collection at Brogdale Farm – in an appropriate nod to history, close to the very site where Richard Harris planted the first ‘King’s orchards’ in 1533.
The National Fruit Collection
The National Fruit Collection houses an astonishing 2,200 varieties, some represented by just one or two trees. This is the largest collection in the world and includes varieties from almost every county in Britain as well as from across the globe. Far from being closed to the public, the orchards are open seven days a week throughout the open season, which runs from April until the end of October. So you have the chance to visit from the time of heavenly spring blossoms to the heady fruit harvest. Choose a guided tour where you walk in the company of a resident expert who will share knowledge, answer questions, and pick some fruit for you to taste (in addition to apples, you may also see pears, quinces, plums and cherries. If you can do without the chance to taste some apples, opt for a self-guided walk or, if you prefer a more leisurely look, join the trailer tractor tour.
Brogdale National Apple Festival - fun for all the family
Visits throughout the season bring their own unique rewards, but in October the orchards are particularly spectacular, laden with colourful heritage fruit. And if you time your visit to coincide with the annual National Apple Festival, you’ll reap dividends. This year the festival takes place on the 19th and 20th October, and it promises to be a fabulous fun-packed weekend for all the family. Get set for a breath-taking display of apples in the Apple Barn where you can try-before-you-buy rare and heritage varieties and select your favourites to take home. Take a guided tour on foot, by tractor trailer, or aboard the Faversham Miniature Railway that wends its way through the heart of the orchards. Learn about the history of apples. Listen to horticultural talks on such topics as Kent wildflowers and bee-keeping. Meet the scientists from Reading University who are conducting climate change trials in the orchards. Watch cookery and apple-pressing demonstrations. Participate in festival games and competitions like the longest apple peel competition or apple eating challenge. Browse stalls brimming with local crafts and produce. Relax – or dance – to the rhythms of local bands while enjoying local cider and a large serving of Brogdale apple pie.
There’s lots for younger members of the family too: face painting, a bouncy pirate ship, Punch & Judy, and kids’ apple crafts such as ‘make a bobbing apple boat’ and ‘carve a spooky Halloween apple head’. Plus there’s Bramble the pig and friends to meet in the animal corner, snakes and lizards to learn about in the reptile area, and dazzling falconry displays.
Bramley or Beauty of Kent?
One activity of particular interest to us at Barnfield House is fruit identification. While this service is offered online throughout the year, the festival gives visitors the opportunity to meet resident Pomologist Joan Morgan, who will help identify apple trees from a fruit sample or a photo of the tree. At last this is the chance for us to identify some of the varieties growing in our garden!
Home of the National Fruit Collection and set in over 150 acres of farmland, Brogdale Collections is a charity working to provided access to and education about the National Fruit Collection. The charity offers a range of opportunities for the public to use the collections as an educational resource including daily guided tours (April – November), Key Stage 1 & 2 education days, fruit days and festivals.
The Brogdale National Apple Festival takes place from 10am till 5pm on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th October 2019.
Daily tickets are available online. Prices are £5 for children (15 and under), £9 for adults, £8 for students and 60+, and £23 for families (2 adults and 2 children). Book now for tickets discounted by 10% (available until 18th October 2019. Tickets will be available on the gate during the festival weekend. For more information, visit brogdalecollections.org
All photos (except the captioned Barnfield House orchard photo) credited to the Brogdale Collections