THE CIDER HOUSE RULES

Maria Fitz­patrick dis­cov­ers an an­cient Cor­nish ap­ple orchard that has been lov­ingly re­stored by its own­ers

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Food Special Property -

Har­vest is well and truly un­der way in the small vil­lage of Ler­ryn, in cen­tral South Corn­wall – at Brian and June Davidge’s house, that is. Na­ture is do­ing its part, gen­tly re­leas­ing ap­ples into the grass, mak­ing the pick­ing job a lit­tle eas­ier, and the Davidges are grate­ful be­cause the wasps and hor­nets are out in force this year. Soon, June’s “mean ap­ple and black­berry crum­ble” will be back on the break­fast-room ta­ble, and the neigh­bours will be en­joy­ing their ap­ple juice and the cider that be­gan life in their or­chards. When Brian and June moved in 1999 to Cut­brawn, their 32-acre, 15th-cen­tury es­tate, which lies in a se­cluded val­ley near Lost­with­iel, the or­chards weren’t in use, hav­ing been grubbed out many years be­fore. To­day’s har­vest is a re­sult of their mis­sion, as Brian calls it, to bring them back to their for­mer glory. In­creas­ing num­bers of high­end buy­ers are now look­ing for properties that of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to en­joy a taste of the good life in the form of room to grow and har­vest their own, ac­cord­ing to Nigel Stubbs, di­rec­tor of Jack­son-Stops & Staff in Truro. “Many buy­ers are dis­il­lu­sioned or sim­ply ex­hausted with a pres­surised ca­reer, and are mak­ing the de­ci­sion to re­tire ear­lier. They’re look­ing for a place with scope and po­ten­tial to al­low a to­tal change of life­style,” he says. But even if you do find a prop­erty with room to grow, it takes great mo­ti­va­tion to start from scratch – es­pe­cially with an orchard or al­lot­ment. Brian and June had a very per­sonal goal in mind. “We both grew up in Somerset, and we wanted to re­plant the or­chards at Cut­brawn so that our grand­chil­dren could en­joy scrump­ing for the ap­ples we re­mem­ber from our youth,” he says. Brian’s grand­fa­ther was an ap­ple­grower dur­ing wartime in Somerset, and was re­spon­si­ble for a cou­ple of new va­ri­eties. “I re­mem­ber he used to pol­ish an ap­ple un­til he could see his face in it,” Brian says. He sees pass­ing on the pas­sion to his own nine grand­chil­dren, aged from 14 months to 18 years, as an im­por­tant part of their her­itage. “Ex­perts said they wouldn’t grow this far west, but grow they have,” he says. With the help of Adam’s Ap­ples, a com­pany in Honi­ton who ad­vised them on which va­ri­eties would work, the or­chards, vis­i­ble from the break­fast room, have flour­ished. Along with the care­fully re­stored six-bed­room, 15th-cen­tury house on the es­tate, which the cou­ple si­mul­ta­ne­ously com­pleted, the or­chards are their pride and joy. They are pop­u­lated with va­ri­eties in­clud­ing Bram­ley Seedlings, Mor­gan Sweet cider ap­ples and Blen­heim Or­ange ap­ples, an ex­tremely sweet va­ri­ety with a nutty flavour, which is picked in late Septem­ber then stored and tra­di­tion­ally eaten at around Christ­mas time (it’s the clas­sic Christ­mas stock­ing va­ri­ety). How­ever, Brian and June sell their Blen­heim Or­anges to Cor­nish Or­chards, a lo­cal com­pany that turns them into cider and juices – they’ve just de­liv­ered the first 400-or-so ki­los, and the rest of the pick­ings will go over in late Septem­ber. Other va­ri­eties, such as Clay­gate Pear­main and the Cor­nish Gil­liflower, are crushed at Cut­brawn, then taken to a com­pany in Sal­tash for press­ing and bot­tling. “The ap­ples we sell pay for the bot­tling of the ap­ple juice,” Brian ex­plains. “We give away a lot of it as presents, and there’s plenty for the fam­ily.” Along with the ap­ples, there are pears, plums, cob­nuts, hazel­nuts and black­ber­ries in abun­dance – all part of the ru­ral idyll on the es­tate, which is close to the River Fowey, in an Area of Out­stand­ing Nat­u­ral Beauty. The or­chards are just one part of a land­scape that in­cludes fields, ponds, a lake where you can “sit and watch drag­on­flies du­elling over the wa­ter”, breath­tak­ing wood­land, and wildlife in­clud­ing deer, pheas­ant, duck, snipe, wood­cock, bit­tern and ot­ters. “I go to the ponds in the val­ley to catch brown trout, and we eat some of the veni­son from the land,” Brian says. “We have to get a com­pany in to keep the deer un­der con­trol; given the chance they’d eat the gar­den, so we think it’s a fair ex­change!” The or­chards have added to the fam­ily’s lives, but they do re­quire quite a bit of work. “The cli­mate can en­cour­age mould spores, and there’s al­ways a lot of work to do on the Blen­heim Or­ange trees, which are prone to canker,” Brian says. “But it has been a won­der­ful pro­ject, and def­i­nitely worth­while.” While the or­chards were never meant as a com­mer­cial ven­ture, Brian and Ju­lia have, in the past, rented out the an­cient ap­ple barn – an ad­join­ing wing of the house, but with its own en­trance – for up to 20 weeks a year, for hol­i­day lets and also for tele­vi­sion shoots. The Davidges are now sell­ing Cut­brawn; some of their close fam­ily have moved to the United States, and they need the freedom to travel there on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. “There’s no ques­tion, we will miss it ter­ri­bly,” Brian says. “It’s a mag­i­cal place.” A new owner could rent out the ap­ple barn again, it’s “ready to go”, and there’s scope for fur­ther ex­pan­sion into store­rooms (there are work­shops cov­er­ing 3,500ft). “This com­bi­na­tion of a very man­age­able main home of char­ac­ter and an ad­ja­cent cot­tage for let­ting or fam­ily ex­pan­sion is dif­fi­cult to achieve, even in Corn­wall where daily ameni­ties are within a short drive,” says Nigel Stubbs. “Ad­di­tion­ally, the area in which Cut­brawn is sit­u­ated is par­tic­u­larly beau­ti­ful and peace­ful, well away from any main roads, close to the up­per reaches of the river. It is highly un­likely that this part of the county will suf­fer ma­jor de­vel­op­ment thereby safe­guard­ing the fu­ture.” As for the or­chards, they need a cus­to­dian to make sure there are many happy scrump­ing days ahead. Cut­brawn is for sale at £1.75mil­lion through Jack­son-Stops & Staff (01872 261160; jack­son-stops.co.uk)

Boun­ti­ful: the or­chards at Cut­brawn, above, pro­duce a rich har­vest of ap­ples

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