When a guy contacts you and says that he's got a load of old ordnance survey maps with every heritage orchard mapped out across Greater Manchester you make sure that you follow that lead up. One of our biggest problems in taking our cider beyond just that of apple donations is where to source apples from. There are no commercial growers in the region, that we've met yet, although we know of a few in the pipeline so we need to find consistent sources of local apples where we have permission from the land owner to take them. There will be no scrumping round these parts! Also we'd never rob the well known sources of free apples, such as those in Chorlton Meadows for our own commercial gain although we'd encourage you our readers to seek out the bounty that can be found there. And if you wish to turn some or all of your harvest into juice or cider, then you know where to come.
Anyway, back to my heritage orchard guy. His name is Samuel Bolton and he works for Manchester ecological unit and has formed the 'Grafting for Orchards' project. He was kind enough to meet me at a secret location just outside the M60 to show me one of the abandoned orchards he's become aware of.
I was early for our meeting and I wasn't entirely sure I was in the right place but I parked up at the end of a long dirt road and got out. To my surprise I'd parked up next to an apple tree "must be in the right place methinks". So I wander around for a while getting lost in the beauty outside of the urban sprawl and red-bricks of home. I rarely get time in my own thoughts out in nature and away from my day job stuck behind a desk, and I have to admit that it was a great start to my day, just me and the wild.
So Samuel arrived an hour or so later and we launched into our hunt, along with sidekick William, Samuel's son, who'd been dragged along by his Dad. Samuel is more than just an apple hunter, he was the best kind of guide as he pointed out the wildlife along the way. He pointed out the burdock, should we diversify into D&B and other flora and fauna such as Mugwort which is known to flavour beer, much in same way as hops. We also spotted blue damselflies and he was telling me about local apple varieties he hoped to reintroduce through his project such as Lord Suffield.
So we made our way down a dirt track and soon discovered that our path into the orchard had become blocked by undergrowth. The last time Samuel had been here was back in winter when the landscape was a little more bleak. We fought our way through to an idyllic little spot when I caught glimpse of my first apple tree. A rather gnarly old one with beautiful lichens growing on the end of its branches. To know that this and the other trees in the orchard probably date back to the 1860s was amazing and they're still producing fruit! There were about a dozen trees of different varieties and a few pear trees amongst those too. At this stage the varieties are unknown but Samuel is keen to send some of them off for identification.
So this is one site that we'd like to revisit in the autumn with a few of our followers and friends to not only pick, after much hacking back of the undergrowth but also log all the trees and help to reinvigorate the orchard. It would seem we have the landowner on side to repopulate the site with new trees too.
My hope is that in time many of these heritage orchards across the city will become 'fruitful' again and who knows we might find some rarities along the way.
I'd like to personally thank Samuel (and little William) for giving up some of his day off to be my guide. I'm sure he will become a great source of information along our cider journey and a friend too. He was kind enough to bring along a sample of his own homebrew cider (I owe you one Samuel!). No doubt we'll run some grafting workshops together later in the year as well as head to other sites around the city hunting for apples.