Discover the largest orchards cared for by the National Trust

New orchards Brockhampton

Nestled in the Herefordshire hills, the Brockhampton estate is home to approximately sixty-five acres of traditional orchards.

Acre-upon-acre of beautiful blossom and fruit

Whatever the season is when you visit Brockhampton, you simply can’t miss the impressive elderly fruit trees which engulf the medieval manor house and beyond. Surrounding the house is an orchard full of ‘Shropshire prune’ damson trees which erupt into cloud-like blossom around early April followed by laden boughs of sweet fruit by late summer. Head through the gate and the damson trees begin to intermingle with apples, many local heritage varieties grow here such as the ‘Onibury Pippin’ and ‘Worcester Pearmain’. Other fruit on the estate include cherries, pears and the not-so-common Medlar fruit which dates back to the Roman times, you have to wait for this fruit to ‘blett’ or rot before it is sweet and soft enough to eat.

Enjoy breath taking blossom displays at Brockhampton
The orchard trees in blossom with the manor in the background
Enjoy breath taking blossom displays at Brockhampton

The orchards here at Brockhampton don’t just please visitors with Instagram-worthy blossom shots and fruit picking but they also create a myriad of habitats and biodiversity too. To enhance this space further, lowland meadow has been planted in and around the orchards, the combination of traditional fruit trees and native wildflowers will encourage pollinators such as bees and butterflies in the warmer months. Resident farmer, James Hawkins, grazes  the his Hebrides sheep here to help manage the orchards organically. 

Reimagining Orchards

Discover the apple core in the new orchards
aerial image of the apple core
Discover the apple core in the new orchards

Sadly, many of our orchards in Herefordshire and Worcester have been grubbed-up over the past century. Some of this is due to neglect or more popular varieties of fruit being imported from abroad, with another culprit being development and change of land use.

Interestingly, archaeological investigations in 2015 confirmed knowledge that a large orchard, spanning over twenty-one acres, once stood in the grazing fields behind the manor house here which has since been lost. Since 2018, we have been working alongside the local community to reinstate these lost Victorian orchards but with a modern twist. We have now completed this project, and over 700 trees have been planted into three fields, including field maple, hazel, elder and blackthorn, as well as many varieties of apple, damson, pear, plum and quince. 

We have installed three kilometres of accessible paths, which start in the historic damson orchard near the manor house and continue on into the newly replanted fields. They also wind their way through the original ‘reimagined orchard’ which was designed and created by artist Walter Jack, in collaboration with Rathbone Partnership, back in 2019. Walter Jack designed the first orchard by creating five chambers which will eventually be surrounded by lowland meadow. Each chamber features unusual and rare varieties of fruit, specially chosen to tell the story of the eating apple, from its origins in Kazakhstan through to its well-known and traditional use as the Herefordshire cider apple.

Beyond the apple core, you can explore seven orchard rooms containing natural play areas, where little adventurers can now run, jump and skip among the young trees. Following the natural play trail, you will be drawn to discover the furthest corners of the orchards.

In years past, orchards were very important to local economies. The annual fruit harvest brought a bounty in which was enjoyed throughout the year. Apple orchards gave the people the means to make cider, juice, and cider vinegar which can be used as a preserving aid, disinfectant and in medicine. This is represented by the 'Herefordshire Bull' Trow which sits at the heart of the new orchard. Trows were once used to transport goods, including fruit, from Herefordshire along the River Severn and the River Wye. This replica boat was built by T. Nielson & Co and was kindly gifted to the National Trust by the Herefordshire Community Foundation. You can now climb aboard the Trow and imagine you are sailing down the river with your cargo of orchard fruit.

Climb aboard the 'Herefordshire Bull' Trow
Herefordshire Bull Trow
Climb aboard the 'Herefordshire Bull' Trow

Not only are orchards significant to Herefordshire’s past they create wonderful habitats which is why we have worked hard to preserve and maintain the orchards at Brockhampton, ensuring that they can be enjoyed by everyone. The importance of orchards as a habitat has been highlighted by the installation of animal sculptures, which have been inspired by the wide variety of wildlife which call the orchard home.  

Conservation Ecology 

Dead wood from fruit trees such as damsons provides a great home to many species of fungi, lichens and insects, which in turn will help out the bird population as they search for insects. At Brockhampton, we're lucky enough to have the Noble Chafer beetle and a rare mistletoe weevil. The weevil isn't particularly interesting to look at but before it's appearance in Brockhampton over fifteen years ago, it had never been found in Britain before. It's even rare to find it on the continent where it is known to exist.

The ancient trees here home many rare species
Mistletoe in an apple tree at Brockhampton
The ancient trees here home many rare species

The noble chafer on the other hand is rare but is a little more interesting to look at with its iridescent green body. Its main habitat is on fruit trees over 50 years old that would normally be taken out due to their lack of fruit production. This little beetle presides within the old, decaying wood within the tree, making it important to consider how we clear away any dead wood that comes down. It is generally found by the droppings it produces, called frass, which become abundant and accumulate like fine gravel in hollow branches or trunks.

In order to better manage the orchards for mushrooms growing on the ground (that need shorter grass), fungi growing on the deadwood hanging from trees, and the lichens that grow around the orchards, we're adjusting our management and grazing regime to better fit with the wildlife needs. It's important that we don't use pesticides or fertilizers as this could harm the wildlife.

Brockhampton's 'buttery' Brockhampton's 'buttery'

When visitors explore the buttery inside the manor, they're quite often mistaken into thinking they're looking at a room linked to dairy products. It's possible some food bits were as large as stone slabs on the floor and work surfaces make it very cool, but its main purpose was to store alcohol, so named after the wooden butts or barrels. 

The buttery was a room used to store fermenting cider
The buttery was a room used to store fermenting cider
The buttery was a room used to store fermenting cider

There are a couple of stone apple presses on the estate which now belong to the resident farmers. It’s though previous occupants of the manor house would’ve had their apples pressed on site here and the cider would be stored in the cool buttery to ferment before being served in the magnificent Great Hall at dinner time. All excess fruit would be eaten and sold at market locally.

Sadly, horse-drawn apple presses are a thing of the past and the ones here are not only now privately owned but beyond repair. However, we have continued the tradition of annual apple pressing in October over the years, but now through an outside company who bring a portable press on-site, the cider is still left to ferment in the buttery too.

Orchard folklore

Wassailing (Wassail meaning ‘Good Health or Be Well’) is an Anglo-Saxon custom in cider producing regions of England, it is thought to bring a bountiful harvest when communities take part in this traditional event which blesses the orchards.

Wassailing, on around Twelfth Night in January (around 5/6 January), brings many together to drink a concoction of mulled ale, served in huge silver or pewter bowls and mixed with curdled cream, apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar, small pieces of toast are often added and float on the top, its appearance leading some to call the drink ‘Lamb’s Wool’.

The Wassail will involve fire and dance
Silhouettes huddled around a fire
The Wassail will involve fire and dance

With a greeting of ‘Wassail’, cider is poured onto its roots and toast is offered in the tree’s branches, an incantation recited and those present sing, shout and bang drums, pots, pans etc. to ward off evil spirits.

Have you ever heard of the Apple Tree Man? He is the spirit of the orchard and lives in the eldest tree, the fertility of the orchard is his responsibility. He brings blossom in spring and a good harvest in early autumn and is thought to reward anyone who shows kindness towards him.

Every orchard has its own Apple Tree Man and there are many tales of apple thieves being spooked and scared by this peculiar spirit! The Wassail is though to please the Apple Tree Man who is thought to be charmed by the offering of cider and toast.