Celebrate the autumn harvest

Apple picking at Cotehele

Feeling the leaves crunch underfoot, tucking into warming treats and hearing the wind whistle through the branches of a majestic oak. Harvest season is here — the perfect time to discover different varieties of apples and be inspired to try one of our great apple recipes.

We've had a great year for apples this year. At places like Nunnington Hall, North Yorkshire, and Cotehele, Cornwall, we're giving away bags of apples for small donations, or you can even pick some yourself to take home. Why not relax in a café and try out some seasonal food, made from produce grown in our kitchen gardens?

Which places are open?

  • More than 135 gardens and parklands are open through advance booking
  • Over 40 historic houses are now open. If you book a ticket for an open garden or park, you may also be able to visit the house. Visits to the houses are limited to ensure safe, social distancing and so we can't guarantee you’ll be able to view the house on the day you visit
  • We’ve opened many of our cafés and shops at these places to help make your visit feel as close to normal as possible
  • Hundreds of coast and countryside car parks are open and most don’t need to be booked

We're following government advice closely and will reopen more places as soon as we can.

An ample amount of apples

We've had a bountiful harvest this year, and apple harvests are taking place slightly earlier than usual at lots of gardens and orchards we care for. This is largely due to a warm spring which helped create the perfect weather conditions for pollinators like bees to get the fruit off to a good start.

For example, at Ardress House in County Armargh, tenant farmers look after 25 acres of heritage apple trees, which is around 2,000 trees overall. The late frost killed the apple blossom there, but nature bounced back with a second bloom. This has produced smaller apples than normal that are irregular in shape, but they'll still make excellent ciders.

We care for over 200 traditional apple orchards across the country, and you can see lots of different varieties of apples at many places.

See heritage varieties of apples on your visit

Come and see the bountiful orchards at places we care for before tucking into some warming seasonal treats in many of our cafés. At places like Cotehele and Nunnington Hall, due to the current restrictions we are bagging up apples for a small donation or encouraging visitors to pick their own to take home and use in some of our tasty apple recipes.

You can see lots of heritage varieties at the following places:

Red apples on a branch
Orchard at Coughton Court, Warwickshire
A gardener walking with a crate filled with the harvest
Father holds child up to the autumn leaves on a tree at Croft Castle in Herefordshire
Walking in the orchard at Moseley Old Hall
Apple in the orchard
A child picking apples at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire

Orchard care

The orchards we care for provide vital habitats for many creatures such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, bats and mistletoe moths. However, nationally the number of orchards has declined by 90% since the 1950s.

Taking care of the remaining orchards involves pruning and grafting in order to preserve and manage these historical environments and their apple varieties. It’s our aim that by 2025, 68 new orchards will be planted at places in England and Wales to encourage even more species to settle down.

We help to conserve hundreds of heritage apple varieties to keep the history of these special orchards alive. These include Ashmead's Kernel (1700), Winter Queening (17th century), Coer de Boeuf (13th century) and Flower of Kent (1629), which is the variety that inspired Isaac Newton's theory of gravity. 

Staff member picking apples at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire
Staff member picking apples for the harvest
Staff member picking apples at Hughenden, Buckinghamshire

Harvest folkore and feasts

The harvest season has many folklore associations linked to it, with some traditions even continuing to this day.

In pre-industrial Cornwall and Devon, corn dollies were made from the last pieces of corn. These dollies were then exchanged between couples as favours between them, or used as centrepieces for celebratory meals after the harvest ended.

In West Cornwall, 'Allantide' is still celebrated, a local alternative to Halloween which is centred around the apple and harvest season.

Harvest feasts are also traditional, as people in places such as Yorkshire would take part in 'churn suppers'. They were named this because traditionally, farmers would bring out full churns of cream to reward those who had taken part in that year's harvest activities. 

Seasonal produce

Heritage conservation doesn’t just include artworks or objects, but it can include historical varieties of seasonal produce to keep historical gardens alive.

This time of year, gardeners at these special places are harvesting produce such as beetroots, potatoes, leeks, beans, carrots – and of course, apples – in the gardens we help to look after.

Tuck into seasonal treats

Eating food that’s in season is also a great choice if you’re trying to live more sustainably, and you’ll find delicious seasonal treats at many of our cafés and restaurants.

Tuck into some sweet snacks in the tea-room at Croft Castle, Herefordshire, some tasty treats in the café at Hatfield Forest, Essex or in the Old Kitchen tea-room at Arlington Court, Devon and even some apple-themed treats in the café or trailer at Saltram, Devon.

The kitchen garden at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire

Top kitchen gardens 

Sustainable food production is a big shift in food culture, and we're leading the way at many of our kitchen gardens. Here's our pick of the best.