Thursday, 17 January 2008

Wisbech - Orchard Country

Yesterday I was in the Cambridgeshire market town of Wisbech. I was there today as well, but luckily I chose yesterday to explore the surrounding countryside, since today was a fair bit wetter. Wisbech is surrounded by literally hundreds of acres of orchards, consisting mostly of the squat bush trees favoured by dessert apple growers. Whilst it's true to say that these modern bush orchards with their neat rows of dwarf trees, lack the visual appeal of the old standard orchards, but I think they have an appeal all of their own, particularly out here on the flat fenlands.

The East of England Tourist Board have spotted the appeal of these orchards, and produced a Cycling Discovery Map called 'Apples and Ale' as an aid to their exploration (the 'Ale' part refers to the town's Elgood's Brewery, an imposing Georgian edifice on the River Nene). I didn't have a cycle with me, so can't vouch for the route's ease or otherwise, but it's pretty flat out here on the Fens so I can't see it being a problem for most folk.

The modern orchards are everywhere, but what really caught my eye was the Old Orchard at Wisbech St Mary, a non-commercial orchard with trees over 100 years old. A short walk up a (very muddy!) track, it's free to visit, and open all year round.
It's a beautiful space, even in the depth of Winter when the trees are perhaps at their craggy best. The neglected state of the trees is I guess, quite deliberate, and all the more welcoming for wildlife. Rotting apples litter the orchard floor, welcome food for birds at this time of the year. I'm sure I caught the colourful flash of a Woodpecker in the corner of my eye, as well as a multitude of more common bird life. It was nice to see that a bare patch of the orchard has been newly planted with a few rows of orchard fruit by the East of England Apples & Orchards Project, including the local Wisbech variety Lynn's Pippin. This is one place I look forward to revisiting in the Spring, when the trees will be covered in pinky-white blossom.

With this abundance of apple growing about, you would think that signs of cidermaking would not be too far away, but no-one I've heard of makes a drop around here. Of course the mighty Gaymers were originally from just up the road in Norfolk, and their presence can still be felt in the Autumn when lorry-loads of apples are seen on the roads hereabouts. This sign is at the edge of a field on the outskirts of Wisbech.

There are more of my photos from the Wisbech St Mary orchard, and many more lovely orchard pics besides, at the Orchards UK Flickr Group.

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