Celebrate Bowland Apple Day and learn about the county's fruit detectives

Phil Rainfordon the trail of lost apple trees
Phil Rainfordon the trail of lost apple trees
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If you fancy an apple chances are you reach for a Braeburn, a Pink Lady, a Cox or a Gala. A Golden Delicious might even  get a look in.

But what about the Lancashire and Cumbrian varieties of Proctor’s Seedling, Lange’s Perfection, Keswick Codlin, Duke of Devonshire, Hargreaves Greensweet, Lady’s Finger of Lancaster and Golden Spire?

John Hilton with his Dig For Victory Bramley apple tree

John Hilton with his Dig For Victory Bramley apple tree

These were all varieties which grew and thrived in the region and could do so again - if only people made space for them in their gardens and could source the rare varieties.

This Saturday the third Bowland Apple Day will celebrate the glory of local English apples.

The day has been organised by conservation volunteers Friends of Bowland, who are linked to Lancashire’s Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Group secretary Martin Charlesworth said: “We should connect with what people have grown. Everyone in England can grow apples. If you’ve got a bit of space you can grown an apple.

Phil Rainford at a previous Apple Day at Beacon Fell

Phil Rainford at a previous Apple Day at Beacon Fell

They will be tasty, they will have imperfections, some will be small, some will be big. They won’t look as nice as what’s in supermarkets but a lot of local grown fruits will taste wonderful.”

He stresses the harvest - apart from long keepers, will be around for only a couple of months and the 2018 harvest must be savoured and enjoyed now in all its abundance. He said: “This year has been absolutely fabulous, The best I’ve known in years.”

Those attending the Apple Day are invited to bring along their own apples to sell or buy some at the event.

Martin, whose home is near Longridge, practises what he preaches and said: “I’ve got 20 - 30 apple trees. We had an orchard at home and so my dad used to pick pears and apples and we used to sell them round our village and have signs on the gate.”

The pick of the crop -  harvest 2018

The pick of the crop - harvest 2018

That was in Yorkshire and when Martin moved across the boundary to Lancashire he decided to grow his own.

“We used to carry bags of conference pears around and people used to be stopping you and asking ‘Are they ready yet?’ We used to have our regular orders.”

He advises a careful eye must be kept on any stores as the keeping qualities of apples will vary enormously:: “Some are eaters and some are keepers. We used to keep them in a cellar in a barrel.

“We used to wrap each one in newspaper and line the barrel. We used to have a couple of hundredweight. By Christmas we would be going down to the cellar looking for apples and I would pick up five or six. I’d unwrap them and some would be perfectly okay and some would be mouldy. What’s the phrase? ‘One bad apple can spoil the barrel’.”

The Bowland Apple Day takes place from 11 am - 3pm at Ribchester Village Hall on Riverside. Martin stresses it will not be a massive event, but there will be the opportunity to get home grown apples identified, get cultivation advice. Apples will be on sale and apple themed refreshments of apple, pie, apple turnover and apple cake will be on sale.

The idea for Apple Day came from campaign group Common Ground, holding the first Apple Day in 1990 to promote, celebrate and protect our apple tree heritage.

Martin acknowledges that climatic conditions are not ideal for growing apples in Lancashire: “It’s a bit wet of course and cold. But they grow apples in Norway so we can grow apples in Lancashire.”

While Hereford, Worcester and Kent may be regarded as the ideal locations for apple growing Martin advises that there are varieties, which tolerate wetter conditions which will prosper here. The other bonus point is that you can make sure home grown apples are pesticide free.

Eccleston, near Chorley was once home to numerous orchards and in parts of Lancashire the remnants of “Dig For Victory” orchards, when fields were planted up as part of the war effort in 1940 remain. Keen gardener John Hilton of Ribchester was delighted to add more apple trees to his garden to grow alongside his remaining Dig For Victory tree.

It is now hoped other gardeners will follow his example - whether or not they have an ancient apple tree in their gardens.

Some of the individual apples have fascinating tales of discovery. The Duke of Devonshire, renowned for its keeping qualities, was from Holker Hall in Cumbria and Proctor’s Seedling originated from around Longridge, near Preston.

Expert Phil Rainford from Fulwood will be attending the Bowland Day. He has been responsible for a project using old maps to try and locate old orchards or the remaining trees from old orchards and reports that many leaf samples are now being sent off for DNA testing to the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale.

Using lists from old market sales and other historical documents the search continues to find “lost” trees. The old varieties are not just part of our rural past but could also have genetic material which makes them particularly suited to growing here.

He notes: “There are still approximately 12 -15 old Lancashire varieties and there are another 15 or so missing ones.: “We have records of the existence, probably up tot he 1930s, of a Lancashire apple variety called Lady Pilkington which was raised at Southport Botanic Gardens round about 1900. The apple is lost to all intents and purposes although I’m hoping it could be around in a derelict orchard or somebody’s back garden.”

* Bowland Apple Day runs from 11 am - 3pm at Ribchester Village Hall, Riverside, Ribchester. Admission (including refreshments) is £1.00 for adults, free for children. Other local Apple Days include: Astley Hall, Chorley October 7 and Ashton Hall Garden Centre, Lancaster October 13.