Drove Orchards is part of a family business that has been in operation for over a century. Major David Jamieson first planted the orchards that exist today in the 1950s when, having won the Victoria Cross for his part in the Normandy Landings, he decided to return to his family home. David’s son Andrew, remembers his fathers boundless enthusiasm for the natural world:
“When asked what he was going to do after the war my father replied ‘I am going to go back to Norfolk and work with local wildlife’. He had a huge love of this coastline and when he returned, he felt he wanted something here he could build up and create and apples were what he started to do.”
Andrew was born just four years after the first apple trees – Cox’s Orange Pippin – were planted by his father in 1952:
“I grew up with the orchards as they matured and remember the first apples going off to Covent Garden.”
Andrew took over when his father retired, amidst changing times. Supermarkets demanded year round produce so apples had to be picked unripe and stored in carbon dioxide. He says:
“I was very dissatisfied with the produce I was required to create for supermarkets; the quality and price were not the way forward. I began to take an interest in older apple varieties and realised some we grew had become heritage varieties. I did my research and began to plant a series of rarer apples, initially a whole lot of russets. Then I developed the idea of trying to find as many East Anglian varieties as I could.”
The orchards now cover some 40 acres of the 350 acre farm, growing over 160 varieties of apple, around 120 of which are East Anglian heritage varieties. The East Anglian Heritage Orchard is divided up into blocks by county – Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
Look out for Caroline (which originated at Blickling), Robert Blatchford (from nearby Hunstanton) and Norfolk Beefing, which will be familiar to readers of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
“Before 1910, when people came to understand the genetics of producing apples, most apple trees were ‘chance seedlings’ and were often named after the village they came from, an employer, or even for the discoverer themselves, which is why we can pin point where a variety comes from.”
Andrew’s own favourite apple is very local - the Norfolk Royal Russet, found in a garden in Burnham Overy Staithe, just along the coast:
“It has the classic English russet flavours, sweet and pear-like, with soft, chewy, slightly dry flesh. Very moreish. We need to look out for older varieties before they are lost. This has coincided with people’s interest in food and where it comes from.”
Just over 60 years since the first apple trees were planted, Drove is a bustling destination for visitors with its own Farm Shop just a stone’s throw from the orchards, selling homegrown produce and more, a fishmonger, two restaurants, independent shops, a garden nursery, luxury glamping and more.
Despite the transformation that has taken place over the years, Drove Orchards continues to draw on its past. Grafts were recently taken from the original Cox’s Orange Pippin trees, planted by Major Jamieson back in 1952, to continue the strain and make a new orchard.