Brogdale National Fruit Collection

Brogdale Farm Brogdale Road Faversham Kent ME13 8XZ

Like so many rural enterprises nowadays, Brogdale Farm, a mile or so south of the pretty creekside town of Faversham, has had to diversify to survive. And it has done it very well, creating a kind of foodie marketplace, with its excellent Butcher of Brogdale, renowned in the Southeast for its superb meat,  a sit-down restaurant, a fruit shop, a microbrewery and a classy off-licence, Tiddly Pomme, which sells local booze. There are also a couple of tasteful giftshops and a garden centre for good measure, the whole caboodle clustered around a little square. Anchoring it all, and Brogdale's raison d'etre, is the fruit farm behind, home to the National Fruit Collection, a giant orchard holding the world's largest collection of fruit trees.  Because Brogdale is a collection rather than a commercial enterprise, more concerned with data recording, research and experimentation than selling, there are thousands of varieties to discover, from all over the world, the oldest of which date back nearly a century. Though you are free to walk around the orchards alone – following one of three self-guided walks – the best way to go, especially when the fruits are ripe for the picking, is to take a guided tour. Fruits at Brogdale are left to ripen naturally and even fall from the trees, but you're only allowed to taste them for yourself when you're with a guide. Tours are relaxed, informed affairs, with your guide helpfully pointing out identifying features and varietal quirks , and plucking fruits from the branches for you to try. Come hungry: summer, especially, will yield rich pickings of cherries and plums, while autumn is even better, with apples (more than 2000 varieties), pears and more plums all at their best. In addition, you'll see cider apples and perry pears, cobnuts and hazelnuts, damsons and quinces, and will enjoy a riot of frothy blossom in the spring.  A number of festivals, which see the marketplace area come alive with stalls and rollicking with kids' activities, are fixtures on the Brogdale calendar. The cherry blossom festival in spring (when you're encouraged to bring a picnic) and the huge apple festival in October are both good fun, with steam train rides and tractor tours of the orchards; the cherry and cider festivals (July and August respectively) are also worth a trip. In addition, Brogdale also offers short courses in subjects such as grafting and pruning, or even foraging, "rural cooking" and cider making.

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