Plea to help save ‘forgotten’ Bristol cider orchard - and make ‘home

Far Orchard is a picturesque 15-acre cider orchard hidden away behind Ashton Court Estate

The founder of a new Bristol cider company has launched a crowdfunding campaign to secure the future of the closest cider orchard to the city centre. Ed Gibson, of Branch Cider, has committed to buying as many of the ‘forgotten’ orchard’s apples as he can so more people in Bristol can drink cider made from fruit grown in the city.

Ed says the 15-acre orchard’s last crop went almost entirely to waste because its owner could not find a market for most of his apples. Far Orchard is a picturesque cider orchard hidden away behind Ashton Court Estate in Abbots Leigh. Despite being the closest cider orchard to town it has almost been forgotten.

The orchard was planted in 1951 by Redvers Coates of Coates Cider and was designed to showcase some of the very best apple varieties for cider making. Redvers Coates wanted to make the best tasting cider possible so he insisted that only Somerset cider apple varieties were used in Coates cider.

Nowadays, mass produced ciders can be made with any apples and Ed says that’s why so many cider orchards are under threat.

In recent years the orchard at Abbots Leigh has been single-handedly maintained by retired surgeon Christopher Ackroyd. Now in his 80s, this will be Mr Ackroyd’s last harvest and the orchard will soon be transitioning to new owners.

Ed founded Bristol cider bar The Apple and then went on to make cider in America, establishing US craft cider company Austin Eastciders. His time away gave him a greater appreciation of the cider apple varieties grown in the West Country, widely recognised as some of the best in the world.

When he heard about Far Orchard and saw the apples rotting on the orchard floor he was heartbroken. Last year, Ed made some small batches of cider under the Branch name with apples from other local orchards, to highlight the varietal character of these local apples.

The ciders went on to win two Gold Medals at the 2022 British Cider Championships at the Royal Bath & West Show. They’ve since been sold at selected bars and taprooms in Bristol and Ed says the reception has been ‘phenomenal’.

Christopher Ackroyd, current owner of Far Orchard in Abbots Leigh (Credit: @JonCraig_Photos)
Christopher Ackroyd, current owner of Far Orchard in Abbots Leigh (Credit: @JonCraig_Photos)
Christopher Ackroyd, current owner of Far Orchard in Abbots Leigh (Credit: @JonCraig_Photos)

“We want to make great cider that gets Bristolians excited about these local apples... we want to take the passion and pride of Bristol’s cider drinkers and channel it into helping preserve our local orchards.

“Bristol is the cider-drinking capital of the world. The orchards around Bristol have some of the finest apples for cider making anywhere on Earth. But less and less of the cider we drink these days is made with our local apples. As a result the cider orchards around Bristol are rapidly disappearing.”

The National Trust says 81% of traditional orchards in England & Wales have been lost, and that the situation is worst in the South West. Far Orchard was designed to showcase some of the very best apple varieties for cider making.

Ed says: “We created Branch to help preserve our local orchards by turning their world class apples into ciders Bristolians will love.”

The Branch £5,000 crowdfunder aims to save Far Orchard’s entire apple crop and help secure the future of Bristol’s local cider orchard. Ed says he also hopes the campaign will help to establish a model that Branch can use to support other endangered local orchards and raise the profile of the West Country’s apple varieties and orchards.

Supporters will be invited to special events where they will be among the first to enjoy ciders made with the apples from Far Orchard. A donation of £25, enough to pay for half a tree of apples, will get each supporter £25 worth of cider at these events.

Ed says: “We’re asking Bristolians for their help. Chip in a few quid to help buy these apples and we’ll make some really tasty cider for you in return. It’s like a cider savings account, donate £25 towards the apples now and get £25 of cider later.

“Make a downpayment on some great local cider and help us secure the future of this wonderful Bristol orchard.” You can find details and support the campaign here.