Monday, 27 September 2021

A fruit farm that could just be the apple of your eye

A LOCAL institution is back on the market after 37 fruitful years.

A LOCAL institution is back on the market after 37 fruitful years. Cross Lanes Fruit Farm is in Mapledurham, seven miles south-west of Henley, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you haven’t heard of it, some would say you can’t be a local!

The 23.6-acre estate consists of a large farmhouse, a massive outbuilding, several barns and most importantly productive orchards where owners Dennis and Gillian Franklin grow their “best of British”. There are almost 2,000 fruit trees and, along with pears, plums and quinces, the couple grow apples. Lots of them.

“We have about 60 varieties – everything from well-knowns like Cox’s Orange Pippin and Russets to unusual varieties such as Blenheim Orange and Cornish Gillyflower,” said Gillian. “It’s all about the taste. We offer a mix of sweet, sharp, juicy, crisp, nutty, rich and aromatic apples – they’re all delicious in their own way.”

The Franklins sell their produce in the on-site farm shop, open from Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm in season (late August to mid-January). You may also have seen their apples for sale at farmers’ markets including Henley, Reading and Wallingford.

“We also do school visits, open days, talks and pruning courses,” said Gillian, who, like her husband, is dedicated to her craft. They even have an Apple Day every October. “The first year’s Apple Day attracted 26 people, but now more than 2,000 visitors regularly come to the celebrations,” added Gillian.

The couple have been growing fruit in this picturesque spot since the mid-Seventies, after swapping city life for rural hedgerows, although Dennis also commuted to London until he retired. Mapledurham is just four miles from Reading station and 10 from the M4. Henley is a 10- to 15-minute drive.

“At first our friends thought we were both barmy,” said Gillian. “But Dennis felt the land would be a good investment, and an orchard would be a hobby for me while we raised our family.”

Which they did, bringing up son Roger and daughter Sophie as they learned the ropes.

“The farm has been a great place to bring up a family,” said Gillian “We got the children to work in the shop from a fairly young age. My son was also designing leaflets on the computer before I could even switch it on! My daughter was able to tie reef knots for the trees and stakes at the age of three. All these kinds of things bring you closer together as a family.”

In the Seventies the area had many independent, family-run fruit farms and shops but these have gone the way of so many other industries.

“It’s such a waste as the land around here is ideal for fruit,” said Gillian. “Essentially, the land is made up of clay patches on top of chalk, which traps moisture, but drains well, so the trees flourish.”

The main house was built in 1948 by the retired Ernest Belcher, known for his involvement with the British Empire Exhibition from 1924 to 1925.

It has been extended several times – not that you can tell from outside – to become the large, airy family home it is today. It has a stunning triple-aspect drawing room with a large open fireplace and doors on to the garden, as well as a large double-aspect dining room, a utility/boot room and a bright, modern white kitchen with modern conveniences, such as a built-in double oven, a water softener and built-in larder fridge.

Gillian said: “There’s also plenty of room for a large round table, so after a day’s work you can feed everybody here without them having to change first – although the golden rule is all boots off in the boot room.”

Upstairs, the master bedroom suite has great views as well as an ensuite bathroom and a dressing room. There are two further large bedrooms with ensuites and two that share a family bathroom.

To the eastern boundary there are two agricultural barns. Erected by the previous owner, who bred Charolais cattle, these are used for storage (5,664sq ft) and one contains two cold stores for fruit. Beyond the orchard is permanent grassland and approximately 12 acres of grazing land. This runs down to the valley with stabling.

Gillian said: “The grazing is currently on a short-term let to a local family for horses. They take a pride in looking after the land well and keep an eye on the house, too. The farm is registered for the governmental Basic Payment Scheme [to help the farming industry], and also takes part in an Environmental Stewardship funding scheme – all useful extras to the main business.”

Should the new owner of Cross Lanes find themselves with some downtime, there is also a tennis court, although this seems unlikely when Gillian talks about her working week.

She said: “I prune the trees in winter with the help of Sue, who has worked here for 18 years and whose husband Mark lends a hand too. We then tend the orchards until the harvest starts in August. As you’d imagine, casual workers are needed for harvesting and are easily recruited with a blackboard at the gate.”

• Cross Lanes Fruit Farm is for sale with Savills at a guide price of £1,850,000. For information please call (01491) 843001.

Lucy Boon

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