How the Clyde Valley was once the fruit basket of Scotland
First published in The Scotsman Sunday 16 October 2016
This article was first published in The Scotsman, Sunday 16 October, 2016, and was written by Alison Campsie. View the original article online here and follow Alison on Twitter @alicampsie75.
It was a king’s fancy for figs and pears that led to the “fruit basket of Scotland” first being planted almost 900 years ago.
Since the 12th Century, the sheltered, fertile soil of the Clyde Valley has produced rich pickings with the area once a major force in Scotland’s food industry.
David I himself took a keen interest in growing in the valley and after selling to monks to produce fruit, boxes of goods would be dispatched Holyrood Abbey for the enjoyment of the royal court.
Records show that by the late 1800s, 60 varieties of apple were cultivated in the 20-mile strip between Lanark and Bothwell, with 24 varieties of pear produced by the orchards that sloped down towards the river banks.
Gooseberries, strawberries and currants were also to thrive with the Victoria plum - first discovered in the south of England - finding perfect growing conditions in the valley where a slight frost would add an extra touch of sweetness to the fruit.
One account, written in 1862, notes how plums would grow “luxuriantly and yield fruits without care”, with the fruit found growing freely in hedgerows in the village of Dalserf.
In a 1920 guide to Lanarkshire, author Frederick Mort noted: “Of the area under orchards proper most is claimed by plum trees and in autumn the wayfarer may see for miles along the road within easy reach the scarlet fruit gleaming through its green setting.”
Tom Clelland had four generations of his family growing fruit in the Clyde Valley, where major work continues to support the rejuvenation of the landscape and the heritage of the area.
Mr Clelland recalled pickers coming over from Ireland to work in the orchards and legions of school children from towns such as Motherwell and Hamilton being drafted in to gather in the crops that would be dispatched by train all over the UK.
He said: “There was fruit growing everywhere. You would have plum trees growing and then underneath the plum trees would be gooseberries. It was really quite intense.”
It is said that David I started growing in the valley in the 12th Century and learned how to graft leaf buds into the stock of a tree.
“King David was very keen on his pears, apparently. He gave the land in the valley to monks, who would grow him pears, apples and plums, “He also wanted figs, which did grow here but we know the weather was different then.”
Mr Clelland said the arrival of foreign imports first started to dent Clyde Valley production around the end of the 19th Century.
The arrival of varieties such as Red Macintosh brought about a decline in the demand for Scottish apples, he said.
Tomatoes were the next big crop in the valley with one account recalling glasshouses popping up “like mushrooms”.
Mr Clelland added: “Tomatoes started to become important about 1900. I remember lots of glasshouses when I was a child but the rise in oil and coal prices in the 1960’s put a lot of the growers out of business. Today, there’s only one tomato grower left.”
During the 1950s and 1960,s the stable crop of gooseberries offered a life line to farmers with vast amounts of the crop sold to jam makers for fruit pulp and pectin.
Orchards were later bought up by those seeking land to build houses with the local authority stopping the removal of the fruit trees in a number of cases, Mr Clelland said.
Today, the Clyde Valley is beginning to bear fruit once again due in part to the work of Clyde and Avon Valley Landscape Partnership, Lanarkshire.
Fourteen orchards have been brought into 10 year management regimes and 607 new fruit trees planted by the Clyde Valley Orchard Group, a network of small scale producers. This autumn, Clyde Valley apple juice is being pressed for sale for the very first time.Listen to Duncan Arthur, Clyde Valley Orchards Co-operative, discussing historic Scottish orchards and apple varieties on BBC Radio Scotland below.