Sandringham Estate is the winter residence of the Queen. We’ve visited Sandringham the past two years on the Sunday nearest Christmas to catch a glimpse of the royal family. But this was the first year we had the opportunity to get to Sandringham in the autumn when the Queen’s orchard opens to the public for a few weeks to pick your own apples. Apple picking with the kids is always a fun idea. But picking apples from the Queen’s orchard—that’s one of those experiences you have to take advantage of while living only an hour from Sandringham.
I’ve seen photos online and heard first hand accounts of friends’ visits to the Sandringham orchard over the past two years and thought I had a decent idea what to expect. I envisioned a small, picturesque orchard on the Sandringham Estate with the Queen’s house barely in view in the distance. I was wrong.
In fact, the orchard is nearly 3 miles from Sandringham House and the estate. (The orchard is approximately located where “Unnamed Road” is pinned on the map above.) I knew to follow signs for the orchard and not to park in the normal visitor parking area for tours of Sandringham House and Gardens. But I didn’t realize the small, blue sign on the side of the road reading “PYO Apples” was the sign we needed to follow. We drove right past it assuming the official orchard at Sandringham would be much more clearly, and “officially” marked. After it became clear there was no other orchard in the area, we retraced our steps and followed the blue PYO signs. The final road to the orchard is a narrow dirt road leading up to an open field for parking.
Three types of apples are grown at the orchard: Cox (for eating), Bramley (sour, meant for cooking), and Howgate Wonder. The Howgate Wonder are pre-picked and can be bought separately. The orchard is separated into two parts: one for Bramley picking and the other for Cox. Bags are provided and the price is £1.20/kg. They also sell cider and juices at the small huts next to the orchards.
We spent just shy of an hour at the orchard. Despite a freak rain shower that came out of nowhere when we first arrived and then ended just as quickly, my kids had a blast. They ran into friends at the orchard and happily chased each other through the trees. The kids excelled at collecting rotten fallen apples and grabbing at the low hanging not-so-ripe apples, but slowly seemed to grasp the type of apples we wanted. We left with far more apples than we could possibly need. But I’ve never attempted an apple pie before, so it may be a good thing that we have plenty of apples should my first attempt not turn out so well…
While it may not have had a palatial manor house as a backdrop, it was still a beautiful orchard and a great way to spend a family afternoon with the kids. And, if the baking goes well, it may just become an annual event for our family.
The orchard was a bit muddy when we were there, but easily navigated with a stroller. It also came in handy for carrying heavy bags of apples since the toddler wasn’t about to be confined to a stroller while his siblings ran about and played. Bring cash. While I didn’t attempt to pay with credit card, I would be surprised if they were set to accept it.
Make a Day of It
Some nearby attractions that could easily be combined with an afternoon apple picking at Sandringham include:
- Touring Sandringham House and Gardens. American to Britain did this recently and has a bunch of additional tips for making the most of a day at Sandringham.
- Shopping in Kings Lynn. We stopped at the giant Sainsbury’s in Kings Lynn on our way to Sandringham and bought some new rain boots for the kids. I could have spent the entire day there. I think I’ve found the closest alternative to Target the UK has to offer. Kings Lynn has a huge Tesco and lots of other shops and restaurants.
- Explore some castles. Castle Rising Castle is just a few minutes down the road. And one of my favorite local places, Castle Acre Priory and Castle can easily be tacked onto the way out or way back home.
- Snettisham Park (farm and petting zoo) is also nearby.