The mister and I drove all the way up to Armada for what we heard was the best cider mill around, and we were not disappointed. Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill has been around since 1946 when Gerald and Elisabeth Blake and their thirteen children founded one of the first U-Pick orchards in the country, and is still owned and operated by the Blake Family today.
By this time of year, it’s usually turning from crisp to chilly, but we were greeted with unseasonably warm weather and blue skies all day long. I wore a light satin jacket for earlier in the day over an off the shoulder body suit that I really appreciated once it warmed up in the afternoon. And, of course, my Marc Fisher boots that are made for walking.
The first order of business once we got there, of course, was cider and doughnuts. They’ve got powdered, plain, and cinnamon-sugar. They’re all delicious, but the cinnamon-sugar really is something else.
We ordered half a dozen and wasted no time running to secure a picnic table to dunk our freshly fried goodies into the piping hot cider.
After having our fill, we went back to the market for a a stroll. There, they’ve got everything from bags of apples to pumpkin butter and sparkling cider. Usually cider mills tend to gauge prices, but I was happily surprised to find that everything was really reasonably priced here, despite their captive audience.
Finally, we headed over to the main attraction. During the week, Blake’s Fall Festival is just $9.50 a person and includes a train ride through the orchard. On the weekends a few more things things are open (like the cafe, hayride, and pony rides), but it’s a lot busier and tickets jump up to $11.50 and are noninclusive of the train or ponies. So if you can make it on a weekday, I don’t think you’re really missing out on much other than crowds and queues.
That being said, there’s enough inside to entertain you all day long. The first place I ran over to was the Barnyard, where you can have a snuggle with a number of farm animals. Feed is available at the main gate for $1 a cone, but I was content with the little affection they showed me before they realised I had no food to offer.
Next to the Barnyard is a little garden called Bunny Village. It’s really beautiful, with bunnies tucked into meticulously detailed miniature homes or laying under the shade of the plum trees.
Leaving the garden, we spotted the Duck Races and immediately began bargaining the terms of each other’s loss.
On your mark…get set…go!
After much debate, a little boy acting as referee decided it was a tie between us.
Luckily, while we were leaving, we found the John Deere racetrack. So of course had a go trying to avenge our previous tie.
I won, obviously.
By this time, the sun was beating down and we were pretty tired from pedaling at full speed, so we moved on to the corn maze in an attempt to find some shade. It was a surprisingly meditative experience. I imagine on a busier day the experience might not be the same, but we didn’t run into a single other soul save for the birds and one other couple walking in just as we were leaving.
This isn’t the typical maze with dead ends, but reminded me more of the type of spiritual labyrinth you’d walk to clear your mind. There are a couple of forks in the road, but they all lead or or less back to each other.
We spent about fifteen minutes wandering around, and left with a understanding of how profound the simple beauty of nature can really be.
On our way to the train, we found a kind of carnival area. They’ve got footballs, baseballs, a pumpkin shaped bounce house for the little ones, and a high striker.
Finally, we reached our destination, and eagerly hopped on board.
The (very bumpy) ride is about fifteen minutes long, and takes you on a nice tour through all the different varieties of apples they grow.
It will take you right by the U-Pick area, which you can also get to by car. There, you can fill baskets full of apples, or like I did, just enjoy she shade under the apple trees.
Upon returning, we went on over to the restaurant for a late lunch. The inside is cosy and full of rustic charm, without going overboard into cheesy ye olde country territory.
Not wanting to waste the precious warm days left, we decided to take a seat in the courtyard instead. We tucked in right under the shade of this sprawling apple tree.
Blake’s is locally famous for their hard cider, so we ordered a trio. Like everything else here, it was really reasonably priced. You can have your pick between any three half glasses of cider or wine for just $11. We got the classic Cider Dayze, a throwback to the unrefined bittersweet ciders of our grandparents, the Aurora, a peach and rosemary infused seasonal cider, and the Apple Lantern, with hints of slow roasted pumpkin and molasses.
Each was uniquely amazing in its own right, and if we weren’t driving home we would have certainly indulged on some of the other seasonal flavours on offer.
We ordered a Caesar salad and a pulled pork sandwich, both of which came out about twenty minutes after the flyte. The food was perfectly good but not particularly memorable, and the service for those eating took noticeably longer for those just drinking in terms of order time or even getting the bill. Their courtyard was really beautiful though, so next time I’ll probably just pack a sandwich and enjoy their ciders after.
With the afternoon drawing to a close, we took one last stroll around the cider mill. They’ve got fun stuff everywhere, a lot of which we didn’t get to visit, so we certainly could have stretched the trip into the evening.
Armada is a solid drive away from Detroit, but totally worth it. Fall Fest runs 8:00-17:00 through October 29, with haunted attractions in the evenings and U-Pick pumpkin patches on the weekends. Their Christmas Tree Farm opens on November 25, which we’ll definitely be back to visit!