Sunday, 5 July 2015

Visiting the Lavender Farms @TheHopShop

We were headed to Kent for a picnic at Knole Park and our friend Sarah (the Fabulous Baker) urged us to come in earlier, so we could squeeze in a visit at the Kentish Lavender Castle Farm.

We were so glad that we took her up on this offer.

As we drove towards the farm, we spotted glimpses of purple patches that grew steadily larger as we approached. The minute we turned off the main road, the sweet smell of lavender wafted up to us and I knew that I was in a blissful heaven.

The kind folks at Castle Farm have left a small section of this working farm open, where passersby can pose and take pictures. We even met a couple who had brought their Afghan (dog), just to take pictures with him posing in front of a sea of lavender!

At Castle Farm, they grow over 95 acres of lavender and extract high quality essential oils on site. These are sold at the farm shop on the grounds. Other items on offer include Culinary Essences, toiletries, dried flower-heads, gifts and foods.

We tried the Lavender Cookies that were outstanding, but the ice cream was very low on Lavender flavour. We picked up some fresh apple juice on site, squeezed from their Norfolk Royal Apples. This is a rare strain and they even sell some young trees for 20Pounds. The juice was delicious and consumed rapidly even by a "certain someone" who said he hated apple juice :)

If you are so inclined, you can book a massage therapy session in the middle of the lavender fields (under a marquee or in the open), but they seem to get booked up very early. You might just have to wait until next year.

If you would like to learn more about how Lavender is grown and processed, they have a tour that takes you behind the scenes of lavender production, from the fields to the distillery, with an expert guide. Tours cost 4.5 / 5.5 on weekends/weekdays and last about an hour.

During Lavender season, they put up a second temporary shop to deal with the sheer number of visiotrs and increase in produce. The Hop Shop itself is a permanent structure and is open throughout the year.

The Hop shop stocks beef, Cox and Norfolk Royal apples, apple juice, hops, dried flowers, lavender and essential oils, honey, pumpkins and pheasants, all sourced from the farm itself. Others items are purchased direct from genuine local producers – cakes, jams, fruit pies, chutneys, ice-cream, sausages and bacon, meat pies, apple crisps and free-range eggs. In spring and summer they source local asparagus, strawberries and cherries direct from other Kentish farmers, as well as local herb plants.

Around September to October, the farm is open to pick your own apples and between September and November, you can even pick your own pumpkins and squashes.

Seasonal Produce - Exact dates change according to weather, but generally the below is on offer:

Strawberries: May – August
Cherries: July
Asparagus: End April – Mid June
Lavender Honey: Autumn
Sweetcorn: Early September
Norfolk Royal and Cox Apples: Pick Your Own orchard open September – October (weather dependent). Ready picked in the shop through November.
Kent Cobnuts: September
Pumpkins: mid-September – December
Fresh cut Lavender: on a daily basis from late June until early August.
Lavender Plants: Early May – early August.
Hop Plants: December – April
Turkey, Gammons and Christmas meats: December – to order.

The farm is gorgeous and whether you are interested in a massage or just taking pictures of the undulating fields or munching on some amazing lavender cookies - this is a wonderful trip to take. (Its just 20 miles from Central London)

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