Today we took a trip to Castle Farm, near Shoreham in Kent, just a 20-minute drive from Chislehurst. This is a family-run farm, most famous for its lavender; the lavender fields are in fact quite iconic in this little part of the country. It is a busy working farm with a wonderful farm shop, the Hop Shop, which sells the farm’s own beef, apples, apple juice, hops, Kentish lavender and honey. It also sells a vast range of gifts and cards, as well as seasonal products and decorations. However, at certain times of the year there are special seasonal highlights, and today we went to experience one of these.
At the moment the lavender is in full bloom (and ready for harvesting) and throughout July it is possible to go along for a guided tour of the fields and oil distillery. A and E love the smell of lavender and are able to recognise it when we pass gardens. They also have to rub it onto their fingers every time they see it, and I apologise to anyone whose lavender has been a victim of their scent theft! I do try to stop them, but I curse D every time for teaching them this annoying life skill. I was, however, slightly apprehensive about taking them along to the farm today as the tours are fairly adult-orientated; thankfully they were wonderful and thoroughly enjoyed most of it.
The tour started at the shop and we went on a short walk through the farm and across the main road to one of the many lavender fields. Here we were encouraged to pick a sprig (I may have picked three in total, purely for scientific comparison purposes of course) and take a seat under a gazeebo. A and E were overjoyed at actually being able to pick their own without mummy shouting at them!
We sat for a short talk in which we learnt all about different varieties of lavender as well as the different properties and uses of each. Admittedly, this was for the adults rather than the children, and they did get a little fidgety, but really they were very well behaved. After the talk we were given a few minutes to walk around the lavender and explore.
A and E compared the different types of lavender grown on the farm (who knew there were quite so many?!) and even found a range of minibeasts. A and E love hunting minibeasts, so this was a real treat. Today we found, and learnt about, a new one to us: the rosemary beetle. This is the main lavender pest, and apparently isn’t actually too bad so they don’t bother to do anything about it. It is about the size of a ladybird, is gold in colour, and has reddish stripes; really quite beautiful.
We then moved on to the distillery, in which the lavender oils are made. In here we heard all about the process of extracting oils from the lavender. I thought it was absolutely fascinating; being a scientist, and a lover of lavender. A and E enjoyed being able to smell all the different oils that the farm produces!
After the tour we went to the farm shop and bought some lavender ice cream. A thoroughly enjoyed this part, though ate it so quickly that I am not entirely sure she realised there was anything different about it.
I also bought a couple of bunches of fresh lavender and now my house smells amazing! I think we will use one of the bunches for decoration, and the other for some creative activities; I think A and E would enjoy using it to make some lavender shortbread for a start.
The Hop Shop at Castle Farm is open all year round – Mon-Sat: 9am-5pm; Sundays and Bank Holidays: 10am-5pm
The lavender tours run throughout July; on weekdays they must be booked in advance and cost £6 for adults and £1.50 for under 12’s (and refreshments of apple juice and lavender shortbread are provided), but on weekends they are simply booked on the day and cost £5 for adults and under 12’s are free (sadly no refreshments are provided at the weekend, probably because they are so busy)!