Kentish Lavender

You'd be forgiven for thinking I've disappeared off to the south of France - but no! Deep in the Kent countryside, on the hillsides of the North Downs, you'll find Castle Farm and their acres of beautiful, beautiful lavender fields.

During the main lavender season (mid-June and through July into early August) the farm opens for guided tours of the fields with informed staff (like the lovely Hazel on the day I visited) giving talks about the history of the farm and their work now. They also offer aromatherapy massages out in the fields using their own natural massage oils, as well as picnic evenings, and a small shop.

My visit was on one of the warmest days of the year so I really got to appreciate the stunning beauty of this landscape, the vivid colour of the lavender, and the wonderful scent drifting in the sun-warmed air. The tour and talk take place outside, but there are gazebos and benches set up to take shelter from the beating sun (or on an alternative British summer day, the pouring rain) and to hear more about how the farm works. Personally I wouldn't want to weed all those acres by hand, but that is indeed what they do! Other parts of the process are much more mechanised now.

Also within the farm are apple orchards, a large pumpkin patch, and a working hop garden that produces bines for decoration (fresh or dried) in early autumn. I'm not nearly old enough, but having grown up listening to stories of my Mum and Nan going hopping, there's something wonderfully nostalgic about a proper Kentish hop garden, complete with a couple of now derelict hopper's huts still standing.

Castle Farm's main industry is the production of lavender essential oil, and part of the tour takes in the distillery building, the heady aroma constantly filling the space. The farm grows several varieties of lavender and lavadin, the oils from which have slightly different properties and uses. The shop sells a wide array of products from the pure oil, to soaps, candles, massage oil, a sleepy balm that mixes the lavender with hops, food products including biscuits, chocolates, jams and teas, as well as fresh and dried bunches of the flowers, and a selection of plants for you to grow yourself.

I would thoroughly recommend this as an afternoon's outing - a chance to walk in beautiful surroundings, learn about a small but growing industry, and find 100% local and organic products to buy - they even have ice cream for those especially hot days!

The Castle Farm Shop is open all year round, or you can buy online. Their website lists events throughout the year including the lavender tours and apple picking days.

(Click on photos to expand)