Visiting the UK’s largest lavender farm – Castle Farm in Kent
Driving along the A225 in Kent, halfway between the quaint villages of Shoreham and Eynsford, a sudden clearing in the trees gives your first glimpse of the vast expanse of neat lilac rows. Castle Farm is the UK’s largest lavender farm, and on a hot summer’s evening the low sunlight illuminates the purple fields in a hazy golden glow.
Driving down the single track road approaching the farm, the dusty gravel path crunching beneath us is the only sound to be heard. The Farm has only recently re-opened due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and while they’re slowly getting things back to normal, they are currently operating a booking system allowing the public to visit the lavender fields in restricted numbers. At the end of the track a friendly worker in a face mask greeted us and directed us to the allocated field for parking.
There is a separate parking field for lavender picnics, where visitors are allowed two hours to bask in the scent of the lavender and enjoy socially-distanced relaxation in groups. We’d chosen the shorter, lavender walk option, allowing us forty-five minutes of wandering through one of the fields. We joined the queue to our field, where there would be fifty of us, and were signed in with another welcoming mask-wearing worker. She reminded us to observe social distancing guidelines, and informed us that a bell would ring five minutes before the end of our session.
Turning the corner into the field, the vibrant blue-purple rows of lavender look beautifully uniform in the July sun. We began to slowly meander up a row with nobody else in it – even though we were sharing this experience with around forty-eight others, we hardly noticed as there’s ample space to gently stroll at your own pace. Maybe it was this, paired with the unmistakeable lavender aroma filling our noses, that made us naturally walk at a deliberate, mindful pace, our bodies mellowing with every step.
We paused every now and again to crouch down to the plants and breathe in the intoxicating scent, inhaling deeply. Admiring the blooms all around us, we saw thousands of bees working away, seeming to land on every bud in turn to drink the amber nectar from the flowers. For such busy creatures, their movements seemed unhurried and methodical as they lazily coasted from bloom to bloom.
The lavender sweeps up a gentle incline, and as we approached the end of the rows we took a moment to turn back into the sunshine and admire the pleasing purple lines of all the Farm’s fields rising and folding over the hills. The sunlight, the purple haze, the aroma all washed over us as we stood enjoying the picturesque scene. A long, rustic wooden bench perched at the top of the hill allowed groups to pause for a break at a distance from one another. Couples took selfies together, parents cooed to their children, and dogs were lined up to get that perfect Instagram shot. We noticed that the lavender seemed to affect everyone’s mood as people meandered through the rows, dressed up for the evening and smiling for photographs with their loved ones. Though they must have been talking together, the atmosphere was peaceful and serene.
Before we knew it, the pretty sound of a tinkling bell rung out across the field and everyone began to trickle back down the lines of lilac cloud. As we made our descent, breathing deeply to make the most of the comforting smell all around us, we arrived at a neatly placed wooden bench – perfectly situated for a photo together. As the shutter on Chris’ camera clicked and we continued to make our way down, we saw a queue slowly forming as others gathered for one last photo opportunity.
During ‘normal’ times, a Castle Farm Shop is open on site selling everything from dried hops and oil burners, to pastries and botanical baking books. To observe social distancing and ensure a safe shopping environment for everyone at this time, they are currently operating a drive through shop where customers can view available items online ahead of arriving, and fill out a form to place their order at the Farm without leaving their car. As well as this, we found there was a tiny pop-up shop situated in our field to browse a smaller range of items as we made our way out. The shelves were lined with an array of lavender items; sleep oils, soaps, even lavender ice cream and of course, bunches of the fresh lavender itself. A polite and helpful attendant, suitably adorned with a purple-blue face mask, explained the benefits of certain products with interested customers.
Even though we were allocated forty-five minutes for our walk, we spent just over an hour in the field as our group made their purchases and wandered back to the car park – many enjoying tucking into ice cream pots in the dying sunlight while leaning against their car boots.
Maybe it’s the soothing lavender, maybe it’s being on a tranquil countryside farm in the middle of a Kentish valley – whatever it is, the whole atmosphere at Castle Farm is completely dreamy. Every assistant we spoke to was calm and friendly, seeming genuinely pleased to greet visitors and share the magic of the Farm with us. We feel happy to have supported such a wonderful place, and made beautiful summer memories to lighten these uncertain times.