Thursday, 18 August 2016

Kentish Lavender: A Visit to Castle Farm

Castle Farm Lavender

There is something simply sublime about Kent in summer. Known as the Garden of England, the county comes alive in the warmest months of the year to put on an astounding display of colour. When my lovely friend Mo from Fresh Eyes on London announced that she was coming to visit me in Kent, I knew that my home county would not disappoint. As fate might have it, Mother Nature also conspired to deliver a little bit of fortune our way – by the third week of July, the lavender harvest should have taken place already but a particularly wet summer meant that the fields were not ready for harvest and we were able to visit the lavender fields in all their glory.

Windmill at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

We arrived at the Hop Shop on a very bright and sunny day. Despite our intention to visit well after noon, to avoid the midday glare of the sun, it was still very bright and hot indeed. We discovered that we had arrived in good time with just 20 minutes before the next tour of the lavender fields. We paid the £5 for the tour and then wandered around the Hop Shop farm shop and farm. One word of advice, if you do visit for a tour, be sure to make all your lavender product purchases beforehand because your olfactory senses will be in no condition to do so afterwards.

A Spike of Lavendin at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Our guide was a lovely young lady from New Zealand and she did an admirable job of herding our rather large group across the road to the fields opposite the Hop Shop. We were directed to an area of shade under a canvas canopy which was very much appreciated. We learned that the field we were looking at was not in fact lavender but Grosso Lavandin. Lavandin has a high, camphorous odour, quite unlike the soothing scent of lavender, and it is a stimulant. Lavandin is good for soothing aching muscles and can be invigorating and energising. It is excellent for getting rid of bugs be they fleas, mosquitos or moths so are often used in candles, linen protectors and detergents.

Fields of Lavendin at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Lavendin at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Lavendin Close Up at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

A bee on Lavendin at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Bales of hay at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Lone lady at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Our next stop was the lavender field and the first thing we noticed was that the lavender was much kinder to our olfactory senses. If you compare the spike of lavender below to the spike of lavandin above, you can see that each bud is far more distinct. Then again, this spike of lavender had not really begun to flower yet, hence the late harvest.

A Spike of Lavender at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Lavender is the flower that we are all most familiar with and is used to adorn pillows and accompany relaxing baths the world over. It is a relaxant and its oil is used in the treatment of headaches, travel sickness and as a base aromatherapy oil.

Field of Lavender at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Punch Drunk Bee at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Lavender is very popular with bees and is full of yummy pollen. If you click on the photo above and try zoom down to Mr Bee’s knees, you will indeed see where the term ‘bee’s knees’ comes from. His pollen sack is full to bursting and I kid you not, he zoomed off on a very wonky trajectory after posing so dashingly for my photo. He was absolutely punch drunk!

Fields of Lavender at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop ShopLavender at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

With the heat beginning to bear down on us in earnest, we crossed the main road again to tour the famous distillery.

Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop ShopThe Distillery at Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

There we learned all about how lavender and lavandin are harvested, the oil extraction process and the various uses of the oil. We even got to smell several types of oils.

We learned about the dire effects of a wet summer and how last year was the most bumper crop in the history of the Hop Shop because of the drought we experienced in England. It seems that lavender and I have that in common – we both love hot sunshine and dry conditions!

Distillery - Castle Farm Lavender - The Hop Shop

Stumbling out of the distillery after the presentation, we were glad to get a breath of fresh air. The tour is absolutely lovely, so lovely that I would like to return (every year!) but now I am sure you will understand why I advised that all products be purchased before the tour!

If you would like to learn more about the history of hop farming and  how Londoners used to take ‘vacations’ to Kent, definitely visit Mo’s blog about our visit: The Lavender Farm.

The Hop Shop
Castle Farm
Redmans Lane
TN14 7UB

Have you been to a lavender farm? Can you recommend any other outdoors places in the south east of England?


Friday, 12 August 2016

Anarch-Tea at W London Leicester Square

Anarch Tea W Hotel Leicester Square

It's no secret that I love afternoon tea but what you might not know about me is that I was a goth during my formative years. If you've suddenly conjured up an image of black hair, black eyeliner, Doc Martins and torn tights, may I complete that vision with a mention of the spider's web that I had shaved into my undercut? I was quite the horrible coffin kid. (Actually, I was lovely but somehow wasn't keen on people knowing that).

My fascination with the alternative scene had started a good ten years before that in early 1980s London. I was utterly fascinated by the punks in Trafalgar Square and had to be forcibly dragged away from them because I couldn't stop staring. I wanted nothing more than a pink Mohican (I was 8) and a tall, skinny punk boyfriend.

Imagine my delight on learning about the W London Leicester Square Anarch-Tea, an afternoon tea especially designed to mark 40 years of Punk. Now Londonist did not have very nice things to say about the concept of a punk afternoon tea, accusing it of representing everything punk stood against, and I can't speak for the original punks in Trafalgar Square but you know what? I really enjoyed it.

The presentation was lovely and colourful, the food was delicious and it was the first time I’ve been served afternoon tea on original vinyl!

Lust for Life cocktail - Anarch Tea W Hotel Leicester Square

We arrived fresh from our tour of the Rolling Stones Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery. After some confusion as to what constituted a 'complimentary cocktail' and what we were going to get charged a lot of money for, we agreed that we would indeed love to try the signature Lust for Life cocktail with Cachaca, zesty lime, sugar and passion fruit. There were three of us on the day, all with different tastes in cocktails, and we were quite pleased to note that we all loved the cocktail. It was delicious and went down well on such a hot day.

It took a while for our plates to be brought out but eventually they arrived. Sarah and Stephen helped themselves to the Gang of Four finger sandwiches including smoked salmon with cream cheese & pea shoots; roast beef with horseradish and watercress; cucumber with sour cream and black pepper; and Aged Montgomery Cheddar and red onion marmalade. On this occasion, I had not opted for the gluten-free option, which I've decided is something I definitely need to be more diligent about in future, but I cannot eat onion or salmon. I therefore had the same beef and cucumber sandwiches but I was treated to a delicious avocado on fresh brown bread as well as a creamed mushroom one. They were very fresh and very tasty..

Gang of Four Sandwiches Anarch Tea W Hotel Leicester Square

Sarah and I had our scones next while Stephen decided to spoil it all and head straight for the desserts. The scones were okay but let's face it, we were there for those desserts!

I started with the God Save the Queen - The Sex Pistols vanilla and almond Battenberg cake. Spoilery Stephen had thought it to be too sweet but I love almonds and marzipan and thought it was just perfect. I started off with this one because I thought I'd like it the least but I actually liked it a lot. Next up was the Going Around in Circles - Alternative TV studded dark chocolate roulade. Again, Spoilery Stephen had thought it too sweet but chocolate lover me thought it was quite nice. Very rich but really, what do you expect with a big swirl of chocolate goo?

God Save the Queen Batternburg Cake and The Mohawk - Anarch Tea W Hotel Leicester Square

Next was The Mohawk raspberry & lime mousse. This was hands down my favourite dessert of the four. Tantalisingly sour with the lime and sweet with the strawberry, I polished it off in no time. Stephen didn't finish his. We finished off with the Shut Up - The Stranglers, a frozen strawberry & basil parfait. I was quite pleased that I managed to crack the shell without sending it flying across my plate like Stephen did!

Shut Up strawberry parfait and Around in Circles chocolate roulade - Anarch Tea W Hotel Leicester Square

Tea is obviously a central part of any afternoon tea experience but on this occasion, it was so hot outside and our cocktails so good that it wasn't a priority. Nevertheless, I made the right choice with a lemon & ginger tea, while Sarah had fresh mint tea and Stephen had English Breakfast. Sarah and I were delighted to see that our teas were all made with completely fresh ingredients.

All in all, we loved the Anarch-Tea although you can see from above that Sarah and I enjoyed it a lot more than poor Ste so it's perhaps not for those who don't have a sweet tooth.

W London Leicester Square

Anarch-Tea at W London Leicester Square
10 Wardour St

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

July: The Month That Was

I have to admit, when I had the bright idea of doing a monthly real-life round up, I was hoping to be a little more diligent than recapping the month a third of the way into the next month. Suffice to say, August is steaming ahead in typical chaotic Mandy fashion but this post is about July. Before I begin, I’d like to thank everyone for all the love you showed in my last post about my puppy Josey, especially those of you who agreed that she was indeed the most beautiful dog on earth!

Brunch with a Friend

The Folly - City of London

July began with brunch at the Folly at 41 Gracechurch Street with a Twitter friend Vanessa. It was lovely to finally meet up after talking online for so long and it reminded me that I definitely need to get into London more often! The Folly was a really pleasant surprise too – I had walked past it so many times over the years without going inside. Definitely recommended for brunch.

Pixies at Brixton Academy

Blue Pixies Brixton Academy 11 July 2016

July was all about the music for me and one of the biggest highlights was seeing Pixies at Brixton Academy. It was the third time that I’d seen them (I think) which I love really given that there was such a dearth of overseas bands in concert in South Africa. Definitely click on the link above for my full write up!

The Dartford Festival

Dartford Festival

I didn’t have much time to recover from the Pixies gig (I’m slowly learning that I don’t quite have the same capacity to go out to concerts on a Monday night anymore) because that Saturday was the Dartford Festival. Every year, Dartford Borough Council puts on a free all-weekend music festival and this year had a smashing attendance. We went primarily to see Toyah, one of my first musical heroes, but we enjoyed some of the other acts too including The Voice contestant Brooklyn.

The Guards Museum

Guards Museum

Have you ever wondered what the various plumes, sashes and buttons represent on the uniforms and bearskins caps of the Royal Guards? Indeed, had you ever noticed that there were five different ranks of guards and that their claim to seniority in some cases stretches back to the Civil War? Well, my friend Sarah and I went to The Guards Museum and it was simply fascinating. Located a stone’s throw away from Buckingham Palace (although I would not endorse throwing stones at the palace), it is a lovely day out and highly recommended.

The Guards Museum, Wellington Barracks, Birdcage Walk, London SW1E 6HQ.

Ghost Invasion at Waterloo

Stay Puft Man at Waterloo

On the way home, we noticed that ghosts had conquered Waterloo Station. Who you gonna call?

Matt Cardle in Concert

Matt Cardle in concert

If you ever speak to me about music, I will often proudly declare that I like all music except for pop music. Which is kind of a complete lie because I have the biggest crush on Matt Cardle and used to watch the X Factor religiously. That is why Stephen didn’t think twice before agreeing to take me to an intimate gig at Dartford’s Orchard Theatre one Tuesday evening.

How do I describe the gig? Did any of you ever read the Love Is... cartoons where Mr would occasionally accommodate Mrs’s complete obsession with Tom Jones? That was what the Matt Cardle gig was like – a theatre full of very besotted fans absolutely hanging on every note, word and self-deprecating remark. It was a super gig though, one of the best I’ve ever gone too, and his performances of “Nights in White Satin” and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” were absolutely superb.

Power Up at the Science Museum

Power Up at the Science Museum

Not content with going out once during that week, next up was Power Up at the Science Museum. This was such a fun exhibition and I was sorry to see that it was only on for a couple of weeks.

Crazy Golf at Pirate Cove Bluewater

Pirate Cove Bluewater

To round up a crazy week, I joined my colleagues at Pirate Cove at Bluewater for a round of Crazy Golf. As you can imagine, I was too busy taking photos of the scenery to be of any use but it was a lot of fun rounded off with a great meal at Nandos.

Castle Farm Lavender

The Hop Shop Lavender Farm

Towards the second half of July, I was really starting to crave the outdoors and so one day Mo and I took a drive out to The Hop Shop at Castle Farm in Kent to see their lavender which was just about ready for harvest. I am definitely hoping to blog about this one but in the meantime, you can visit Mo’s blog to see her post: The Lavender Farm.

Kelsey’s Farm Shop, Sidcup

Kelsey's Farm Shop

I know I said earlier that I wanted to meet for more brunches but my new thing is definitely farm shops. One Saturday morning, my lovely friend Saraiya and I met up and drove to Kelsey’s Farm Shop & Kitchen Restaurant in Sidcup for the loveliest lunch. From the relaxed atmosphere and rustic décor, to the mismatched china and superb food, we loved everything about this venue and are already planning our next visit.

Seeing Dartford as a Tourist

Beach Huts in Dartford Central Park

My final outing in July was to invite my friend Melissa to spend a day exploring my hometown of Dartford and I was thrilled to see that Dartford put on her very best for Melissa! We walked from the train station to Lowfield Street where local residents have put up art work to liven up the hoardings on some of the dilapidated shops. We then strolled through Dartford’s Central Park, admiring the gardens, checking out the children’s play area and walking along the river, and then we walked back to my house for an early dinner. It was nice to see my hometown through the eyes of a tourist and lovely to see so many people out and about on a Sunday.

Dartford in Bloom

On A Personal Level

On a personal level, July was a little bit difficult because I was suffering from depression. Long time followers of this blog will know that I often struggle with what I call ‘winter blues’ but it took a little while for me to recognise this for what it was. In retrospect, I’m not surprised – burn out with my studies plus moving house plus a new job plus the death of a pet. What did I expect?

There are two reasons I’m talking about this today, well three really. One, there shouldn’t be a stigma surrounding it. The more people are able to talk about it, the more quickly people can heal. Two, to explain what I do when this happens to me. As you can see from this post, I surround myself with my friends and family and keep busy. I also exercise, relax, sleep properly and eat properly. Eating properly for me entails not eating sugar or gluten and definitely no alcohol. Of all the things I do, it is exercise which has the most immediate, lasting and powerful an impact. Three, to let people know that I am always here to talk about depression, especially if it gets scary. I think it’s difficult to fathom when you’re in the middle of an episode but depression can be beaten, even if the process is the hardest thing you ever go through.

That was a bumper post and if you have stuck out for this long, thank you!

What have you been up to and what does August have in store for you?


Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Art Nouveau Opulence in Prague’s Municipal House

Our first day in Prague was hot, very hot. It was over 35°c and someone had the bright idea to forego the Metro and walk instead from our hotel in Vinohrady to the Old Town. Okay, I’ll own up – it was my idea - but after walking in that heat for a good hour or so, I was willing to swear that I had never suggested anything of the sort.

Municipal House, Prague

After walking through the famous Powder Gate, I spied the Art Nouveau dome of Prague’s Municipal House, Obecní Dům. I was pleased because while we didn’t have too many plans for our time in Prague, I did want to see this building.

On the façade above you can see Karel Špillar’s famous mosaic, Homage to Prague. We decided to escape the heat for a while and take a look inside.

Art Nouveau Stained Glass in Municipal House Prague

Obecní Dům now stands on what was once the site of the King’s residence but after falling into dereliction after centuries of abandonment, it was demolished in the early 1900s and replaced by the present building. Built between 1905-1911, the building encapsulates the Art Nouveau style that was very much in vogue at the time and is beautifully kept today.

Art Nouveau Tiles, Municipal House, Prague

All of the tilework meant that the building was lovely and cool inside and we enjoyed the chance to wander about and appreciate the intricacy of the design.

Shoefie, Municipal House, Prague

I couldn’t resist taking a shoefie…

Elegance Inside Municipal House, Prague

…but my attention was soon captured by this rather elegant looking young woman. I envied her for looking so cool and collected but in truth she was probably as hot and bothered as I was.

Plzenska Restaurant, Prague

We peeked into the famous Plzeňská restaurant but decided not to stop on this occasion. It was our first day after all and we had not yet made it to Old Town Square.

Ticket Booth, Municipal House, Prague

The Smetana Hall and other smaller halls and conference rooms are located in the Obecní Dům. On the day that we were there, a Dvořák concert was taking place and I was very keen to go. Stephen wasn’t though and it was only when I took him to Dvořák’s tomb a couple day later that he cottoned on to the fact that Dvořák was a very important Prague composer.

Art Nouveau Chandelier, Municipal House, Prague

How exquisite is this chandelier? I stared at it for the longest time.

More Art Nouveau Stained Glass, Municipal House, Prague

We didn’t spend too long in Municipal House but given the lovely, relaxed attitude of the Czech people we could have stayed as long as we wanted to.

Looking out from Municipal House, Prague

This is the first proper post of my Prague trip. I have so much to share that it was a little tricky at first to know where to start but I’ve decided to go wherever inspiration takes me. Perhaps if I tackle the little posts then the big ones will just magically write themselves?

Wander Mum
© 2008 - Mandy Southgate | Emm in London

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