As part of our Autumn Bucket List we wanted to go apple picking. Recently becoming members of the National Trust when a friend suggested we try out the Autumn Festival at Ightham Mote we jumped at the chance. It sounded like there would be plenty of opportunity to try out apple picking in their orchard. However when we arrived it became apparent all the apples had already been picked! There was an opportunity to try out different types which we did and you could take some home with you for a small donation. However the boys were most disappointed that they couldn’t actually pick any. Thankfully the cafe had wifi as there was very little signal anywhere else and we got googling. Being the in the heart of Kent known as the Garden of England surely meant that there must be somewhere quite close.
We need not have worried as we came across The Hop Shop at Castle Farm, a quick phone call confirmed they were still picking so we finished up an early lunch and headed over. It was only about a 20 minute drive thankfully. We parked at the shop itself, to get to the apple picking field it is a short 10 minute walk through the back of the farm and up across one of the lavender fields. Although the lavender is well past its best this time of year it still smelt glorious. There is a bit of a hill so if you had very young children or elderly relatives then I wold suggest driving up to the field.
There is a little while hut just as you go in, they sell pre picked apples and pears, cobnuts and quince. Be warned they only take cash, but at £1.50 per kg for apples its very good value. The lady was very good with Monkey and his little friend explaining how best to pick the apples – i.e. to twist them off instead of pulling them. We each took a plastic bag to fill.
The orchard itself is predominately planted with Norfolk Royal apple trees, although there is the odd row of Cox’s, and the odd Golden Delicious tree for cross pollination purposes. Castle Farm is the only registered orchard in the world of this rare variety. The apples are bright red and very pleasing to the eye, just as you would imagine an apple tree to look. Its an established orchard and the apples hang low which means that they are just the right height for kiddies to pick. Hubby had thought he would be walking around with Monkey on his shoulders but he need not have worried.
The kids had a great time wandering up and down the rows trying to spot ones which were red all over. On the way back to the farm shop we stopped of a quick game of pooh sticks before settling down with an ice cream in the sun.
The farm shop is well stocked and would be worth a visit in its own right. Although there is not the option to pick pumpkins due to where the field is they do sell them and have little leaflets suggesting recipes you may want to try out. They also have a very old quince tree at the front full of ripe fruit. I have always wanted to try my had a at quince jelly so we picked a few again at £1.50kg hopefully once made it will keep till Christmas. Monkey gave us a hand although most of the ripe ones were out of his reach. I was impressed he remembered he needed to twist the fruit instead of pulling.
Things you need to know:
- Apple picking will be open to around the 11th of October this year although they may extend it if the weather holds and there are still apples to pick. I get the impression it is very popular so get in early if you want to give it a go. If you want to double check its probably best to ring
- Based in Sevenoaks Kent more details are on their website here.
- Opening hours for the show are Monday-Saturday 9am-5pm and Sundays 10am-5pm
I can imagine the lavender fields are wonderful so I can see us definitely returning and who knows we may buy our own little Norfolk Royal apple tree next time. What do you enjoy picking this time of year?