CAROLINE ALEXANDER RUNS THE HOP SHOP AT CASTLE FARM, SHOREHAM ALONG WITH HER HUSBAND, WILLIAM. THE FARM IS FAMOUS FOR ITS LAVENDER FIELDS. HERE SHE TELLS US WHY SHE LOVES WHERE SHE LIVES…
Where do you live?
At Castle Farm, Shoreham in the gorgeous Darent Valley north of Sevenoaks. Most people know us as the site of The Hop Shop and the spectacular lavender fields.
How long have you lived there and what made you decide to move there?
It’s my husband William’s family farm so there was never any decision to be made! He was born and bred here and we moved into the farmhouse over 30 years ago when our own children were young.
What’s your favourite shop locally?
Otford has some brilliant independent shops – Hall & Co is great for stylish clothes, Bill Skinner’s has super jewellery and, if you’re looking for a hat, Millefleurs is undoubtedly the place with expertise!
Where’s the best place to go for a Sunday stroll?
There’s a good network of public footpaths around here – including the Darent Valley Long Distance footpath – and plenty of village pubs to provide refreshment on route. If you want an added incentive, The Mount Vineyard at Shoreham now does wine tastings on weekend afternoons.
For a popular guided walk, try ‘From Hops to Lavender’ which can be downloaded from the Royal Geographical Society website www.discoveringbritain.org It was written (and is narrated, if you want the audio version) by my husband and the route meanders from Shoreham Station to Eynsford Station looking at how to ‘read’ the landscape and understand how it has changed over time.
The best place to get a cup of coffee?
The Riverside Tearooms in Eynsford is the local destination.
Where do you take people when they come to visit?
We’re spoilt for choice around here because the valley has such a rich history, but Lullingstone Castle with its World Garden and the Lullingstone Roman Villa are both ‘must see’ places. The ruins of Eynsford Castle (English Heritage) are also hugely impressive but tucked away in the village and hardly anyone knows they’re there.
What’s the night life like where you live?
It’s delightfully dark and quiet with just the resident little owls for company and our bantam cockerels greeting us at dawn!
Where’s your favourite place to eat locally?
Definitely The George and Dragon at Chipstead.
Are there any nice views nearby?
Lullingstone County Park has fantastic views – it’s difficult to believe we’re only 17 miles from central London. And, of course, Castle Farm in July looks amazing when all the lavender’s in flower.
If you’re looking to relax and unwind, where’s your favourite place to go?
Many local people would say they love coming to our lavender fields in July for one of our outdoor aromatherapy massage sessions – but it’s difficult for us to relax at that time of year because we’re so busy. My answer therefore has to be ‘anywhere without a phone signal where I can enjoy time with the family’. Alternatively, give me a sketch book!
Where’s the best place to meet friends and socialise?
We really are happiest socialising over supper at home. William does a great job growing fruit and vegetables in the garden and the farm produces its own beef, honey, pumpkins and apple juice so we’re never short of good local food. During the winter months we are also regular attenders at the Royal Geographical Society lectures in London where we can gain a perspective on the rest of the world and share a love of travelling.
What do you do when you spend a weekend or day off in the local area?
We love spending time in the garden. There’s always lots to do – and excellent garden centres nearby if we feel like a spending spree.
Why do you love where you live?
The Darent Valley is a very special place with so much history, beautiful views, really vibrant village communities and such easy access to London. Being on the farm keeps us ridiculously busy – it’s a non-stop job, especially in the lavender season – but we never forget how lucky we are.