An insider's guide to the county's best kept secrets
Tel: 01485 570384
The heady scent and purple haze of lavender activity for all the family: gardens and tours, gift shop and plant sales, rare breed animal centre and Farmer Fred’s play zone; a memorable day out for all.
Where to find it
Take the A149 from King’s Lynn and within 15 minutes your senses will become awash with vibrant lilac views and pungent relaxing aroma. Norfolk Lavender would be a memorable landmark on any horizon yet within the rolling woods and open fields of the Norfolk countryside it impressively sits. Amidst the purple plain are its premises, Caley Mill, dating back to 1837. Norfolk Lavender has been England’s premier lavender farm since 1932 and has nearly 100 acres under cultivation. Many of the fields are on the Queen’s private estate in nearby Sandringham which can be viewed by taking an organised tour but there are plenty of varieties and shades to see amongst the 18 acres of grounds at this top Norfolk attraction.
What to expect
Lavender. That’s for old people, right? That’s what I believed too before I took a summer job here back in my university days and it totally transformed my opinion of the herb. Trust me when I say it’s way more that eau de cologne! The place has expanded somewhat since my years there and I watch every new development with trepidation that the new owner’s will spoil my idyllic memories but the farm just continues to thrive.
The last few years has seen the opening of extensive landscaped meadow gardens which give a good visual demonstration of how to use lavender within a garden setting mixed with other plants. There’s also been a push to cater for children with the rare breed animal centre and now Farmer Fred’s play zone, a crazy fun filled maze of slides, tunnels, swing ropes and walkways that I fail to see how any child would not love. What was the old distillery is now a large farm shop too, Walsingham Farms Shop (click here for a full review) and the small tea rooms are now a stylish restaurant, The Lavender Kitchen, that serves all local produce from the shop. You’ll still find the legendary lavender cake behind the counter too. All these additions have been carefully and tastefully erected and result in a great day out for all the family.
The lavender itself
Of course the main reason you visit is still lavender and you’ll not be disappointed. Housing the National Collection, they have over 100 varieties arranged in beds showing the difference between types. Once you’ve picked the one for you, head over to the huge plant centre to buy it along with other specialist plants and a wide selection of herbs. In fact their herb garden, laid out in an old monastery style has over 50 varieties so you’re spoilt for choice all round.
Lavender is so much more than just a plant to look at and an herb to cook with though and you only have to step into the lavender gift shop to see what I mean. All manner of lavender products are on sale there from perfumes and shower gels to moisturisers and pot pourri. What remains the top seller every year though are the little bottles of pure essential oil. Thousands swear by it to relieve aches and pains, bites and burns. Lavender is the most common of essential oils and is predominantly know for its calming effects. It relieves tension, tiredness and low mood. I was always pretty chilled out at work so can vouch for the therapeutic scent. There’s also a massive gift shop that sells everything you can think by way of gift choices so it’s a good place to stop off at for a leisurely browse too.
If you’re curious about its history you’ll love the tours on offer daily during the summer months (lavender flowers from mid June to the end of August and whilst there’s lots to see and do all year round here, if you’re planning a visit do come when its out in bloom). The Caley Mill grounds tour takes you to the distillery where you can watch the process of extracting the fragrant oil from the plant by steam distillation. The stills, in operation since 1936, are still loaded by hand using a pitchfork as it was done years ago. It’s hard graft; a 14 hour day produces little more than a centimetre or two of oil. The 90 minute tour takes you out to the endless fields of lavender and makes for some stunning photograph opportunities.
Purchase the herb and its products or simply learn more about the plant itself, wander through its gardens and meadows taking time to relax and breathe, bring your flashy camera and take some shots to impress your friends back home, occupy the kids for an afternoon of fun or just stop off for a bite to eat. Whatever brings you to Norfolk Lavender, you’re sure to enjoy your stay.
Open seven days a week 9am to 5pm. There is no entrance fee except to the animal centre which is £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children or a family ticket £10. For more information on the children’s play barn visit www.farmerfredsplaybarnnorfolk.co.uk or telephone 01485 579526