The farm which is located east of Heacham has changed markedly since our last visit and not for the better. Upon arrival it was not clear what was available to see - what time does the distillery demonstration run, when are the trips to the field, what tours were on offer? Clear signage to the museum was also lacking. Last time the farm shop used to be the distillery and as you drove in there was a lovely lavender fragrance. This has now been relocated to a small canopy near the gift shop. The full sized distillery works was the best part of the whole farm last time and this has now gone.
In regard to retail, the shop had sold out of lavender oil at 11.30 am which is probably one of the most popular items to buy which was disappointing. The range of other items was overpriced and consequently no one in the group bought anything. I found it strange that the farm shop was selling lavender products from a different farm! The gift shop felt as though it was a tourist trap.
We were going to dine in the cafe however, the ventilation was not very good meaning it was very hot and would have been too uncomfortable to dine. The range in the cafe seemed somewhat limited and was not attractively priced. At least the cafe at nearby Sandringham is well ventilated. I was originally expecting to spend a few hours here but left after 45 minutes. The ones I like nearby in Yorkshire are better than this.
Driving along the A149 to Hunstanton, one cannot remain unaware that you are in Lavender country, as you pass field upon field of aromatic lavender plants in various stages of growth. The Norfolk Lavender site of England?s Lavender Farm is situated on the A149, about five miles from Hunstanton. It is a great place to relax and entrance is free. I have visited this centre twice and have enjoyed my visits on both occasions. All the plants one hundred different lavender varieties, on this site have been chosen for their aromatic qualities. Crossing over the white Balustrade Bridge allows access to a four-acre garden down an avenue, which leads to a magnificent pond. There are beds upon beds of shrubs, both Mediterranean and shade tolerant plants, specimen trees plus a large area solely dedicated to wild flower giving a wide variety of colour and interest all year round. A gardener?s paradise! The Norfolk Lavender site welcomes many thousands of visitors from all backgrounds. **The History of Lavender** The Romans first brought that lavender plants to Britain legend decrease. It is known that Roman soldiers carried their own 'first aid kit' of herbs, but it is unsure whether the plants were grown in Britain or whether dried lavender was used instead. The Romans were aware of the aromatic healing properties to lavender as well as its soothing and insect repellent properties too. By the sixteenth century lavender was established as the 'herb of cleanliness and calm' and used in every room in the house. Lavender was also used in cooking by this period. Queen Elizabeth I, who was known for her sweet tooth and was certainly fond of lavender conserve, the flowers were steeped in lashings of sugar. By the Stuart period, Queen Henrietta Maria, Charles the Second?s mother, was also partial to lavender conserve and to lavender wine too. (Was it a Royal trait?!) In those days soap (if used) had a
particularly rancid smell, but in the seventeenth century it was discovered that this smell could be overcome with the addition of lavender oil. Lavender sellers became constant features in street life, especially during the Plague Years when lavender was burned to cleanse the air. Remember the children?s rhyme; ?Ring a ring a roses, A pocket full of poses?. This was thought to ward off the ?Black Death?. In 1826 a Frenchman, Nicephore Niepce, managed to capture a visual image chemically through the use of bitumen of Judæa (a type of asphalt) which changes its solubility in lavender oil depending on exposure to light. Modern photography was born! During the Victorian era, the widest use of lavender was in perfumery and the scenting of linen and clothes to was a desirable practise. During the First World War the supply of modern disinfectants could not keep pace with demand, so it was necessary to revive older methods of treating the injured. Housewives both in Britain and on the Continent gathered lavender so that lavender oil on sphagnum moss could be used as an alternative wound dressing. By the end of the war, a rapid decline of commercial lavender growing in England was experience as farmers were influenced greatly by the lure of increasing land values for urban development. In 1932, before the last fields everywhere could be ploughed up, Linn Chilvers founded Norfolk Lavender and planted the first six acres (2.5 ha), thus keeping unbroken the great tradition of English lavender growing. Others in England may imitate, but none has the history, the tradition or the special varieties grown by Norfolk Lavender at Heacham and in the surrounding area. Today, there are more and more awareness about the benefits nature holds and the use of Lavender in our daily lives. This is more and more acceptable and we the public have a lot to thank Linn Chilvers for. Linn Chilvers was the son of a keen botanist who in 1874 started a nurser
y garden and florist's business in Heacham and Hunstanton, on the north Norfolk coast. Both Linn and his father had a keen interest in lavender and grew several varieties. After his father's death Linn continued the nursery business. His dream was to grow lavender on a larger scale than his father. He knew of the failure of the lavender fields in the South of England, and as Norfolk offered excellent growing conditions to market Lavender on a commercial scale. Then in 1932 Linn went into partnership with Francis 'Ginger' Dusgate who provided another six acres of land while Linn supplied the 13,000 plants required. Three men and one lad did the planting in an eighteen-day period for the grand total cost of £15. The partnership's first harvest was in 1933 and the brave venture attracted much publicity nationally. One of the interested watchers was a chemist from Leicester, Mr. Avery. He told Linn that he had a recipe for a lavender perfume that had been made for King George IV. They agreed that the partnership would use the formula, and for many years Mr. Avery came to Norfolk to mix the essences himself, until on his death the secret was purchased outright by Norfolk Lavender Ltd. Here ends the History Lesson! **The Site Today** * Guided Tours* Guided tours for coach parties and casual visitors take place regularly from the end of May to the end of September, there is a small charge made for this service. For the Casual visitor, the tour usually involves seeing around the grounds, including the Herb Garden and the National Collection of Lavenders, with a slide show or a visit to the distillery depending on the season. A mini bus tour to visit a lavender field in bloom is also included but not compulsory! *The Distillery* During the months of July and August when the harvest of the lavender flowers are in progress, visitors are shown around the distillery. Here the ancient process of
extracting the tiny drops of lavender oil contained in each individual floret can be observed. The amount and quality of the oil depends on the particular type of lavender and on the amount of sunshine, especially just before and during harvest. In order to make perfumery products the oil must be separated from the plant material and this is done by steam distillation. The smell is over powering and can induce headaches! The lavender grown by Norfolk Lavender Ltd for use in all their products that have been specially selected for the quality and quantity of their oil, and for their resistance to shab, the only deadly disease for lavender. About one-third of the crop is used as flowers for sachets and pot pourri. To prepare this loosely packed sacks of harvested lavender are dried in the drying barn. Then the stalks are separated from the flowers. After sieving the clean flowers are ready for use in Norfolk Lavender products. *Gift Shop* There is an extensive range of Norfolk Lavender, many of them hand made and hand packed, are available for sale in the large Gift Shop. A large selection of countryside gifts is also stocked, including pottery and crafts. *The Fragrant Plant Centre* This is situated in the new conservatory and offers an extensive choice of aromatic smelling plants including lavenders, herbs and plants all available in a Norfolk Lavender catalogue, in addition to cottage garden plants and gardening gifts. The site is organic with no pesticides are used on the fields, thus encouraging the abundance of wildlife. Norfolk Lavender products are not animals, neither are animal fixatives used either. There is also a Plant Sales area where you can purchase many different varieties of lavender to grace your house and your garden. I brought some herbs two years ago and they remain healthy specimens. *The Herb Garden* There are more than fifty-five individual beds of herbs laid out like an old monastery garden, e
ach herb having its own bed to keep it completely separate. Walking around this area is a little boring, but the centre piece is a locally-made sundial, which I really liked! *Tea Rooms* An all-important place, as I do need my sustenance! All the scones and cakes are freshly baked, and in the winter months there is even log fire to warm your toes. Fresh brewed coffee and light lunches are also available all year. **Where is Norfolk Lavender** Norfolk Lavender can be found on the A149. *By Car or Coach* Follow the signs on A149 and A148. The free Car Park entrance is on B1454, 100 yards east of junction with A149. *By Train* Appropriate station in King's Lynn. *Bus* Bus services: 410, 411 and Coastliner. **Opening Times** ENING TIMES: Open daily from 10am until 5pm of the year (Except 25/26th December and 1st January). **For more information** Norfolk Lavender Ltd Carey Mill Heacham Norfolk PE31 7JE Telephone: 01485 570384 Website: wwwnorfolk-lavender.co.uk