Normally I tell you about life in Bangkok. Today I’ve been driving round, taking pictures and I’m going to tell you about where I'm staying now, coming back here makes me feel I’m a bit in love again.
I grew up in the Weald of Kent. The name derives from the Anglo Saxon for ‘forest’ or ‘wild’ and actually stretches from Hampshire, through Surrey to Kent. I don’t think any of these areas are particularly wild anymore, but it’s very beautiful: Kent itself is known as the Garden of England. Where I live is a farming area, crops mostly but animals too. Living in Bangkok, I miss a lot of the landscape but the oast houses are among my favourite part of the landscape and I have a desperate hankering to live in one.
Oast houses are farm buildings in which hops are processed. Hops have been grown in this area since around the 16th Century – in the last fifty years they have almost disappeared from the landscape although they were grown all over my immediate locale during my childhood. Hops add bitterness to beer so there are more hops in ‘bitter’ than in ‘lager’ and as lager has gained in popularity so hop farming has declined. The hop fields have almost entirely disappeared here now, which I think is a tragedy, but we are left with these amazing buildings most of which have been converted into homes. You really can't drive 3/4 of a mile without seeing one in the distance or just over the hedgerow.
Hop bines grow up to five feet, up coir string supported by permanent poles and wires. They’re harvested in September in a 6 week period, and traditionally casual workers from London’s East End would bring the family down for a holiday in Kent to pick the hops. They are picked and dried out in the oasts – they build a fire at the bottom on the building, spread out the hops on a grid and the white top – the cowl – turned in the wind to circulate the air.