Friday, July 11, 2008

The Garden of England

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.





13 comments:

Pacha said...

Intriguing stuff jj. Converted into homes, you say? I wouldn't mind a house like that!

Carol and Chris said...

OMG JJ those houses are fab!! I love the wonky pointy bits at the top of the roofs and I can completely understand why you would want to live in one!!!

C x

Yvonne said...

I've never seen those buildings before, they're really unusual. I'd love to live in one of those, kind of a Grand Designs project...have a great weekend!

Debs said...

What great places, I can see why you would like to live in one of them.

SueG said...

Soon after we moved to Britain, during one of my parents' first visits, we all went for a trip to Kent and stayed a few nights in a converted oast house. It was incredibly cool -- one of our most memorable holidays. Those photos bring it all back...I'd love to do that again....

KAREN said...

Weirdly, I once wrote a short story about Oast houses for BBC Radio Kent, but I've never been there! Lovely photos :o)

Angie said...

Fascinating pictures and houses. I love learning those sorts of random facts, JJ. It makes me sad to see things like that disappearing, and in only 50 years time, no less!

Fiona said...

So beautiful. I want to live in one too. And a windmill, and a narrow boat.

B said...

Oast houses! I had a feeling you were talking about them today but I was talking to someone else. My parents had friends in Kent and I used to love seeing the Oast Houses.

It was fab to meet you :)

Jon M said...

Oast Houses are ace, I stayed in a converted one in Herefordshire when I was akid. Brill holiday!

CC Devine said...

Ah, now I know what you mean. Am enlightened! Lovely to meet you yesterday. Hope that you enjoy the rest of the holidays here.

KatW said...

I've never an Oast before but now I have I'd love to stay/live in one. They look fab - like something out of a fairytale. Your blog fills me with new experiences (second hand and without leaving my desk, I get to travel - thanks).

Kat :-)

JJ said...

Pacha, aren't they gorgeous?

Carol, Oooh, you've not seen them before hon?

Yvonne, I guess I think everyone knows of them, but only because to me they're normal...

Debs, I love the round ones most because their interiors are kept round inside and in Bangkok we have the perfect sofa!

Sue, how wonderful. They are beautiful aren't they?

Oooh, Karen, what was the story about?

Angie, the decline is said to be 50 years, but they were all around us in my youth (though that ISN'T 50 years ago, mind!)

Fiona, a windmill? Yes, me too. It must be the roundiness...

B, Lovely to meet you too. I'm not surprised you enjoyed seeing them - they are quirky, aren't they?

Jon, Herefordshire? Really? I didn't know they were there too. No reason why they shouldn't be there though...

CC, Sorry about my lecture... It's all explained here isn't it?

KatW, Your blog fills me with new experiences that's such a lovely thing to say, thank you.