A walk in the country is always delightful but if you mix it with a little fruit picking and some eating it just gets better!
We were recommended Oast Farm by a friend who is coeliac. He was impressed by the dietary options available, even in these COVID times when restaurants are hard pressed to put a wide range on the table.
Our walk started at the farm shop, where we were armed with punnets and trays and pointed in the direction of the gently rolling fields with heavily laden trees and hedgerows bursting with ripeness – the perfect place to spend a hot and stormy summer day.
We love a good forage for wild fruits but sometimes Pick Your Own is simply better.
A bonus at Oast Farm is the café which meant we could combine a bit of harvesting with a leisurely lunch.
Booking is essential right now, both for the PYO and the eating, and only external tables are available, so you need to be weather-wise. Oast Farm serves breakfasts, brunches and lunches from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Saturday.
Not sure how things will pan out for them when the weather turns, but right now there’s plenty of space under big, shady parasols.
Everything is freshly prepared with seasonal alternatives and vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free choices. I was tempted by the butternut squash soup but with temperatures still in the thirties I opted instead for avocado, peas and mint on Flint Owl Bakery sourdough. It was light, refreshing and deliciously minty.
Pork Belly indulged in a tasty Sussex beef pasty with side salad.
That would normally be enough for us but we decided to linger longer and sample the cakes, just because we could.
Pork Belly’s coffee and walnut was as expected – a soft sponge with sweet icing topping. But he thought the portion size wasn’t very generous for £2.50.
But I came up trumps with the plum cake – dairy-free and naturally sweet it was baked to perfection; the plums soft and just tart enough to offset the sweet cake mix. And I got way more than he did!
Freshly brewed coffee to round off the meal and we stayed more than an hour, just drinking in the birdsong, rustling leaves and watching the storm clouds build. Nothing was hurried and full COVID precautions are taken so expect socially distant service and contactless payments.
If you feel the need to burn off the calories afterwards, Oast Farm is perfectly situated for a leisurely walk in nearby Ashdown Forest.
We drove a few miles up the B2026 to Shepherds car park, a small gravel layby in the middle of the forest. There are plenty of paths to take through the gorse and heather landscape to reach the cool of the trees.
A few houses are dotted around so there are rough tracks as well as narrow footpaths. Watch out for random sheep, who’re allowed to roam free for most of the year. They’re pretty unfazed by passersby but dogs must be kept on a lead.
We decided to find the poignant Airman’s Grave. It’s not actually a grave but a WWII memorial to the six man crew of a Wellington bomber of 142 Squadron – all aged between 19 and 27 – who were killed when it crashed on the morning of 31 July 1941 on its return from a raid on Cologne.
If you’re going to attempt the walk don’t do as we did and rely on Google maps. Unless you have very good signal it’ll get confused and send you off in all sorts of random directions. Plus one path through the woods looks much like another, so what should have taken us 10 minutes to find, took twice as long.
Instead check out the maps and guides for the area on the Ashdown Forest website – free to view but a small donation is requested if you want to download a copy.
But getting lost was worth it – the memorial is a tiny white cross surrounded by a low stone wall, perched high on the hill. Sad, lonely and dramatic as the storm clouds marched towards us bringing hot, stinging raindrops while the birds sang crazily on the surrounding gorse.
The return journey was easy, interrupted only by those grazing sheep. Then back to the car and a slow meander home, back seat bursting with a mini-glut of fresh fruit.
Which of course set Pork Belly’s mind a-racing.
In this time of COVID lockdowns and restricted activities that is one of the reasons we still eat out – a chance to take a step back from the everyday, try something new and bring a little inspiration back into our own kitchen.
First up was a blackberry topping for our coconut flour breakfast pancakes – just a quick sloosh of agave syrup in a frying pan, shy in the berries and heat for a short while.
Then there was Pork Belly’s own take on Oast Farm’s plum cake – after all we did have a couple of pounds to use up whilst they were still fresh ‘n’ juicy.