With the stunning colours of Autumn in full bloom a friend and I decided we must take this opportunity to head out with our cameras. The season disappears so swiftly and I couldn’t bare the thought of not spending some time amongst nature to capture this beautiful time of year.
Wrapped up warm with batteries charged we drove out to Ashridge Forest, part of a National Trust Heritage Estate. I have been visiting this place my whole life; as a child I’d climb trees and collect conkers, on school field trips we analysed soil samples and pond water, and now I walk the dog and enjoy photography in the fresh air. I remember as a child my family often dragged us out on walks before or after a Sunday roast to “blow away the cobwebs” or “work up an appetite”. This concept was lost on me back then but now, even when the weather is cold, I often feel the desire to get outside and stretch my legs.
Luckily the weather was dry, unluckily we did not account for the fact it was half term! We headed off the beaten track to avoid the hoards and take some shots. I uncovered a new interest in mushrooms and found more obscure ones to take photos of. I love the way looking through a lens can change your perception of a subject.
There is a lovely cafe at Ashridge Monument which we had planned to visit, on arrival the queue was out of the gate and the garden swamped with kids fuelled by cake and stressed looking parents fuelled by caffeine! Not wanting to counteract the peace and quite we had enjoyed amongst the trees we escaped Ashridge and headed to a place my partner in cake had recently discovered.
It seems this hidden gem is advertised by word of mouth. I grew up just a 10 minute drive from Little Heath Farm and I had no idea it existed. My friend found it through a friend, who found it through a friend, who found it through a…….you get the picture! Tucked away down a country lane lined with impressive detached houses it’s not the sort of place you would stumble across. Having been in business for over 40 years they are clearly doing a lot right. Turning into the very tight entrance it was clear the parking was not for the faint hearted. The narrow gateway leads you down an overgrown track and into the small car park. With no obvious flow to the traffic there was some mild chaos as a lady was trying to leave through the same gate we were entering! All good fun! (I can say that as it was not me who had to reverse!).
The Nursery feels very casual in comparison to the large chain garden centres you and I are probably more familiar with.
I feel my lack of horticultural knowledge would have found me lost and confused amongst the rows of unlabelled plant life so if you are going to buy I’d take guide. A beautiful pergola draped in vines took centre stage, tucked underneath in their winter storage were tables and chairs, eagerly awaiting the warmer months. With my fingers more blue than green we headed into the wooden clad Sanuk shop and cafe to warm up.
Sanuk is a real treasure trove of items from around the globe. Large ornate mirrors reflect light from low hung chandeliers, illuminating hand carved wooden animals, decorated bowls and trinkets. You have to cut through the small on site kitchen into the light, bright, dining room, all the baking is done off site and just warmed up and presented in the cafe.
A familiar vintage affair greats you, with mismatched furniture and grand dressers displaying the goodies on offer. I am advised that there used to be vines from the garden growing through the roof and coiling themselves around the exposed oak beams. After a recent face lift these have all been cut away (somewhat of a shame but possibly healthier for the structure), white washed walls display artwork for sale. The focal point of the room is an exposed brick chimney breast and log burner, all that was missing was a dog curled up at the hearth.
There seemed to be a limited amount of cake on offer, possibly as it was late in the day, and after hearing apologies at the next table for the crumbly texture of the chocolate cake I, perhaps controversially, decided to go savoury. The menu listed a warm cheese scone with butter which, on a chilly day, seemed the perfect option. I perused their eclectic tea cabinet which contained a wide variety of tea bags, from Twinings to Waitrose and everything in between. It was a little like rummaging in a friends kitchen cupboard in the hope something takes your fancy. In my mission to combat the chill in the air I opted for the warming spice of Masala Chai. My partner in cake braved the crumbly chocolate cake and had a (much needed) glass of homemade elderflower cordial to wash it down.
The staff seemed a little distracted and took a while to take our order, not that we were in a rush, but thankfully the food didn’t take long to arrive. Our order was served on quaint, mismatched crockery and a teapot reminiscent of Aladdin and his lamp. The giant wedge of scone laid before me surpassed all expectations. It had a relatively dense texture but was rich with cheesy flavours. I was grateful for a decent helping of butter to accompany it, I always feel a little embarrassed asking for seconds!
The salty, creamy butter melted into the golden scone and gave me a big cheesy hug as I devoured every last morsel. The first cup of my Chai was delicious, warm yet refreshing. Unfortunately with it being a tea bag in a tea pot it started to over brew and as I refilled the dainty cup the flavour became too strong and slightly bitter.
The afternoon soon disappeared amidst photography talk and ideas for our next adventure. It was such a pleasure to be introduced to this secret garden and the homely little cafe within. The joy will be returning as the seasons change to explore what is in bloom and discover what homemade treats are on offer.
Little Heath Farm, Little Heath Lane, Potton End, HP4 2RT TEL: 07835 200789