Hops and harvest at Scotney Castle

As the home to the National Trust's only working hop farm, September is the perfect time to visit Scotney Castle. See the hop harvest coming in at Little Scotney Farm in the traditional way and learn a bit about the hop picking heritage of the garden of England.

THIS EVENT HAS NOW FINISHED FOR 2019.Kent has always been known as the garden of England, partly for its orchards but also for its hop farms. Whilst not many remain now, we're proud to have the only working hop farm within the National Trust here at Scotney Castle, currently looked after by our tenant farmer. During September, join us as we celebrate the season and heritage of hop picking.

Oasts at Little Scotney farm
The Oasts used for drying hops
Oasts at Little Scotney farm

Take a tour to Little Scotney Farm 

The Scotney Castle estate consists of 780 acres of woodland, parkland and pasture with Little Scotney Farm situated on the eastern side of the estate. The tenant farmer concentrates on the rearing of sheep, a herd of Sussex cattle as well as the cultivation of hops. 

During September we run a guided walks programme where one of our estate guides will take you to visit the farm and allow you an opportunity to see inside the Oast, stripping shed and walk amongst the growing hops in the gardens. We will even finish your tour off with a taster of ale brewed from hops at Little Scotney Farm.

Join a guided walk at Scotney Castle
Scotney Castle family walk summer
Join a guided walk at Scotney Castle

Each tour takes approximately 2 hours and does including walking to the farm and back. The Oast does include going up and down stairs. Tours run from Saturday 31 August to Monday 30 September 2019, starting at 11:00am and 2pm. During the Hops and Harvest Weekend of 7-8 September, the tours will run at 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm on both days. Tours are £3 per person.

It's not possible to pre-book onto the tours so we do recommend if you are travelling especially to Scotney to take part that you arrive as early in the day as possible as tickets do get allocated quickly. Week days are quieter than weekends, so if you can visit during the week you may find it easier to get a place on a tour.

Take home some Scotney ale from the shop

To complete your visit, call into the shop to buy a bottle of two of Scotney ale. Made locally by Westerham Brewery, Viceroy pale ale, Grasshopper ale and Spirit of Kent ale are made using over 50% of hops from our hop farm.

Take home a bottle of local ale made using Scotney crops
Scotney Castle local ales
Take home a bottle of local ale made using Scotney crops

What are hops?

Hops are flowers which are added to beer during brewing. They give the beer its bitter taste and smell, and are also used for the preservation of beer. 

They grow on tall stems known as bines and can grow to over 5 metres tall. The flowers appear in July and then mature until around September. Hop plants themselves can last for up to 20 years and grow fresh stems each spring. 

Hops started to be used widely in British brewing in about 1520 when techniques were brought in to Kent. It was decided to call the areas where hops are grown gardens, to avoid a tax imposed on farming land. 

The hop gardens at Scotney Castle
Hop gardens at Little Scotney farm
The hop gardens at Scotney Castle

 

Processing hops 

Today, the bines are cut at the top and taken back to the stripping shed, situated next to the oasts, where the hops are separated from the leaves, stem and string by machinery. They are stored in re-used hessian sacks known as 'pokes' that are emptied in to the conical drying tower within the oast. It takes 8 hours to reduce the moisture content from 80% to 10%.

Once dry they are compressed into a new large sack called a 'pocket'. Each filled pocket weighs approximately 85 kilograms and makes it way to Westerham Brewery to be used in ale and bitter. 

Hops ready to be dried at Little Scotney farm
Hops ready to be dried
Hops ready to be dried at Little Scotney farm

 

The history of hop picking in Kent

Until the automation of the hop picking process in the 1950s, the harvest was done by hand. It involved cutting the bines down and stripping the flowers off into large bins (sacks held up by a framework of poles at each end) ready to go to the brewery. Farmers needed extra workers at harvest time, more than the local population could provide, so most of these seasonal workers came from London on special trains laid on to take them to the Kent villages. For many it was seen as a holiday, getting out of London and enjoying the fresh air and open spaces of the Kent countryside.

The children weren't excluded from joining in the work though, every bin was worth money so many had to play their part in earning the family's wage. The Tally man would come along when your bin was full to record how many baskets you had gathered ready for pay day at the end of the week.

Hop pickers around the bines gathering the hops
Hop pickers on the farm at Little Scotney Farm at Scotney Castle
Hop pickers around the bines gathering the hops

Accommodation was provided in hopping huts. These were oftern basic, terrace style buildings with a pallet bed and shelving inside. Everything had to be bought with the hop pickers so families would arrive with bedding, cooking equipment and whatever else they could carry and cooking took place on fires outside. There was a good community atmosphere with many families returning year-on-year to the same huts on the same farms.

See the old hop pickers hut at Scotney Castle
The delapidated hop picking huts in the woods at Scotney Castle
See the old hop pickers hut at Scotney Castle

We're dressing our hopping hut this year to show you how the workers would have lived when hop picking at Little Scotney Farm. Take a walk down there and have a look at the basic conditions. We're also looking for stories from people who may have been hop picking here or at farms nearby. If you have anything to share with us, please tag us on social media (ScotneyCastleNT) or email scotneycastle@nationaltrust.org.uk

See the harvest in the Walled Garden 

Whilst you're visiting, don't forget to take a stroll around the Walled Garden. There are normally items available everyday to take home for a small donation and the garden team can be found working away if you have any questions to ask. It's a busy time of year as the harvest comes in and the team assess what's grown well and what hasn't ready for next year.

Produce from the Walled Garden
Scotney Castle summer garden walled garden produce
Produce from the Walled Garden

During the Hops and Harvest weekend of 7-8 September, we'll also be welcoming in local traders who will have stalls inside and out of the Walled Garden. Everything from locally made jams, fruit juices, craft items, jewellery, illustrations and ceramics will be on sale, with a hog roast to keep hunger at bay washed down with local ale. So come along to pick up some local treats to take home and experience the true delights of the season.