A purple blanket of flowers covers the ground and the sweet, herby scent of lavender fills the air at one of the loveliest small farms in Yorkshire.
The plant’s calming properties are useful at what is the busiest time of year for Steve and Anne Jaques, who are about to harvest their crop for what could be the last time.
The couple have just put Wolds Way Lavender up for sale and are reminiscing about how the farm/tourist attraction started with “a sheet of paper and a £2.50 soil testing kit.”
They bought the 11.7 acres of scrub land, just off the A64 at Wintringham, Malton, 13 years ago.The soil was so poor it was impossible to cultivate traditional crops so it had been a piggery. After the last owners had moved out in the 1950s it had gradually become a dumping ground for other people’s rubbish.
“It was probably one of the worst strips of land in Yorkshire, but at the time I was looking for a challenge,” says Steve, then director of the Second World War museum Eden Camp. “I’d been at the museum since its very early days and I felt I’d taken it as far as I could. We’d achieved everything we set out to do and after 15 years the time seemed right to move on. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I liked the idea of working for myself. On the way to the museum each day I would drive past this bit of land and when I noticed a For Sale sign had gone up I couldn’t resist having a look.”
He wondered whether the land could make a live/work business for himself and his wife, Anne, a keen horticulturalist who had studied garden design at Bishop Burton College.
“I wanted to find something that blended her love of plants with my love of the tourist industry,” says Steve. The testing kit confirmed what local farmers already knew – below the six to 12ins of sandy topsoil lay 28ft of sand.
“There are only two things that can grow on soil like this – carrots or lavender. We reckoned we might struggle to support the two of us selling carrots but we thought if we could open a lavender farm, which would operate both as a manufacturing business and a tourist attraction, it might just work.”
Native to the Mediterranean, lavender is used to dry and rocky conditions and the couple planted their first crop in the Christmas of 2002. By the following June the plants were blooming and Wolds Way Lavender welcomed its first visitors.
It is now a firm favourite with tourists and locals. The Jaques’ have brought the barren site to life with lavender beds, ponds, wildflower meadows and the 7,000 trees and hedges they have planted. They sell the plants and lavender-based toiletries and have harnessed the power of the bees, who love their flowers, to produce honey.
One of their biggest investments, a miniature railway, has been well worth the outlay, according to Steve: “I got the idea from Australia where I had seen them used in sugar fields. It transports the lavender stems from the fields to the distillery and it is a big attraction for visitors.”
The couple also built the UK’s only wood-fired lavender distillery, which is eco-friendly and delivers the purest and best oil, known as “liquid gold”. The hub of the whole operation is the converted piggery building that is now a workshop and offices, tea room and gift shop and a three-bedroom house.
Living on site has made it easier to run the business, which is for sale through Savills at £900,000.
In the peak summer season, Steve and Anne have help from 12 part-time seasonal workers. Wolds Way Lavender is open to the public from April to September, after which it closes and gives the couple more time to relax, though there are trade shows to attend and orders to fulfil.
“It’s full-on in summer but we get a chance to relax in autumn and winter,” say the couple who are selling to retire. “It’s a great business and it still has potential. There’s room to put more lavender in or grow asparagus and possibly have camping pods and weddings here,” says Steve, who will be sad to leave Wolds Way. “We have a display board to show our journey from laying out the lavender beds to what we have now. It’s incredible really. It’s my baby and I am going to miss it.”
*For details on the sale, contact Savills, tel: 01904 617800, www.savills.co.uk; www.woldswaylavender.co.uk