People do the strangest things in a field of lavender. They grin, they amble, they kneel, they gawp, but most particularly they get their cameras out and take photos of one another. Everyone looks good against an indigo background, so get to one sharpish and your image could be liked to high heaven on Facebook within minutes. It's fortunate, then, that London has its very own purple pasture, free to enter, and it's currently ablaze. [10 photos]
Mayfield Lavender is only just in London, indeed that's Surrey immediately beyond the hedge at the bottom of the field. But thereit sits, on a lane between Banstead and Purley, beyond where suburbia stops and a floral fantasy begins. You can walk if you're semi-adventurous, or even catch the bus, but most people choose to drive and park up along the top end of the field. Really quite a lot of people at this time of year, even on a weekday, so long as the sun's out.
You could just walk up and down the rows. There are dozens of these running parallel over the slope, most end to end, a few intersected by a sprawling oak. Three different types of lavender are planted in different parts of the field, each flowering at a slightly different time to stagger the harvest. The upper half is currently at peak bloom, and abuzz with bumble bees, while in the lower quarter the occasional employee cuts stalks for sale.
More likely you'll stop somewhere mid-mauve and get your camera out, it's irresistible. Perhaps kneel down so your lower half disappears into a sea of lavender... or if you're only small, toddling has the same effect. Several professional photographers may be present, creating pastel-perfect portraits for loving parents or couples. You might even stumble across the photo-shoot for an album cover, or whatever the digital R&B alternative is these days, so try not to wander into the back of shot.
Expect to see a high proportion of oriental visitors enjoying the spectacle. They love their lavender in China and Japan, so the opportunity to rediscover home on the Croydon Road is irresistible. Bring the whole family why don't you, and pose as a group over and over and over and over. A broad central path easily accommodates a wheelchair, if grandma wants to come too, but the real joy is to be had from stepping through the crop from one purple backdrop to another.
There is a shop in a tent selling locally harvested produce, be that bunches, pillows, or those toiletries you always buy for certain relatives because it saves thinking. At the cafe you can buy a lavender fairy cake or lavender scone to eat with your lavender tea or lavender lemonade (non lavender-based food options are also available). Once an hour, if that delights, you can even take a £2 tractor ride around the field. Mayfield's a wholly commercial enterprise, to be sure, but not in an especially intrusive way.
Come before June or after August and there's nothing much to see. The gates also close at six, restricting access to a single public right of way across the centre. And be warned that whenever the sun dips behind a cloud and the illumination changes, all that vibrant colour magic disappears and you're just left standing in a field. But time it right, as I managed earlier this week, and London's very own lavender farm is an unalloyed delight.