I was on granny duty during the school holidays while my daughter works. So I needed to find something to do with a 10-year-old and her 7-year-old sister.
We decided on family fun at the Hop Farm near Paddock Wood.
We got there shortly after it opened at 10 o’clock. Admission is £4 per person. Then some of the attractions must be paid for with £1 tokens. The cashier wisely told us to look around first before deciding how many tokens we would need. This is because the tall ten-year-old might find some of the attractions more appealing to smaller children. It is true that most of the children of families crowding in after us tended to be seven years old and younger.
First, let’s get our bearings
So, we first had a leisurely stroll around the animal petting enclosures: goats, sheep, donkeys, pigs to pet (with handwashing afterwards). Also, there were ducks and geese to admire and some picturesque poultry with frilly feathered legs, and a birdcage with canaries. There were also two magnificent shire horses, descendants of local brewery wagon horses.
We bought 20 plastic tokens (with two extras on offer). We went straight to the Magic Castle (one token per person admission). It was full of various cunning optical illusions, magic-themed. So, there was plenty to interest the ten-year-old and even this Granny.
What was it like in the olden days, Granny?
Next was a trip to the Museum. Beside the entrance there was a display of old photos from the days of horse-drawn transport, with those muscular shire horses, massive halters on shoulders, pulling heavy carts. There was a series of display rooms set up as period shops: a grocer, a pub and an apothecary. They were dimly lit by weak electricity. The shelves were crammed with cartons, tins and bottles labelled in old print styles.
In each one was a sales assistant behind the counter and a customer in the foreground. But the customer’s costume seemed to be of 1930s whereas I would have dated the shops to at least two decades earlier, so late Edwardian costume (bustles and long skirts) would have been more appropriate. But maybe they have done their research and village shops in Kent (or Paddock Wood?) retained old style lay-out for decades longer.
Let’s get down to business
Next was a whole room dedicated to hop-picking. As a former hop-picker (link to article) I was eager to check for authenticity. Actually, I think it is pretty good, as it should be since it is located on premises with oast-houses and presumably living memory of old-style hop-picking. The only item missing was a real bushel basket half full of hops. That is vital so that today’s children (future workers!) can assess how MUCH work such manual harvesting actually is or was.
The children then wanted to spend their tokens on the play equipment. First stop for the ten-year-old was the bungee jumping (£4). For the seven-year-old it was the inflatable bumper boats (£4) and also bumper cars. Then there was some free crazy golf, and free climbing on quite a tall assembly of towers and bridges. There were also merry-go-rounds (£3), one of giant tea-cups, and another of rail engines.
Escaping the wasps
When we wanted to eat our sandwiches, out of the way of annoying wasps, there was a large indoor café, where coffee and some refreshments could also be bought. For children under five there was a soft play area on one side (no adults allowed inside, although of course all activity viewable from the door). Ice-cream was also on sale at another booth.
After two hours, as clouds were gathering – yes, clouds for actual expected rain (!) – we decided to leave. That was enough for all the activities on offer. We caught the N° 6 bus which stops there hourly in each direction (either Tunbridge Wells or Maidstone).
Home again, home again, clickety-clack
To our delight, it actually seemed scheduled for the trains at Paddock Wood station, so, although it is a 10-minute walk from the bus-stop to the rail station, the hourly train arrives within five minutes. That is rare indeed in Kent, where mostly the buses do not seem scheduled to match the train timetables nor the bus services of other privatised companies (Stagecoach, Arriva, Regent etc).
Verdict on the day’s outing: family fun at the Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, worth a visit with young children. They came away happy and tired, and have even gone to sleep early!