Farm shops along the A21 - and Merriments Garden Centre

We have made so many journeys up and down the A21 in the past few years, fortnightly from Birmingham for about two years before we finally moved here full-time, and now still on a regular basis to see family and friends.

     It's like a road from the 1950s, much of it narrow, winding, two-way, bordered by trees, with occasional glimpses of sweeping Wealden views. When we first started coming to Hastings we thought of it as the borderland between our old city life and the new, slower way of being. Romantic though this sounds, the A21 is one of the most dangerous roads in the country.

     I don't know about you, but when we start on a long drive we always want to make a good start on the journey before stopping, and when we finish, we just want to get home, so after everything on the A21 just get passed by.
    So, the other day we pottered up to just beyond Hurst Green, and visited the stopping places en route.  I'll do the other places as far up as the Tunbridge Wells services another time.
    We started at the Orchard Farm Shop, near the Ticehurst turn-off, to test out their claim: 'Probably the Best Coffee in Sussex'.  Not surprisingly, we have snorted at the sign many times as we hurtled past. Battleaxe and Philosopher are fussy about coffee quality - see previous posts.

That sign.....
    Having expanded rapidly in the last few years, this farm shop now has many plants, pots etc. It sells meat and cheese as well as local produce. There is a range of bottled beer, and Harvey's from the barrel. Everything looked just fine, but we made a bee-line for the Garden Cafe.
     Oh dear, no. Philosopher swore he saw the guy behind the counter (wouldn't call him a barista) get three cups of coffee out of one squirt of expresso. As we sipped our coloured water we discussed the use of 'probably' in this context. It's a bit like those road signs you get near traffic bottlenecks: 'Queues possible, queues probable, queues likely'. In this case, even 'there is the remotest possibility that this might be the best coffee in Sussex' would have been inappropriate. Crazy really. I don't think customers expect to get a top quality brew in a farm shop cafe, and without that sign, would down whatever they were given without a thought.
Orchard Farm Shop
Good range of pots...

Pretty tomatoes
Beer at Orchard Farm shop
     Next, we turned off to Merriments, which is only a couple of hundred metres off the main road, so I will count it in.
     As well as a very large garden centre stocked with a huge variety of interesting plants, a large shop area and a cafe, Merriments also has a show garden, and this time, we paid to have a look round.
     Despite the sunny weather, it is still a little early for many things to be out, but there was plenty of interest. Lots of hellebores - always hard to photograph because they insist on looking down at the ground.
Merriments
Catkins of Acer Negundo 'Kelly's Gold' against silver birches

Lovely anemone

Formal garden section
     I bought some fancy grass, a vibrant yellow Berberis and something else I can't remember. We ate lunch in the cafe, which is clearly a favourite haunt of the very much older East Sussex resident, busy scoffing roast of the day. We felt like babies.
     Back to the A21. Just outside Hurst Green, Eggs to Apples is a newly rebuilt version of an older farm shop. A very cool modern long low wooden building - unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the outside, and very attractively set out inside as well. It is a real step forward from the traditional rustic farm shop look.

Eggs to Apples

Wine on draught!
     Now, this place is a real find, and Battleaxe would totally recommend a visit. It has masses of wines, a great cheese counter, meat, fish, Lighthouse Bakery bread, lots of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables and plenty of other tasty bits and pieces. I bought some smelly cheese and some purple sprouting broccoli.
     It has a coffee corner with a big window overlooking the view across the Weald, with daily papers and even binoculars for watching the wild life. Staff are young and seem enthusiastic. We will certainly go back and it really deserves to do well.
    Onward through Hurst Green, which doesn't seem to present its most interesting face to the A21 - not surprising, as the road is so busy and noisy.  People hereabouts seem very keen on motor caravans. There is a big place selling them in Hurst Green, and an even bigger place further on towards Hastings at John's Cross.
    Outside Hurst Green you pass the Gnome Shop. It used to be called Naughty Gnomes, but we peered in as we drove past and there didn't seem to be any gnomes visible at all. Perhaps the market has collapsed. Here is an article about the gnomes from 2012. Well, even if we had visited earlier we couldn't have helped the business by buying one. Even in her most retro-ironic frame of mind Battleaxe would not be giving garden room to a full-frontal fireman gnome.
    Next, down the hill to the Robertsbridge turn-off, and signs to the Black Shed Gallery. We are not going there as it is too far off the road, but we went once ages ago. I tell you, if you wanted a setting for a dark and terrifying murder mystery novel, that strange, isolated gallery would be it. Yaaa - I see that their current show is about Dead Babies.....
    Brown's Farm shop comes up next. This is a sweet, traditional little place that even has vintage bric-a-brac shelves. I bought some garlic pickle - this outing was getting expensive!
   
Brown's Farm Shop

Brown's Farm Shop
   Now, the Route 1066 Cafe with the great slogan on its sign 'Get your chips at 1066'. It is a famous biker's cafe, and of course Hastings has always been a big biker destination. I bet it is a fabulous retro haven but we've never been. I'll put that right.
   We've stopped at the attractive old John's Cross Inn a few times - it's fine, as is the equally picturesque next pub, the Royal Oak at Whatlington. Both do good food. No pubs for miles then two come along at once.....
    Past Whatlington, the big event is Blackbrooks, an ever-expanding garden, outdoor and general life-style 'destination'. I've covered Blackbrooks before, see blog post on garden centres.
    Lastly, before reaching Hastings, is the funny old Kent Street Nurseries. The old-style glasshouses look to be kept by people nearing retirement. Followed round by an ancient yappy little terrier, I bought some baby sweet peas and coriander seedlings.
Kent Street Nursery
Kent Street Nursery


       

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