PICK YOUR OWN

FUN DAY DATE

There’s something both traditional and modern about Pick Your Own (PYO) farms.

These working farms, where you pick fresh fruit and veg and then pay at the farm shop, hold nostalgic memories for many of us, harking back to the time when holidays meant trips to the seaside. Once there were thousands of them in the UK, but now there are only a few hundred — yet they’re currently enjoying a resurgence.

With the rise of urban gardening, they appeal to the modern Londoner who likes to know where his/her food comes from, is concerned about air miles, and seeks out local, seasonal produce packed with higher nutritional value.

When the sun is high, nothing beats being out and about in fresh air, feeling connected with nature by picking summer fruit and veg in a wide, open field.

Warning: most of these involve day trips out of London proper and necessitate the use of a car or taxi. We have attempted to provide public transport options as much as possible from central London. Good luck!

Middlesex

Parkside Farm, Enfield

This award-winning 50-acre farm  grows more than 20 different crops, and is one of only a few PYO farms we could find within the M25. The season opens in June and over the summer they have ‘table top’ strawberries (so you can pick them without bending down) as well as ones grown on the ground. They also have spinach, swiss chard and a great deal of beetroot; raspberries, redcurrants, french beans and courgettes. Refer to the handy crop calendar on the website to see what’s available during your visit. There’s a minimum spend of £4 per person.

How to get there: train from Finsbury Park to Gordon Hill and the farm is one mile away, take the tube to Cockfosters and it’s three miles away.

Essex

McLauchlans of Boxted, near Colchester

Specialising in summer berries, this long-established farm is open for PYO from early June depending on the weather. Earlier on in the season they have strawberries, cheaper jam strawberries, gooseberries and broad beans. Raspberries, dessert gooseberries, blackcurrants and sweetcorn are also on offer later in the summer.

How to get there: the train from Liverpool Street to Colchester takes about an hour then you can catch the village bus service to take you to Boxted.

Secretts

Hertfordshire

Cammas Hall Fruit Farm, near Bishops Stortford

Owned by the Lukies family for around 130 years and located on the Hertfordshire/Essex borders, this farm was one of the pioneering PYOs in the 1960s. Perfect for a great day out for all the family, it has a farm shop, children’s play area and tea barn with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. The farm opens around Easter although the first PYO produce doesn’t usually appear until late May, when you can expect to see lots of strawberries grown on tabletops, gooseberries and raspberries. Onions and pumpkins will make an appearance around September/October.

How to get there: trains from Liverpool Street to Bishops Stortford take betwen 40-50 minutes, then you catch the Village Link 5 bus to Hatfield Broad Oak and walk, or just get a cab from the station — it’s a 15-minute drive to the farm.

Hawkswick Lodge Farm, St Albans

Open June to August, this farm offers strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries and redcurrants. There’s a minimum charge of £2.50 per adult and 50p per child aged 5+.

How to get there: train from St Pancras to St Albans takes 20-30 minutes, then catch the 321 bus up Harpenden Road to Hawkswick stop.

Graveley Fruit Farms, Hitchin

Located amid beautiful countryside, this family-friendly farm boasts a children’s adventure playground, tractor and trailer rides, pet pigs for feeding, café and car boots sales (the car boot site is also a hot air balloon takeoff point!). Fruit is grown in polytunnels using the ‘table top’ system. You can pick strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants. Entrance is free.

How to get there: train from Kings Cross to Hitchin takes up to 45 minutes, then take a taxi. There are local buses but they’d still involve a walk alongside bus A-roads at the end.

Pearce’s Farmshop & Café, Buntingford

Owned by the Pearce family, this farm is open for PYO from May/June to October. Different varieties of strawberries that ripen at different times are grown using the ‘table top’ method, and raspberries are also available for picking. The farm’s café utilises these fruits on its dessert menu.

How to get there: the train from Finsbury Park to Hertford North takes about 35 minutes, then walk to the bus station and take the 331 bus north up the A10.

Secretts

Bedfordshire

Grove Farm, Leighton Buzzard

This 80-acre farm grows more than 30 different crops, which you can pick and take home between mid-June and mid-October. You can take your own picnic — plenty of picnic tables are available except at very busy times, when staff will advise you on nearby picnic spots.

How to get there: trains from Euston to Leighton Buzzard take up to 50 minutes and then you can get a minicab for the 15-minute drive to the farm.

Buckinghamshire

Copas Farms, Iver

There are separate fruit festival days here if you simply want to go along to eat as much freshly picked fruit as you can stomach – these cost £6 for adults and £4 for children. For picking your own to take home, the season begins with asparagus in May and ends in September with sweetcorn.  In the intervening months you’ll find broad beans, strawberries, spinach, rhubarb, gooseberries and beetroot — the farm may close early if they run out. There’s a minimum charge of £3 per person, but it’s offset against purchase. There’s also another Copas PYO Farm at Cookham in Berkshire.

How to get there: train from Paddington to Iver takes 20 minutes, then cab it to the farm.

Oxfordshire

Millets Farm Centre, Frilford

Open June to September, this 50-acre farm has more than 30 types of fruits and vegetables, including traditional, old-fashioned varieties. On site there’s a farm shop, garden centre, café, restaurants, woodland, children’s playground, zoo and much more. Available for picking are strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants at an entry cost of £2 per person (redeemable against any fruit purchased).

How to get there: train from Paddington to Didcot Parkway. If you can get to Abingdon or Wantage there’s a free bus service on a Tuesday. Otherwise, get a cab, shouldn’t be more than 15 minutes.

Berkshire

Grays Farm, Wokingham

Run by three generations of the Gray family, this award-winning farm is open for PYO from the end of May to early October. There are strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, cabbages, cauliflowers, spinach, broad beans, broccoli, courgettes and marrows available to pick with no entry charge.

How to get there: train from Waterloo to Wokingham is 50 minutes, then you’ll need a mini cab.

Cobbs Farm Shop & Kitchen,

Hungerford

A destination for food lovers, this 55-acre farm has a recently planted a five-acre vineyard, café, deli, butcher, fishmonger and florist, and runs seasonal events throughout the year. There’s a new play barn too. Plenty of soft fruits and seasonal vegetables are on the farm during summer, all sold by weight.

How to get there: train from Paddington to Hungerford is about one hour. The website says the farm is a minute’s drive along the A4 but we can’t work out the buses so get a cab.

Garsons

Surrey

Garsons, Esher

Sprawled over 150 acres, this slickly run farm claims to be UK’s largest PYO. You can harvest different varieties of over 30 types of fruits, vegetables and flowers between May to October. There’s a wide choice at the moment, including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries, beetroot, broad beans, broccoli, carrots, cabbages, cauliflowers, courgettes, spinach, mange tout and sugar snap peas. Also on site are a restaurant and award-winning farm shop and garden centre; and the company also owns another farm at Titchfield in Hampshire.

How to get there: a train from Waterloo to Esher takes about 30 mins. You can walk to Garsons in 40 mins or get a minicab.

Secretts, Milford

It’s no secret that Secretts is one of the best-known farms in the UK. It grows a huge range of fruit, veg, salad leaves and micro-shoots — many of them rare or unusual — on its enormous 150-acre site. It supplies to supermarkets, greengrocers, farm shops, health food shops and restaurants. There’s a lot going on at the farm, including farm shop, garden centre, gardening school, restaurant, butcher, vintage tea room and florist. As you go past open fields, idyllic lakes and wildfowl, there’s plenty available for picking including broad beans, asparagus, chard, peas, rhubarb, strawberries and gooseberries. Later in the season we’ll see raspberries, plums and sweetcorn. PYO is open on either part-time or full-time basis between April to October.

How to get there: a train from Waterloo to Milford takes 50ish minutes and you can probably walk it from there.

Avalon Garden Centre, Churt Farnham

It’s rare to find a PYO that offers blueberries in the UK, but this friendly farm has been growing them for 30 years, long before supermarkets started promoting them as ‘superfood’. They’re available from July until mid-October, depending on the weather, alongside strawberries.

How to get there: a train from Waterloo to Farnham takes about an hour but you’ll definitely need a cab. In fact, it’s probably more sensible to drive to this one.

Flower Farm Shop, Godstone

Situated in the stunning North Downs in the heart of Surrey, this PYO is open from June until the end of August. It comprises farm shop, traditional butcher, vineyard and tearoom. Strawberries (£3.95/kg) are currently ready, and raspberries will become available in July. The owners’ second farm, Heathfield Farm in Croydon, has now closed.

How to get there: get a train from Victoria to Caterham and it’ll take you about 50 minutes. Then take the 400 or 509 bus to Godstone Village.

Crockford Bridge Farm Shop & Pick Your Own, Weybridge

Located close to London, this friendly farm houses ice cream parlour, coffee shop, farm shop and garden centre. Over 20 different crops grow here between May-September; and current availability includes strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, rhubarb and spinach. The farm hosts festive events at Halloween and Christmas, and even gives you a rare opportunity to ‘dig your own’ Christmas tree.

How to get there: get the train from Waterloo to Weybridge in about 30 minutes. Then get a cab, it’s not far.

Secretts

West Sussex

Grange Farm Shop, near Chichester

Located in the pretty village of Funtington in the south of the Downs, this farm is home to a highly acclaimed farm shop. Available for picking are strawberries,  gooseberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. If the weather is bad or the crops are not ready, they may have to close the orchard on certain days.

How to get there: it’s an hour and half on the train from Victoria to Chichester then five miles to the shop, so probably best to cab it.

Roundstone Farm, near Worthing

Open from end of May to end of September, this farm certainly makes life easy by providing tractor trains to access the crops. Ready for picking towards the start of the season are strawberries, rhubarb, broad beans, a few onions, carrots, beetroot, and pink and white kohlrabi. Broccoli and cabbages (savoy, red and primo) arrive later. Running parallel to the PYO season are car boot sales on Sundays.

How to get there: get a train from Victoria to Goring-by-Sea or Angmering-by-Sea (takes a while but very pretty) and take the 20 minute walk.

East Sussex

Maynards Pick Your Own Fruit, Wadhurst

Not to be confused with Maynards Farm in Shrewsbury, this lovely PYO is open from around mid to late June — the start of the strawberry season — through to late September. Summer favourites such as gooseberries and cherries are available alongside the strawberries if the weather has’t been too wet, and raspberries come up a few weeks later. Maynards is one of the few farms to grow tayberries, tummelberries and loganberries, which will be in season next. They also make their very own ice cream.

How to get there: a train from Charing Cross to Wadhurst takes about an hour. Then it’s a reasonable woody walk or a short cab ride.

Sharnfold Farm & Shop, near Eastbourne

Tayberries are also available at this fun, friendly farm, along with strawberries and gooseberries. Entry is free, but you pay for the produce and prices vary regularly according to availability. PYO is open from April to end of September/early October; and other highlights include farm shop, coffee shop, children’s play area, fishing, farm trails and various events throughout the year, from Easter egg hunt to pumpkin carving.

How to get there: the train from Victoria to Eastbourne takes an hour and half. Then catch the Stagecoach 1A bus heading for Hailsham.

Stonehill Farm, Horam

Owned by the McKay family, this PYO currently has some of the most delicious ‘table top’ strawberries around, as well as raspberries and gooseberries. They’ve just introduced home-made jams in their farm shop; and are growing boysenberries for future. Try some of their freshly squeezed fruit juice whenever available too — it’s delicious.

How to get there: tricky. Try a train to Stonegate from Charing Cross and a cab. Although we’re open to better options, readers.

Garsons

Kent

Stanhill Farm, Dartford

Located just 17 miles from central London, this large 150-acre farm harvests around 20-30 types of fruit and veg each year. It’s owned by brothers Toby and Max Williams, who developed it from a farm that once supplied to a supermarket, to one that focuses on the wholesale market and PYO. You can pick strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries and currants. There’s an acclaimed farm shop, vegetable box scheme, and they recently introduced the popular Maize Maze. PYO is open from around end of May/beginning of June until October.

How to get there: take a train to Bexley from Charing Cross and then it’s a 10 minute taxi ride.

Hewitts Farm, near Orpington

Set amid 78 acres, this family-run farm is open as a PYO from June to October. Early on in the season they’re often open intermittently with strawberries, gooseberries and spinach ready to pick; but will throw open their doors more regularly from the end of June/early July. Phone to check the hours, availability and prices — which are not listed on the website as they fluctuate according to the produce’s scarcity or glut. Also on site are farm shop, car boot sales, large picnic area and unique furniture and gifts hand-made from the farm’s own-grown wood.

How to get there: take a train from Victoria to Knockholt (requires a change at Orpington) — takes about 50 minutes. It’s an easy walk from there on a public footpath.

Foxendown Fruit Farm, Meopham

This is a small family business that owns two farms, Foxendown and nearby Broomfield, located in the charming village of Meopham in the North Downs, near Dartford Crossing. PYO is open from June to mid-September. Ripe for picking during the summer are new-season strawberries, early raspberries, blackberries and gooseberries. A variety of apples, pears and plums come to fruit in the autumn and prices may drop as more produce becomes available.

How to get there: take a train from St Pancras International to Gravesend, in about 25 mins then hop in a taxi

DATE IDEA

Zoo nights

7 Jun – 26 Jul 2019

Zoo Nights is back for 2019!

You’re invited to see the Zoo as you’ve never seen it before, serving up a unique mix of wildlife and city life on Friday nights over the summer.

New this year, put your putting skills to the test in our brand new Plonk crazy golf course*! Travel across the world visiting our animal’s habitats in this 9-hole course, featuring crazy loops, balancing beams and radical ramps.

We’re excited to launch our new guided tour, You’ll Never See a Moon-walking Emu, where you can discover the strangest animal facts you never thought you needed to know, and will certainly never forget. Or, back by popular demand, find out what animals really get up to after dark in our Birds and the Bees tour, where our expert guides will help you unravel the mysteries of sex in the animal kingdom*.

If you’re feeling peckish, enjoy an array of street food vendors offering exciting flavours and unique dishes from around the globe, with plenty of choice for herbivores and carnivores. Grab a drink from one our watering holes and chill out surrounded by live acoustic music, animal lanterns and a variety of entertainment.

For the perfect evening to kick of your Pride weekend, head to our special Zoo Nights event on 5th July!

Tickets are strictly limited and dates sold out fast in 2018, so be quick to grab yourself a place at the totally unmissable event of the summer.

Please note, this is an adult-only event. 

Book to stay overnight as a VIP at our Zoo Nights event at ZSL London Zoo! 

Our VIP Zoo Nights stay includes the following:

• One night’s cosy accommodation for two adults in an ensuite twin or double lodge.

• Entry to ZSL London Zoo from 10am.

• Free car parking (subject to availability).

• Welcome drink on check in at your lodge.

• Behind the scenes tour to see keeper’s kitchen and make some animal enrichment.

• Entry to Zoo Nights Event with access to the tours and on-site activities at no extra charge.

• Food discount vouchers to use at the street food stalls at the event.

• Full English breakfast.

• Private morning tour with the chance to help feed some of our animals their breakfast.

• Spend the rest of the day at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo or ZSL London Zoo.

zsl.org

BEST DATING SITES

OkCupid: Free with additional pay-for features, okcupid.com

When you sign up to OkCupid, the website gives you the opportunity to choose what you’re looking for. And it’s not just “marriage” or “a quickie”. You can choose between a short-term relationship, a long-term relationship and the very contemporary moniker of “hookup”. When it comes to defining what you’re actually looking for, you can choose from 22 different genders, including non-binaries and agenders.

Next, you’re asked a series of 15 questions – ranging from “How important is religion to you?” and “Do you enjoy discussing politics?”. All of these are optional and you also have the ability to say how your ideal partner would respond to them. There are some niche questions too. Like, when asked about whether you could date someone who does drugs, one of the optional responses is “Yes, but only soft stuff like marijuana”.

Then, the website’s algorithm sets about finding you matches. The website is active in more than 200 countries worldwide and has been running for 15 years. It’s safe to say that if you have a very specific checklist, this is the dating site for you. There are additional features you can pay for (such as having no ads, seeing a list of who’s liked you before you’ve liked them, seeing who has read your messages etc), but the site is fully functional without these.

It’s also got one of the most fun designs of the lot, with a continued option to improve your matches by giving you random questions to respond to e.g. “Are sex and intimacy the same thing?”

eHarmony: Memberships from £12.95 per month, eharmony.co.uk

This dating site is unique. Not just because it’s been around more more than a decade – it launched in the UK in 2008 – but because it uses a special “intelligent compatibility matching system” to pair singletons according to 18 dimensions of compatibility. It sounds complicated, but in the world of matchmaking, maybe that’s what you need, because the more tech going into finding your matches, the more likely they are to be suited to you. 

There are also more than 60 million members around the world, with five million in Britain alone, so there’s plenty to choose from. When you join, you begin by taking a comprehensive relationship questionnaire designed to determine what it is you’re looking for. Then, like other sites, it will draw up a list of matches for you to peruse at your leisure. Once you’ve matched with someone, you can start chatting to them and set up a date, if you like. 

What’s useful about eHarmony is that it offers “guided communication” options, which means if you’re struggling to craft a message that is cool but shows you’re interested without being too keen (yes, dating is complex), you’ll be given some ice-breaker questions to choose from. Ideal. You will need a paid subscription in order to start speaking to someone, so do bear this in mind when you sign up. The website looks slick without being intimidating, which is a good combination in the realm of dating websites.

Elite Singles: Memberships from £24.95 per month, elitesingles.co.uk

The idea of “elite” dating has surged in recent years, with companies like Raya and The Inner Circle leading the way on the app scene by filtering through its applicants before allowing them onto its platform. Are they intelligent enough? Are they famous enough? Do they have enough Instagram followers? Such are the questions designed to narrow one’s dating pool and boost the chances of like-minded matches.

Elite Singles offers a similar service by calling for members who “hold above-average education”. It’s available in more than 20 countries worldwide and boasts roughly 13 million users. As opposed to simply loading you up with matches as the days go by, the website works by sending its singletons three to seven matches each day based on your preferences, location and responses to a personality test.

Speaking of the test, it’s one of the most detailed on the web, with more than 200 questions covering everything from politics to food preferences. There’s a psychological hook too, given that the test is based on the Big Five personality traits, which consist of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism. Its website design is nothing to write home about, but the selection process is the main attracting factor for users here.

Match.com: Memberships from £9.99 per month, match.com

There have been 443,855 marriages among Match.com users in the UK alone. That is a stat worth taking note of. The popular dating site is active in 25 countries. It’s unique in that not only does it have a super sophisticated algorithm designed to find you the best matches, but it also monitors the time that you’re logged on and will try to set you up with people who also happen to be online at that time. It’s terribly Black Mirror, but it might just find you a lifelong partner. Match.com also organises events for its users, giving people the chance to meet in real life in a safe, mixer-like environment.

Soulmates: Memberships from £16 per month, soulmates.theguardian.com

The Guardian’s dating website has been pairing star-crossed lovers since 2004, which is practically a millennia in the relatively young world of online dating.

It’s different in that it allows users to actually browse profiles before joining. If you see someone who catches your eye, then you can sign up to one of its paid subscription options. You can join for free, of course, but this leaves you with limited options in terms of what information you can list on your profile and how many photographs you can add.

As a paid subscriber, you’re given the option of advanced searches and most importantly, messaging, which you can’t do otherwise, rendering joining without paying somewhat pointless. It goes without saying that this is a good one for Guardian readers to join considering 80 per cent of its members are among that demographic.

My Single Friend: Memberships from £10.50 per month, mysinglefriend.com

My Single Friend was co-founded by Channel 4 presenter Sarah Beeney in 2004. The original USP of this site was that users were required to relinquish control and put their friends in the driving seat: they were the ones who designed your profile according to their vision of you and what kind of partner would be best suited to your needs. Now, though, that system seems to be largely defunct and singletons are encouraged to create their own profiles like they would on any other dating site.

Like most of its counterparts, My Single Friend is free to join, but you must be a paid subscriber in order to read messages from potential matches and send a custom reply. So it’s probably worth paying, otherwise you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle when it comes to trying to get the attention of any potential partners.

It also has a useful search function, which means you can type in what you’re looking for (based on age, gender and location) and instantly see a whole host of users. In a more advanced search option, you can find out which users are the most popular on the site (i.e. have the most matches) and who is online at the same time as you.

Dating Direct: Memberships from £12.99 per month, datingdirect.com

Dating Direct is very handy in that it gives users access to more than 20 million users across Europe – and five million in the UK alone. It also sends out a daily email to its members with six profiles of people you might be interested in. This is useful, because often half the battle with using dating sites is actually finding the motivation to trawl through endless profiles.

Which are very detailed, by the way. You can include some quick facts at the top of your profile, such as whether you want children or not and whether you’re a smoker. Then, scroll down and you can add some more info about your likes and dislikes and what you’re looking for in a partner.

You can also choose to browse the site in “incognito mode”, which enables you to view dating profiles discreetly and only appear to members who you have already expressed an interest in. Or you can browse in “zen mode”, which means you’ll only be contacted by people whose profiles match your stated criteria.

Plenty of Fish: Free with additional pay-for features, pof.com

Plenty of Fish is one of the biggest dating websites around, with more than 150 million registered users worldwide. Established in Vancouver, Canada in 2003, the site has been leading the way on the digital dating scene for many years now, and claims to be responsible for creating more relationships than any other free dating app.

Its interface is nothing special and looks a bit like it might be trying to sell you software as opposed to true love, but considering how long this company has been in the dating game for, clearly they know a thing or two about finding romance online. So maybe we shouldn’t let appearance deceive us in this instance.

Plus, if you’re feeling despondent, the website has an entire section dedicated to documenting its success stories, which are straight outta a Richard Curtis film. The most essential features (messaging, searching and matching) are all free, but users can pay a little extra for special benefits, such as seeing who has liked your profile you before you’ve matched with them.

The verdict: Dating websites

Ultimately, OkCupid wins in terms of appearance, diversity and opportunities. In the murky world of online dating, it seems to be one of the least stressful and easiest sites to use. Good luck.

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DAY DATE: PEGGY PORSCHEN

peggyporschen

Switch your dating techniques up with a visit to Peggy Porschen in London’s Belgravia and Chelsea.

Escape into a dreamlike world where cake becomes a living art and roses always bloom. Inspired by Peggy’s lifelong love of pink and pastel hues alongside romance and beauty, here each and every part of the experience is packed with prettiness and exquisite detail. From the fairytale pink façade of the seasonally adorned Parlours and meticulously crafted interior design through to the freshly baked collections of cakes, cookies and confectionary, this is the place to come to simply feel happy.

Check out all that is on offer at: www.peggyporschen.com