Easter Tour: Day 8 – Sharpham Park and Kilver Court

Sorry but this is a really long post. A lot happened today…

After an earlier than planned start thanks to a rather frosty morning in the yurt and a rather confused out of sync 2 year old, we headed off to find Sharpham Park and the infamous Roger Saul. While actually only being a mile away from where we were staying the offices were quite tricky to find. Thankfully a very kind employee called Kat came to our rescue. She lead us through a maze of tiny unnamed roads until we hit civilisation. We never would have found it by ourselves!

For those who have not heard of Roger he is the enigmatic founder of Mullberry, the fantastic handbags and so much more. He started the business at just 19 years old and while he no longer owns the company, his business acumen from such a young age has created a clearly driven and successful gent.

We were met enthusiastically by Roger as soon as we entered the door. We were somewhat taken aback by how forthcoming he was, being such a well known and influential business man and all. He directed us to the spelt show room. Roger’s current passion is spelt, an ancient grain grown on his estate in ancient times and something he has chosen to bring back to the area. He now produces a range of spelt products including spelt flour, spelt risotto, spelt breakfast cereals and much more.

As an aside for those not sure about what spelt is, it is a grain that when grown could be mistaken for very very tall wheat. This is however, where the similarities really end. Spelt is thought to be at least 5000 years old. Where wheat has a very thin outer husk and the grain is separated out easily, spelt grains are very hard to get at through the tough outer husks. This does however make them perfect for organic farming as they are brilliantly disease resistant. Spelt fell from favour in the agricultural revolution as farmers wanted and needed to get as much from their land as possible and needed a grain that required less processing and could be grown every year with the help of fertilisers. History lesson over!

We chatted to Roger about our project and what our plans are for the next few months. He was enthusiastic about what we were doing but was also very keen to tell us about his experiences in trying to get his spelt and related products into the supermarkets. Despite having a wealth of press and contacts at his fingertips he has found that the route to getting products onto our supermarket shelves is neither easy nor quick. He admitted that anyone else trying to do what he had done in farming would have found it nearly impossible and that he rinsed his Mulberry contacts mercilessly on order to get his venture off the ground.

Roger has developed a farming system very similar to those who grew spelt before the 19th century rotating the spelt with beans and clover to look after the land and get the best spelt harvest possible. That said with only growing spelt every third year and the 40% waste in the husks, spelt is neither quick nor cheap to grow and this is naturally reflected in it’s price. However in our time of super-foods I think spelt has a right to be added to the list. It is extremely satisfying and is a great slow energy release food. It is also packed with fibre, a must if you are wanting to not just keep regular but fight bowel cancer too. Shapham Park’s latest campaign is linked to Bowel Cancer UK and together they are trying to spread the word that a high fibre diet is a great way to keep your bowels healthy.

After lots of chatting and far too many conversations to put into one blog, we went for a tour of the mill and the farm. We donned smart brown coats and hair nets and off we went into the mill. The processing of the grains is a very noisy process and not one that Lucan liked much but still at its heart the processes have not changed from those of our ancestors slowly polishing and grinding the grains into pearled spelt and finally flour. We then moved on into the farm and met some of the newest members of the farmyard in the form of week old lambs and the 9 month old calves. All were quite shy but incredibly cute!

After all the walking and talking we had worked up quite an appetite and were ready to move on to Roger’s other and slightly older venture, Kilver Court in Shepton Mallet.

Kilver Court was started as a factory outlet for designer gear (Roger’s original passion) and is based in the site of an old textiles factory. It has now expanded to include 9 shops and 2 restaurants and gardens. His aim is to expand this to up to 40 shops.

When we arrived we were shown around the site by Roger who explained room by room what had been there previously and how the history of the building had really shaped the flow around the different areas. The various areas each have their own character and are filled with some really unique things like American crossing signs, film set props and accumulated objet d’art, all available to buy and lots of it actually quite reasonably priced.

We were then shown the outlet part of Kilver Court. Mrs B, with her eyes like saucers, required dragging very quickly through the rows and rows of fantastic clothes. On the way out I spotted some British made NewBalance trainers and later went back to buy a pair. Emily, never wanting to miss out also bought a pair too. We now have his & hers matching trainers… we are hoping it is going to start a trend.

We then went for lunch in the Pantry. I ordered the spelt risotto, Emily had roasted veg & cheese flan in a spelt case and Lucan had spelt flat bread pizza. All of the food was fantastic!! I also had my first Fentimans Cola. It is the first cola I have had since beginning our project and I must admit to preferring it to “The Real Thing”.

We then set off to see the gardens and let Lucan have a well deserved run. The gardens are absolutely stunning. Set to the back drop of an old raised railway line, they really are picturesque. However, we had to get a move on as we had a 3pm date with Cat Dresser from The Great British Bake Off. She showed us how to make really quick spelt hot cross scones and biscuits made from… you guessed it… spelt!

I had to take Lucan outside half was through as he was beginning to show the signs of a very busy day. Emily spent a little bit of time chatting to Cat but all too soon it was obvious from Lucan’s deteriorating mood that we had to go.

In the end, we had spent a very long but very memorable day with Roger and they guys at Sharpham Park and Kilver Court. We are truly thankful to Roger personally who spent more or less the whole day with us and made us feel so welcome.

However, we did leave with some homework. Today they launched their new website www.greatbritishspeltrecipes.com, which features spelt recipes from some of the UK’s best known chefs. We have been asked to submit our own recipe to be features alongside these cooking maestros. We are going to to have to get thinking but if anyone has any great ideas please let us know.

– James

Comments

  1. Charlotte says:

    Fabulous read. Did not know know what spelt was…do now.

  2. Beware of New Balance trainers. Check they’re British made before buying, as some are made in China and some in Vietnam. I’ve recently bought a fantastic pair of Walsh trainers made in Bolton UK!

  3. Steven priscott says:

    Sorry i missed you british family im a councillor 4 miles up the road i heartily applaud your efforts…there is plenty of good food and drink in Somerset

  4. Gill in Norway says:

    Lovely to see you on the BBC news website this morning!

  5. julia hodgkinson says:

    Now I have to pay a visit, you’ve made it sound so interesting. There’s a farm shop near me which sells the spelt, so I’ll be giving it a go. Watched you on BBC 1 this morning, it made me get ready for work on time!

  6. I missed you on the Beeb this morning ~ is it on the iPlayer?

  7. Claire says:

    Just saw you guys featured on the BBC website… nice work 🙂

  8. Doreen Brown says:

    Someone’s organic spelt flour is in Morrisons…..It’s dear. ‘Fraid I bought the wholemeal..

  9. You were only about a mile and a half from my door! Great place is it not? Oh well you missed your free cup of tea! 🙂

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