You know your partner digs you when you announce that you need to go on a two hour drive for the purpose of buying apples, and his response is to book you into a bed and breakfast nearby.
For a country that is essentially one massive farm dotted here and there with cities, there seems to be dearth of decent farm shops, at least within a reasonable, non-crazy person distance of where I live. I recognize, of course, that growing up just south of Cleveland as I did, my access to Mapleside Apple Farm, where my family went at least once a year to buy Halloween pumpkins and a massive amount of baking apples for pies, and where I had at one time planned to get married, gives me a very biased opinion of what constitutes a "good" farm shop. Nevertheless, I feel like a farm shop where I ask "What apples do you have that would be good for baking?" and the woman sitting in the doorway of the dingy, decrepit barn that serves at the "shop" scowls at me and says "That one" while pointing at the only box of apples visible in the entire place could probably be topped. So I googled my face off, and the only thing I managed to find where they seemed to both know shit about apples and also grow more than one variety was a fruit farm whose address is listed on their website as being "near Frinton-on-Sea". I insisted on going.
"Near" Frinton-on-Sea is just over two hours away from here and halfway around the M25 (Hi, Americans. The M25 is an orbital highway that goes all the way around London, has only two rest stops, and is constantly rammed with traffic. Sometimes people don't know where to get off and go around and around it in circles until their family reports them missing to the police.), and as we left shortly after getting home from work without having eaten anything, we decided to stop for dinner in Colchester on the basis that it was a place we had both heard of. Turns out, Colchester is the oldest Roman city in Britain and was once the capital of Roman Britain. We had Italian.
The bed and breakfast StereoNinja booked us into for the night was not in Frinton-on-Sea, mainly because there is nothing IN Frinton-on-Sea. We stayed instead at the Chudleigh in Clacton-on-Sea, the most English bed and breakfast in all the world. When we called them to say we'd be in rather late, the woman's response was "Oh, yes, we just beginning to worry about you!" as though we were people they actually knew. The whole place smells like your grandparent's house in the best way possible and despite its recent renovation, the decor appears to have time traveled there from the 50's. It is amazing and has the world's fluffiest pillows. At breakfast the next day, when I ordered shredded wheat and toast, the woman serving breakfast spent a good ten minutes trying to convince me to order "something hot" because what I had ordered is apparently "not breakfast". StereoNinja had a plate of meat which seems to have been an acceptable choice. I'm going to be staying there every time I go to Clacton-on-Sea now, which will be a lot because it is the most perfectly stereotypical seaside town in all of the world, or as I described it to StereoNinja, "It's like Venice Beach without all the assholes and stupid crap."
The Park Fruit Farm is exactly what it claims to be: a fruit farm. And the farm shop I had such high hopes for is in a relatively small and nondescript barn, BUT that barn has a wide variety of apples, all of which have actual information about when they grow, when they're ready for use, how long they keep, what their apple heritage is, what uses they're good for and their flavor profiles WHICH IS EXACTLY HOW YOU SHOULD SELL APPLES. And! It smells exactly like Mapleside's farm shop, which is exactly what I wanted in a farm shop without realizing it. AND! They even had apples I KNEW, because they grow several varieties of apples that originate in America INCLUDING Johnagolds, which is one of the apples I used for pies back home. AND! fresh pressed applejuice, which StereoNinja managed to drink a quarter of the jug we bought before we even made it back to the car.
The whole trip was a resounding success really, and I'm already trying to figure out how to trick StereoNinja into going back there all the time. In the meantime, I'll just be over here making ALL of the pies.