Image: © Mari Owen/Carl Ryan
October 05 2011
I spent a few days wending my way from Hay-on-Wye through the glorious Brecon Hills when I took a tip-off from a friend to visit Nancy Durham and Bill Newton-Smith, the premier commercial growers of Welsh lavender and the only ones in Wales to distil their own oil from their harvest. This was even more intriguing given that Nancy was for many years a correspondent with the Canadian news channel, CBC, reporting from trouble-hit zones such as the Balkans and Iraq, while Bill – a philosopher of international repute – was a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford. The combination was irresistible.
Wet Wales may not be the obvious setting for a lavender business – the climate is hardly on a level with that of Provence – but in fact the varieties that Bill and Nancy grow, Royal Purple and Imperial Gem (for scent but mainly for colour), and Maillette and Grosso (for scent and oil), do very well at this altitude. There is a lot more sun in this region than you might expect. Their farm is 1,100 feet up on a sloping hillside above the Maesmynis Valley, five miles from Builth Wells, with a knock-out view over largely deserted moorland. They farm three acres of lavender, following organic principles, on the rich red soil which has inspired the name of their new beauty range, Ruby Lafant (lafant is Welsh for lavender).
A range of Ruby Lafant products is now available, and if you love lavender as much as I do, you will adore the purity and goodness of these creams, oils and serums. There are seven products in all: Protect day cream, Nourish night cream, Smooth eye cream, Soften body cream, Purify scrub, Refresh spritzer and Rejuvenate serum. All are made with Nancy and Bill’s own lavender oil. Prices range between £12 and £26. Right now, I find it hard to say which I love the most, but I don’t think I could sleep well any more without the gentle lavender tones of Nourish on my skin. And I now always carry a Refresh in my handbag – a combination of lavender water, vitamins and other floral waters. Unlike other similar products, it is not heavy or synthetic, but does exactly what the name suggests.
The website only recently started taking orders and Nancy is amazed at the interest Ruby Lafant has already generated. I suggest you pay a visit while stocks last.