Friday, 23 August 2019

Overbeck's

Some National Trust properties are very difficult to reach. Lindisfarne and St Michael's Mount are the obvious examples, what with the small hurdle of 'the sea' being in the way. A tide timetable is a basic requirement for both of those before you set off.  

But I'd also put Overbeck's in Devon up there. That sat nav that has never let you down? You'll be threatening to throw it into the sea as you inch up single track roads, swearing that surely no tourist attraction could ever be down this ridiculous path.

And then you find it and all is forgiven, Google Maps:

Overbecks

I hope the NT doesn't mind me saying this, but the house itself is probably fourth on the list of highlights at Overbeck's. The amazing views, the beautiful gardens, and the lovely tea-room would certainly be higher on mine. 

This is the view of the Salcombe estuary from the top of the garden:

Overbecks view

But there is a house and I will gladly give you some history of it:

  • Overbeck's was originally called Sharpitor 
  • The house you see today was built just before WWI - a man called Edric Hopkins had bought the place in 1895 and laid out the gardens 
  • It was a convalescent home for soldiers during the War - the owners at the time, the Verekers, had lost a son at the Battle of Mons and ran the place using their own funds and voluntary contributions
  • Fifteen of the 1,020 soldiers that stayed at Overbeck's ended up marrying local girls
  • It was bought by Otto Overbeck in 1928 - he was a research chemist by trade
  • He actually discovered Marmite before it was discovered, if that makes sense, and  he invented a non-alcoholic beer but the government taxed it, which stopped it being commercially viable
  • His big invention was an 'electrical rejuvenator' - users applied electrodes to their skin and the years dropped off. He planned to live to the age of 126 using his ingenious device but he didn't quite make it, dying when he was 77. I imagine this might have made marketing a bit more challenging. 
  • Otto died in 1937 and left the property to the National Trust, stipulating that it should be renamed Overbeck's

The gardens are fabulous. The Statue Garden is very structured and neat, with beautiful colours and fragrance: 

Overbecks gardens

There's also a banana garden, where the shelter from the elements also supports other impressive tropical plants:

Overbecks tropical gardens

But let's move on to the scone. I'm taking the education of future scone buffs very seriously as I enter the final year of my National Trust Scone Odyssey. I was therefore delighted to be joined on this expedition by two young aficionados called Olivia and Amy, who also brought their parents along.

In fact, very little training was required by the girls (the parents were a different matter). They were spot-on in their final assessment - the older fraternity wanted to award 5s willy-nilly, or try and take marks off for wasps (what??), but Olivia and Amy were firm on 4.5 out of 5. This is exactly what I would have given, and they managed it without six years of trekking around the country consuming 8 gazillion calories. Great work, apprentices.  


The Overbeck's scone: fresh, tasty and full of fruit:

Overbecks scone

The tea room is also inside the house itself, which is always a bit special, but this one has the added bonus of spectacular views down over the estuary. It really is the most perfect place to eat scones and drink tea on a sunny afternoon. 

Overbeck's: 5 out of 5 for the amazing views and gardens
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
The very Instagram-friendly plate: 5 out of 5

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2019

The National Trust Scone Blog is six years old today! I can hardly believe it:
  • 196 properties visited!
  • 76 have delivered a 5 out of 5 top-rated scone!
Best National Trust Scones

I started this project because we had joined the National Trust but failed to actually go anywhere. If I write something down I remember it, so I decided to start a blog and force myself to visit a few National Trust properties and actually learn something.

So, in time-honoured fashion, here is the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List - the 76 properties with 5-star scones, in reverse order of when I visited:
  • Florence Court - located near a mountain where a legendary horse appears every July to talk to people (and have a scone I hope, as they're good).
  • The Argory - you can get there by canoe but however you get there, make sure you have one of their superb scones. 
  • Dudmaston - there was a wand workshop going on when I visited and the scones had  indeed been touched by magic.
  • Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses - people lived in these caves until the 1960s and although rock buns may have been more apposite, the scones were super.
  • Arlington Court - see the house, visit the National Trust Carriage Museum, but definitely don't miss the excellent scones.
  • Dunster Castle - a very old estate with a working water mill, a leather room, and very good scones.
  • Watersmeet - the beautiful place that inspired me to keep going with the National Trust Scone Blog did not disappoint. Excellent scones.
  • Mottistone Gardens - Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't there but we did find some very superb scones.
  • Kinder, Edale, and the Dark Peak - the Pennypot Cafe is next door to Edale station. Kinder Scout is not. But we all know which part of the property is most important.
  • Erddig - donkeys, a thief housekeeper who stole £30,000, and fantastic scones can all be found at Erddig.
  • Oxburgh Hall - everybody loves a moat and everybody good scones. Oxburgh has both.
  • Croft Castle - Owain Glynd┼Ár may be buried under the floor but they don't bury the scone baking talent at this cosy castle.
  • Nunnington Hall - I went to try and solve a mysterious peacock murder case and found some very excellent scones.
  • The Workhouse - I was certainly tempted to say "please, sir, I want some more" but I restrained myself, although the scones were excellent.
  • Shugborough Estate - the ancestral home of society photographer Patrick Lichfield was a picture! Ha ha!
  • Chirk Castle - murder, scandal, adultery, violence, great scones...it's all going on at Chirk.
  • Longshaw Estate and Eastern Moors - I though the mud might defeat me but no - I finally found my Peak District scone and marvellous it was too.
  • Mount Stewart - its one-time owner, Viscount Castlereagh, was none too popular, but the scones were certainly popular with me.
  • Peckover House & Garden - Lonely Planet has just announced that a cream tea at Peckover is one of the top eating experiences in the world! I concur!
  • Clumber Park - it might have lost its house to the demolition men but Clumber offers beautiful gardens, a beautiful lake, and beautiful scones!
  • The Needles Old Battery - chalk rocks, guns, secret missile testing. And now - outstanding scones!
  • Wicken Fen - home to 9,000 species of wildlife, flora, fauna and a first class species of scone! Bravo.
  • Berrington Hall - even Capability Brown couldn't improve the scones at Berrington Hall - they were berri-good!
  • Tyntesfield - maybe one day someone will describe Tyntesfield without saying "the man who built it made his money from Peruvian bird poo" but that day isn't today. The scones were a bird poo-free zone.
  • Sudbury Hall - a great house AND the Museum of Childhood starring Sooty and Sindy AND an outstanding scone! What more do you want from life.
  • Melford Hall - famed for its celebrity resident, the original Jemima Puddleduck! Her views on scones are not known.
  • Wallington - the former home of Charles Edward Trevelyan, the third most hated man in Ireland (after Oliver Cromwell and Thierry Henry), who was name-checked in The Fields of Athenry.
  • Belton House - the kids book and 80s TV show, Moondial, was set at Belton! And when I tweeted that I'd been there, the actor who played Tom responded! Fantastic.
  • Felbrigg Hall - poor old William Frederick 'Mad' Windham - all he wanted to do was dress up as a train guard and blow a whistle on the station platform at inopportune moments. Instead he ran up huge debts and lost Felbrigg. Amazing scone. 
  • Hidcote - a beautiful garden built by "a dull little man" according to James Lees-Milne but we loved it AND we loved the scones!
  • Plas Newydd - a fantastic scone on Anglesey! We only really went there to see the Victorian dude who dressed like Noddy Holder 50 years before Nodders was born!
  • Dyrham Park - superb scones AND free 17th century hot chocolate (the recipe is from the 17th century, not the actual hot chocolate)!
  • Trengwainton Garden - the 5th NT scone we'd eaten in 48 hours during our Tour of Cornwall and it was FAB!
  • Trerice - a quiet little manor house near the not-so-quiet town of Newquay, with AMAZING scones!
  • Trelissick - the house may be relatively new to the NT but they've certainly got to grips with the scones!
  • Boscastle - a little Cornish fishing village that was almost washed away in 2004 - unusual scones but absolutely top-rate!
  • Acorn Bank - the third top-class scone on the Spring Tour to the Lake District!
  • Sizergh Castle - amazing scone AND a copy of Wham!'s Greatest Hits!
  • Wordsworth House - I was moved to compose a poem about the Wordsworth House scone - I expect a call about being Poet Laureate any day!
  • Saltram - everything went wrong on our first trip of 2016, apart from the scone!
  • Fountains Abbey - it was in the video for Maid of Orleans by OMD! And it had fantastic scones!
  • Lanhydrock - our first foray into Cornwall and we were not disappointed! Fantastic scone!
  • Biddulph Grange Garden - they had a singing tree and a golden water buffalo but nothing could upstage the scones!
  • Nostell Priory - one of the best properties EVER with THREE types of scone!
  • Coughton Court - 7 of the 13 Gunpowder Plotters were Throckmortons! Somehow they kept hold of Coughton and are still there today! 
  • Tredegar House - fantastic scones AND they keep a Dalek in the stables (Doctor Who is filmed there)! 
  • Anglesey Abbey - they have a working flour mill! You can buy bags of flour that you transform into scones that won't be as good as the ones here!
  • Montacute House - they filmed Wolf Hall here! If only Anne Boleyn had been able to bake scones like these, it could all have turned out differently!
  • Goddards - brilliant scones at the house once owned by Noel Terry, of Chocolate Orange fame! There used to be a Terry's Chocolate Apple as well! 
  • Beningbrough Hall - spectacular works of art (and a few pictures on loan from the National Portrait Gallery as well, boom, boom!)
  • Sissinghurst Castle - did you see the scones, Orlando? They were great - and fantastic gardens too, in the former home of Vita Sackville-West!
  • South Foreland Lighthouse - excellent sconeage in this 'shining' example of a National Trust property HA HA! 
  • The White Cliffs of Dover - I really was inspired to ransack the Vera Lynn back catalogue and sing "we'll meet again" to the WCoD scone - it was that good. 
  • Speke Hall - it has the River Mersey, it has a priest hole, it has a baker on Twitter, it has fantastic scones, I LOVED it!
  • Studland Beach - famous for the UK's most popular naturist beach, for inspiring Noddy's Toytown, and now for very good scones!
  • A la Ronde - a round house full of trinkets AND fantastic scones, what more do you want from life? 
  • Upton House and Gardens - a lot of pictures, an outdoor swimming pool, and truly excellent scones!
  • Treasurer's House, York - they had a Christmas pudding scone with brandy butter that I literally still dream about!
  • Hinton Ampner - lots of sheep and fantastic scones!
  • Uppark - burned to the ground a few years ago while it was open to visitors, but now restored and serving very excellent scones!
  • Stowe - it costs £30,000 a year to attend Stowe school - I'd rather spend that on scones, personally!
  • Charlecote Park - William Shakespeare was once caught stealing a scone from Charlecote Park. Did I say scone? I meant deer.
  • Bateman's - "Well I'm the king of the sconers/the tea-room VIP", as Rudyard Kipling would have written if he'd had scones at Batemans!
  • Claremont Landscape Garden - more of a park than a garden but who's counting - the scones were fantastic!
  • Standen - tests proved that the Standen scone was genetically closer to a cloud than a baked foodstuff!
  • Nymans - another place that burned down (before the National Trust was involved), now serving amazing scones!
  • Waddesdon Manor - they have a mechanical elephant that flaps its ears at Waddesdon but as an attraction it's no match for the top-class scones!
  • Scotney Castle - the scones were EPIC. Scotney also had a Banana and Walnut Scone of the Month and Richard Gere, who filmed Yanks there!
  • Dunwich Heath - they had 20 TYPES OF SCONE at the Sconeathon we attended! Sticky Toffee, Chocolate Orange, Apple & Cinnamon, Malteser...!
  • Morden Hall Park - big, warm, and glazed. 'Morden enough' to warrant a five out of five (ha ha ha! Sorry.)
  • Sutton House - Sir Ralph Sadleir of Wolf Hall fame built Sutton House - go along and see them bring out the sconies!
  • Quarry Bank Mill - amazing scones in one of the most fascinating NT properties ever - you can even buy a tea towel made in the cotton mill!
  • Flatford Bridge Cottage - we helped bake the scones at Flatford but we gave them 5 because they were mince pie scones and they were ruddy delicious! 
  • Winkworth Arboretum - a very understated place - not a fridge magnet to be had - but serving fantastic scones!
  • Houghton Mill - the Scone Blogger was very hungover but she soldiered on and tried the scone made from home-milled flour, which was DELICIOUS!
  • Brownsea Island - we didn't see any red squirrels, which shows that they don't have very good taste as there was a Sconeathon on the day we visited!
  • Bodiam Castle - our very first 5 out of 5, setting the benchmark for all!  
You can see all 168 scones on Pinterest

There's also a lovely National Trust Book of Scones, which is available in NT shops or on the internet.

Huge thanks, as ever, to all of the lovely Sconepals for your ongoing support - keep sharing your National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I love them. 

I have committed to finishing this quest by December 2020 so eyes down, napkins up, and let's do this.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Cushendun

Cushendun in County Antrim was not what I was expecting at all. I think I had based my expectations on a two minute scroll of the National Trust website, which somehow persuaded me that the village would be a bit like Grasmere in the Lake District, with hordes of tourists descending from buses and piling into shops to buy Arran jumpers and little wooden signs saying "It's Gin O'Clock!"

Cushendun

But it wasn't like that at all. It was very quiet and untouristy - there were a couple of buses admittedly - and just like a normal unspoilt village, albeit one in the Glens of Antrim and therefore very picturesque.

It's also the closest point to Scotland - the Mull of Kintyre is only 15 miles away and you can see it on a clear day.

The National Trust acquired the village in 1954. It had been designed by Clough Williams-Ellis, who was also responsible for Portmeirion. Lord Cushendun, who commissioned the work, wanted the place to feel like a Cornish fishing village, as his wife hailed originally from Penzance. 


I'm still not sure even now if The Corner House cafe in Cushendun is National Trust-owned or not. I think it's run by tenants, so it wasn't a mandatory stop on this National Trust Scone Quest. But I was there, and I hadn't had a scone for, ooh, two hours, so I wandered in and asked for a cherry one. 

The scone looked lovely but I'm not exaggerating when I say that it had literally less than a quarter of a cherry in it. It was so funny. I was going to show you a picture but I know everyone would say "you should have taken it back" and it really wasn't a big deal at all (it was my 8th scone in four days). 

Cushendun scone

Cushendun concluded my Grand Scone Tour of Northern Ireland 2019. I'd had fantastic scones at The Argory and Florence Court and good ones at Springhill, Castle Coole, Carrick-a-Rede, Crom, and the Giant's Causeway. And I really can't recommend Northern Ireland enough - it's a wonderful place.

Cushendun: 4 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5 - it's tenant run so kind-of outside my territory but still!
Perseverance of family sitting on the beach in the rain: 5 out of 5

Carrick-a-Rede and Larrybane

For at least 18 months after I started this blog I had a very elaborate scenario planned out in my head. I would befriend someone at the National Trust and one day they would meet me somewhere - maybe in a lay-by outside Swindon, or by the Capri Suns in Poundland - and hand me a brown envelope containing a list of every single National Trust property and how many visitors each property got last year. I could think of NOTHING I wanted more, if only I could get my hands on this highly sensitive and potentially devastating document.

And then about two years into the project, I discovered that this list is freely available in the National Trust annual report. So if you ever want to lose two hours of your life going all John McEnroe and yelling "That CANNOT be the third most popular NT place in Britain!", you can download the list of visitor numbers from here.

But there was one name on the list that I didn't recognise at all, and it was in the Top Ten: Larrybane. After a couple of years the Trust started listing it as Carrick-a-Rede. And suddenly it all became clear: Carrick-a-Rede is the rope bridge that's 8 miles down the Antrim coast road from the Giant's Causeway. So while 700,000 people last year visited the GC and made it the NT's most popular property, a whopping 435,000 of them also popped along for a nerve-shredding wander across some wooden slats hanging 30 metres over the waves and rocks below.


Carrick a Rede

Would those people have gone to Carrick-a-Rede if it wasn't near The Big GC? It's not really for me to say, and anyway it's immaterial because it IS near The Big GC and those people DID go there, making it the 6th most visited property last year, one above Waddesdon Manor.

There were two surprises waiting for me at Carrick-a-Rede. One was a tea room. I first went to Carrick-a-Rede about 12 years ago and I'm certain that there was NOTHING there, except the bridge swaying mockingly in the wind and a cow in a field that the Scone Sidekick stared at for about 20 minutes. (I just checked and I still have the 8 billion photos he took of it on my computer - it was a "nice" cow apparently.) 

This meant that I hadn't actually included Carrick-a-Rede on my list of places to visit for the Grand 2019 Tour of National Trust Scones of Ulster. It was total luck that I happened to see someone else on Twitter enjoying the cafeteria and I was able to make a last minute addition to the itinerary.

The second thing was surprised me was the guide book. I had been to a couple of places recently that didn't have their own guide book, which always makes me a) a bit sad that nobody cares enough to write one and b) very worried, because what am I going to talk about? I really didn't expect to find one at Carrick-a-Rede (see above for rope bridge + cow = not much to write about, even if the cow is exceptional). 

But there was a guide book - 32 pages no less - and it was brilliant. Here are a few things I learned:
  • The beauty of the whole area is down to its mind-blowingly old geology
  • Mesolithic hunters lived on Larrybane 9,000 years ago to take advantage of the flint embedded in the limestone cliffs
  • The limestone had been created 100 million years ago but it was in the 20th century that people discovered that lime reduces the acidity in soil to make it more fertile
  • Between 1930 and 1970 a huge amount of headland was blasted and quarried to produce quicklime. The quarry closed in 1970 and Larrybane was taken over by the NT in 1978.
  • Larrybane was used in Game of Thrones as the spot for Renly Baratheon’s camp in Season Two: 
Larrybane
  • From the top of Larrybane you can see across to Rathlin Island. Robert the Bruce hid in the caves here in 1306 and it's where he spotted the famous spider trying six times to build her web and failing before finally suceeding. "If this small creature has the tenacity to keep trying till it succeeds, then so can I." He went on to win the Battle of Bannockburn.  
  • Carrick-a-Rede means 'Rock in the Road' but it's not any old road - it was actually a 'road' used by salmon
  • Salmon used to spawn in the Bann and Bush rivers and then float down river to the sea where they can swim deep and feed without being eaten
  • They then return to freshwater using their unrivalled homing instincts - to do so, the Atlantic salmon would swim around the outside of the island 
  • Fisherman had to work out a way of catching the fish as they swam past and so a rope bridge was built - the first one was set up in 1755
  • The fisherman could then make their way to the other side of the island and set up nets to trap the fish as they made their way home
  • There is a strict limit of 8 people on the bridge at a time today but in the past men, women and children would run back and forth carrying baskets of salmon
  • Sheep were also carried across so they could graze
  • Fishing stopped in 2002 as there were no fish left
It's fascinating to think of the vast history of the area and the use of its resources over time. Almost as fascinating as watching people stride out confidently and then lose their nerve completely when they step onto the bridge. Needless to say I didn't go anywhere near actually standing on it. 


Rope bridge Carrick-a-Rede

But on to the scone. This was my 7th scone in three days and so all scientific consistency fell down between the ropes; there was a choice of fruit or raspberry and white chocolate and I opted for the latter. I asked for some cream with it but the lad serving said they didn't have any. 

Carrick-a-Rede Scone

I was half way through the scone when he suddenly appeared with a little pot of whipped cream, and very glad I was to see it. The scone was unfortunately dry - I don't think it was fresh, but I've been wrong about that before - and the cream helped to alleviate things.

But it was great to have a cup of tea and a scone back at a place that holds so many special memories.

Carrick-a-Rede/Larrybane: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Cleverness of the Atlantic salmon (until they were practically fished out of existence): 5 out of 5

White Park Bay

There are no scones at White Park Bay in County Antrim. In fact, during my 45 minutes there, I saw nothing apart from the beach, the sea, and the waves.

I was beyond delighted with myself that I'd shown a bit of spontaneity on the Grand Scone Tour of Northern Ireland 2019, pulled in to the car park on my way to Carrick-a-Rede, and been rewarded with such a beautiful and peaceful spot.

And then I mentioned on Twitter that I had been there, only for someone to ask "did you see the cows?" and I laughed, thinking he meant that Antrim was just generally a very cow-laden place, but then I checked the NT website and saw this:

I was very, very sad to have missed the beach lovin' cows but to be honest I'd probably have run a mile if I had seen them.

Instead I was just treated to beautiful views on a Wednesday morning:

White Park Bay

It wasn't cold but the sea had that slightly wintery vibe going on, where it didn't really feel like August anymore:


It's an ancient area, like so much of the Causeway Coast - full of fossils and history. There was a sign saying that the remains of an old hedge school could be found nearby, so I took loads of picture of the white building below only to find out later that this was actually the old youth hostel. I never did find the hedge school (a hedge school was an illegal school set up in Ireland in the 18th and 19th century to teach Catholic and Presbyterian children - only Anglican children were allowed to be educated back then).


Some National Trust properties are just beautiful beyond words, even without scones. Like Chapel Porth in Cornwall, I am adding White Park Bay to that list and encourage you to go there as soon as you can. 

White Park Bay: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 but I knew they didn't have any so it doesn't count
Beach bum cows: 5 out of 5 - even though I didn't see them

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Springhill

My trip to Springhill came very close to total (and I mean TOTAL) disaster. I was planning my Grand Extravaganza Tour of Northern Ireland 2019 (t-shirts available) and typed 'Springhill' into Google Maps. It was right up in the north west corner of Northern Ireland, which was, frankly, very inconvenient. But I wasn't fazed - I thought hey-ho, I love the TV show Derry Girls and this detour means I can go and visit the city as well and maybe bump into Sister Michael, as long as it's not a Friday when she goes to judo.

It was only a few days before my trip that I happened to see a map of National Trust properties in Northern Ireland, noting with some concern that there was nothing in that area of the country. A quick check showed that I had indeed mistaken Springhill Road in Derry for the Springhill Estate near Moneymore. I'm sure Springhill Road is very nice but it probably doesn't have a 17th century house on it. (I was going to say that it wouldn't have any scones but knowing Ireland I'm sure someone would have rustled some up for me if they found me sitting on the kerb crying when I'd worked out that I was 50 miles from where I needed to be.)

Springhill

Anyway. Disaster was averted; I hastily reworked my itinerary and I'm very glad I did because the Springhill owned by the National Trust is lovely and well worth a visit.

You have to join a guided tour of the house but it was excellent. I've been the queen of the NT guided tour this week, having done them at Castle Coole, Florence Court, and The Argory as well. The amusement factor on this one was provided by a woman whose Fitbit decided to give us a running commentary on her movements every time we transferred into another room.

But here are some highlights of what we learned:

Springhill was built for a marriage contract
William Conyngham (pronounced Cunningham), whose ancestors had come to Ulster from Scotland during the Plantations, wanted to marry a teenager called Ann Upton in 1680. Her father wasn't easy to please and drew up a long marriage contract that demanded "a convenient dwelling house of lime and stone, two stories high, with necessary office houses, gardens and orchards." And so William built Springhill.

Colonel William Conyngham - not much of a stepdad
The guide told us how William Conyngham, the great nephew of the original builder William, inherited Springhill and got married ten years later. He apparently didn't know that his new wife had teenaged daughters and when they turned up expecting to move in, he promptly packed them all off to live with his sister nearer the city. One of them (Jane) married the sister's son George Lenox, so she did return to the house eventually when George inherited his uncle's estate. The Springhillers then became Lenox-Conynghams.  

George - suicide in the Blue Bedroom
George and Jane were very happy but she died young. He married again, to a woman called Olivia, but the marriage wasn't happy at all. He never got over Jane's death and eventually shot himself in the house. But it's Olivia's ghost that is said to haunt the place.

Charles I's death warrant was found in the attic
To be fair, the Parliamentarians made a lot of copies of Charles I's death warrant - a copy was given to every nobleman to prove that the execution was legally approved. There were 59 signatories and when Charles II was reinstated all 59 'regicides' were hunted down and tried for treason. Even the dead ones were dug up and hung. Imagine. Anyway - just having a copy of the warrant in your possession could get you into trouble in those Restoration days and most owners burnt theirs. The Conynghams did not and theirs was found in the attic.



It's a solid house with lovely rooms
I feel a bit bad because I moaned about not being allowed to take photos at Castle Coole and then failed to take any at Springhill where it was permitted. Here's a very bad one of the staircase to give you at least a little bit of an idea of what it's like inside:



There's a tower
The estate has gardens and other attractions, one of those being a lovely little tower. It was actually once a corn mill rather than a defensive building:


Springhill Tower

There's a costume museum
Springhill has an impressive costume collection containing over 3,000 items. A tiny amount of that inventory is on display at any one time and not all of the clothes come from Springhill directly - a lot were donated by other families in the area. 

However, the curators have done a brilliant job linking the outfits to the residents that might have worn them and telling their stories:


Springhill costume museum

Did the Conynghams eat scones back in the 1700s? Who knows. What I do know is that scones are very much available in the tea room. There was a choice of plain or fruit scone and the man running the place was very friendly. 

I chose the fruit scone and very nice it was too - a little bit dry but full of fruit. 


Springhill scone

If it's learning you're after, then Northern Ireland has some great NT properties that I didn't manage to fit in to my tour - none of them had scones but Patterson's Spade Mill sounds fascinating, as does Wellbrook Beetling Mill which is nothing to do with beetles and everything to do with the production of linen. I saw a poster for it at Springhill and spent the rest of the day singing "the Beetling Mill, the Beetling Mill" to the tune of "Me Ol' Bamboo" from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which was quite irritating but I was very tired.

Springhill: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
My song-writing talents: 0 out of 5

Monday, 12 August 2019

Castle Coole

I love a National Trust Scone roadtrip but I'm never prepared for each of the properties. If I set off to visit one single place for the day, I know everything about it in advance - I know where it is, what it looks like, the name of the third Earl's second favourite horse etc.

A roadtrip is totally different. And so it was on Day Two of my Grand National Trust Scone Tour of Northern Ireland. I turned up at Castle Coole in Enniskillen not knowing whether it was a ruin or Buckingham Palace.


Castle Coole

It turned out to be the greatest Neo-classical country house in Ireland - I actually did a double take when I walked round the corner and caught sight of it. It's huge.

You have to join a guided tour to see the house, as with most Northern Ireland properties. I have developed a new-found respect for NT tour guides this week - the first group I joined at The Argory included a man who kept asking worrying questions about whether items ever got stolen, while the second guide at Florence Court had to shout over a chatty baby (the baby disappeared at some point - I'm hoping that this was a voluntary arrangement). But at Castle Coole the tour leader had to fit 400 years of history into an hour while keeping a beady eye on two bored French kids who kept shoving each other into the antique fireplaces. I was a nervous wreck so I've no idea how she did it. 

Anyway, this is what I managed to learn:

Castle Coole was built in 1789-1797
The 1st Earl of Belmore, Armar Lowry-Corry, decided to build the house to show off his social status. He initially engaged the services of a Dublin architect called Richard Johnston but replaced him with James Wyatt, brother of Samuel who had worked on Blickling and Shugborough. James Wyatt was the king of Neo-classical design, with all its focus on balance and symmetry. In practical terms, this means a lot of fake doors - they don't open and are just there to balance up another door that does actually work.

The Corrys had arrived in 1641
John Corry was a Scottish merchant who had settled in Belfast. In 1655 he bought the Manor Coole, which included a castle built in 1611 during the Ulster Plantation. It burnt down during the siege of Enniskillen in 1688 and was rebuilt in 1707, then rebuilt again in the 1790s by Armar.

Divorce in the family
Armar's first wife had a son but she died young. His second wife was Lady Henrietta Hobart, daughter of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. It was a political match - he became Lord Belmore as part of the deal - but she was 22 years younger than him and wasn't consulted about it. She hated Castle Coole and she hated Armar and so, after just one year of marriage, he demanded a separation. They both remarried.

Somerset Lowry-Corry designs the furniture
Armar died in 1802 and his son, Somerset, inherited Castle Coole and became the 2nd Earl Belmore. It had never been properly furnished, as his dad had run out of money on the build. Wyatt's style was now out of fashion and so Somerset began filling the place with Regency luxury furnishings, as well as souvenirs from his extensive travels in Egypt. He got into debt and ended up as Governor of Jamaica, which went wrong after a rebellion.

He built a State Bedroom...but George IV didn't turn up
Poor old Somerset also designed a bedroom for King George IV when he heard that His Majesty was coming to Ireland shortly after his coronation. It sounds like Somerset was the only person in Europe who didn't know that the King had a thing going with the Marchioness of Conyngham and that the royal entourage would be heading straight to Slane Castle so he could meet up with her. The unvisited bedroom remains intact and untouched. The guide told us that only one person had ever slept in it. We asked who. "Oh just the Archbishop of Armagh".

Another Somerset takes over
The third Earl of Belmore died young, which meant that his son, Somerset, inherited at the age of nine. The estate was deeply in debt but his mother and grandmother managed to rescue it. He eventually became Governor General of New South Wales.

The house was acquired by the National Trust in 1951 (but not the contents)
Somerset had 13 children, but the 5th and 6th Earls never married and so Castle Coole passed to his great nephew. He couldn't afford to run it and so the house was acquired by the National Trust. The 8th Earl, born in 1951, still lives on the estate. It always ruins it a bit when you can't take any photos inside the house at all, especially when the property is so magnificent, but John owns all of the contents and them's the rules.


Castle Coole

Let's move on to things that I was able to photograph. If I were a betting woman, I would have put a considerable amount of money on this scone being terrible. It was small and it looked rock hard, possibly even stale. My mind was scrambling for positives as I carried it to my table - 'at least the tea room is very nice' was about the extent of it. 

I cut into it and realised that this was probably going to be the third time in National Trust Scone Blog history that I had to actually take the scone back for being inedible (Penrhyn Castle and Baddesley Clinton being the other winners of that illustrious title, although Coleton Fishacre came close).

But I was WRONG, viewers. I bit into the scone and it wasn't stale. I tried a bit without cream and it tasted very nice. I'm not 100% certain that it had been baked today but the cherries had stopped it from drying out and it was actually delicious. 

Castle Coole scone

Cherry scones are definitely all the rage in Northern Ireland this year - I also had one at The Argory and another at Crom yesterday. I'm not complaining though - I've decided that cherry is The Third Way when it comes to scones and every property should offer them.

Castle Coole: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5 - it was a bit small
Eyes-in-back-of-head super-power of tour guide: 5 out of 5