Saturday, 12 January 2019

Croft Castle

If someone else was paying the heating bills, I'd move in to Croft Castle in Herefordshire tomorrow. I always expect National Trust castles to be ruins, like Corfe or Bodiam, and am completely thrown when they have carpets and wallpaper and a drinks cabinet. 

Croft Castle National Trust

Here are some facts for you about Croft:

1. It has been owned by (almost) one family for (almost) 1000 years 
Bernard de Croft is listed in the Domesday Book as being settled on the estate, and his descendants are still there today. However, they did have to sell up and move out for 170 years when Sir Archer Croft lost all his money in the South Sea Bubble. It was bought by Richard Knight who owned an ironworks.

2. Owain Glyndŵr may be buried under the floor
Croft's proximity to Wales meant that it was caught up in a lot of instability in its early years. Owain Glyndŵr's last stronghold at Harlech Castle fell in 1409 and he went on the run - it is believed that he stayed at Croft (his daughter had married into the family) and died there. A tall skeleton found under the Turret Room in 1923 was believed to be him. This doesn't sound terribly scientific.

3. The Knights - not much better with money than the Crofts
Richard Knight bought Croft from Sir Archer of the South Sea Bubble for his only daughter as a wedding present. Elizabeth Johnes (as she became) and her husband did the exterior and interior up in fashionable style in the 1760s, giving it its Rococo-Gothick look. However, their son fell in love with a remote Welsh valley called Hafod and was soon investing a lot in it - he planted 3 million trees there for example - and he was forced to sell Croft in 1799 to cover his debts, much to his mother's fury seeing as it was her wedding present from her dad.

The saloon at Croft Castle

4. The sad tale of Sir Richard Croft
During the Crofts' exile from, er, Croft the 6th baronet became an obstetrician to the aristocracy. It sounds like some of his pregnancy advice to the highly popular Princess Charlotte didn't do her any favours and she died following a 52 hour labour at Claremont in Surrey. He was exonerated but he didn't get over it and shot himself while attending another birth.  

5. The Crofts come back (just as things start to get tricky for the landed gentry)
Sir Richard's grandson, Sir Herbert, moved back to the family's old stomping ground in Herefordshire and became an MP. His grandson bought Croft in 1923 but was killed during the Second World War and left the estate to a cousin who wasn't expecting it. They sold it to another family member to cover death duties but he died, so the cousin bought it back and began a campaign to save it with the National Trust.

6. Croft has an Iron Age hill fort
Even the Crofts don't stretch back to 500 BC though, when Croft Ambrey was established. It's a hill fort about a mile and a half from the castle and excavations have shown that it was once home to at least 500 people in back-to-back houses, which immediately conjured up interesting images of an Iron Age Coronation Street in my head. The Johnes family incorporated the hill fort into their Picturesque estate and would take guests up there for picnics. 

7. It has many walking options

We passed many dogs bounding enthusiastically through the car park at Croft and although I don't have a dog, I knew that they probably weren't there for the Sèvres porcelain. The map that you get at reception lists out five really good walks through the 1500 acre parkland. I say they were really good; I didn't actually do any of them. But an 'Ancient Tree Walk' sounds good.

8. It has excellent scones
The last time I took my sister-in-law and niece on a scone mission (to Lamb House in Rye) they completely stunned me by launching into Craig Revel-Horwood level criticism of the whole experience - "this isn't fresh" "why isn't it warm?" "why is the cream in a plastic pot?" etc etc - so I spent the journey to Croft fretting that the scone would be rubbish and they'd resign and refuse to come on any more trips.

But Croft didn't let me down; a lovely tea room and a big hefty scone that was fresh and soft and delicious. A unanimous five star hit from the Craig Revel-Horwoods.

On a personal level though, Croft Castle's biggest achievement is that it broke The Curse of the National Trust Scone Blogger. In the five years since I started this quest, the first scone mission of the year has always been a disaster. Not for the scones - just issues with mud, inappropriate footwear, the place not being fully open. Croft passed without incident and so 2019 is off to a flying start.

Croft Castle: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Best National Trust Scones of 2018

I only managed 11 National Trust scone missions in 2018. But it was an improvement on six in 2017, and the totaliser is now showing 173 National Trust properties visited, which isn't too bad.

But I want you all to bear witness: I am giving myself two years to complete this National Trust scone quest. By Christmas 2020, I will have visited the remaining 70-odd remaining properties and we will indeed be able to hail the winner of the best National Trust scone of all time.

For now, though, here are my top five National Trust scones of 2018:

5. Nunnington Hall
Yorkshire has been a very happy hunting ground for the National Trust Scone Blogger. Goddards, Beningbrough, Treasurer's House, Fountains Abbey, and Nostell Priory have all scored top marks over the past five years, giving Yorkshire an eviable 100% record. So I was almost scared to go to Nunnington in case it let the side down. I needn't have worried - the scone was delicious.

4. The Workhouse
I'm not sure I feel entirely comfortable admitting that one of my top scone-eating experiences this year was in a place where destitute and starving Oliver Twists had once been given an approximation of shelter. But The Workhouse in Nottinghamshire wasn't at all what I was expecting - instead of gloom and misery, it was bright and clean. A very unusual and interesting National Trust property with (it has to be said) very tasty scones.

3. Chirk Castle
Chirk Castle near Wrexham was built by a man called Roger Mortimer in 1295, so I bought a book about Roger Mortimer and read it before I went on my mission. Unfortunately the book turned out to be about the wrong Roger Mortimer. But the Scone Blogger's motto is 'never mind!' and the two Rogers were related so it wasn't a complete waste of time. The history of the Roger Mortimers, plus the top quality scone eaten in the courtyard that they may well have passed en route to their murderous/adulterous/general medieval-ous shenanigans made it one of my top visits of the year.

2. Longshaw, Burbage, and Eastern Moors
My love for the Longshaw scone in the Peak District may have been influenced by the fact that I had to walk a long way for it (Google Maps is telling me it was just under two miles - I'm telling you it was 3 miles MINIMUM) and I had almost given up hope of ever finding a scone, or any form of foodstuff for that matter, when the tea room suddenly appeared on the path before me. But you don't deliver a tasty, lovely, warm scone on a cold January day to the Scone Blogger without being rewarded for it, so it gets a high ranking in my top five of the year.

Where do I even start with Shugborough in Staffordshire? It wasn't on my radar at all until a couple of reports started coming in of fantastic scones. There is good reason for this - although the National Trust has owned Shugborough since 1960, the local council ran it until 2016. 

It has everything: it was the ancestral home of Patrick Lichfield, society photographer, so you can visit his apartments with its pictures of Princess Margaret and Mick Jagger. It has an impressive house; it has expansive grounds with follies and bridges; it has a farm; it has a fascinating history of two brothers and a cat that may have circumnavigated the globe.

But most important of all (to me anyway) it has excellent, excellent scones. I swear that I wasn't influenced by the little display of the Book of Scones that they had in the tea-room, but I was definitely swayed by the fruit scone, which was perfection in itself, and the lemon and cranberry scones that they had on offer as well. Totally deserving of their ranking as best National Trust scones of 2018.

There are some National Trust properties that are great and they know it - Waddesdon Manor for example, with its house, estate, history, and minibuses. And then there are National Trust places that promise nothing and turn out to be brilliant. Shugborough is definitely one of the biggest surprises I've ever had on this quest and I highly recommend it. 

My heartfelt thanks as ever to all of the Sconepals who have sent photos of themselves or their scones in 2018 - I appreciate each and every one of them. 

I would like to give a special mention to Cory Putman Oakes, who this year baked all 50 scone recipes from the Book of Scones AND took stunningly beautiful photographs of the results - I hope she doesn't mind me sharing the Hot Cross Scone example below (her 50th and final bake). You can see all the photographic evidence on her Instagram. Thank you, Cory!

Happy New Year everyone, and here's to a sconeful 2019!

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Lamb House

Lamb House in Rye has been the home of many authors over the years, including Henry James, E.F. Benson, and Rumer Godden. 

I knew, without even looking, what was going to happen next: I would be 99.9% sure that I had read many novels by Henry James but I would discover that I hadn't read any of them (tick); I wouldn't know any of E.F. Benson's works at all (tick); and Rumer Godden would have written some obscure children's story that only I and 0.01% of the population remembered, which I would get really excited about, ignoring all her other more important works (tick, tick, and tick).

But before we get to the literary history, let's talk about Lamb House itself:

1. It's in Rye and Rye is fantastic
I had never been to Rye in Sussex and I highly recommend it. It's a lovely place.

Lamb House
The back of Lamb House -
I forgot to take a picture of the front
2. It was built by James Lamb
Lamb was a wine merchant who was greatly respected in the town and served as mayor thirteen times. He built Lamb House in 1723 in smart Georgian style.

3. It once provided shelter to George I
In 1726, a storm drove George I's ship onto nearby Camber Sands and he was stranded in the town. Lamb House was the smartest residence and so James offered the king his bed. This was slightly inconvenient for Martha Lamb, who was very pregnant. In fact, she was so pregnant she gave birth that night - the child was baptised two days later with the name George, the king stood as godfather and gave the baby a silver bowl and 100 guineas as a christening present.

George i
Would you give your bed up to this man
if you were about to go into labour?
4. Henry James first saw Lamb House in a painting
The house was sold to a banker in 1864 but it wasn't until 1897 that Henry James moved in, when he was 55. He had first seen a watercolour of Lamb House's Garden Room (a separate building that James Lamb had constructed next to the house) in a friend's home and went to visit the real thing the next summer. The house became available and he moved in.

4. Henry James loved the place
He lived at Lamb House from May to October every year, sometimes staying longer, before decamping to his rooms at the Reform Club in the winter. He wrote every day, using the Garden Room for his writing in summer and then the Green Room in winter:

Green Room Lamb House
Henry James' winter writing room - the Garden Room 
where he wrote in summer was obliterated by a bomb during WW2

Henry James wrote many of his best works at Lamb House, including The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903), and The Golden Bowl (1904)He also entertained many friends at the house, including HG Wells, Edith Wharton, and Rudyard Kipling who lived nearby at Batemans.

5. E.F. Benson immortalised Lamb House in his books
Henry James never married, so his nephew inherited the house in 1916. E.F. Benson, a friend of James, took on the lease in 1919. He wrote 70-odd books but his most famous works are the six Mapp and Lucia novels, which were made into a TV series. Lamb House is actually in the books - renamed as Mallards - as is Rye itself, renamed as Tilling.

6. Rumer Godden
Rumer Godden lived at Lamb House from 1968 to 1973, by which time it had been given to the National Trust. She wrote a lot of books, including Black Narcissus about some nuns losing the plot in the Himalayas, which was made into a film.

BUT - and I'm truly sorry about this, Rumer - I only recognised her name from a very bizarre kids' TV show called Tottie: The Story of a Doll's House. It was very weird and featured a storyline about a horrible china doll murdering another flammable doll by setting fire to the house so she melted.

This is Tottie on the right
with two of the other very bizarre characters
Anyway, enough about melting dolls. What about the scones?

I had taken my sister-in-law and niece along on this scone mission, expecting the usual response when I invite guests; slight bafflement at the whole project mixed with huge enthusiasm for the idea of eating scones.

But no. They were brutal in their criticism. They didn't understand why the cream was served in plastic tubs (huh?) and they straight away sussed that the scones weren't home made. 

I explained the situation: sometimes NT properties don't have a proper kitchen and so you do come across the mass-produced scone seen below (it always reminds me of someone who has spent 2 hours a day on a sunbed for 20 years). My hopes were very low but actually it didn't taste too bad. The two Craig Revel Horwoods agreed.

Lamb House scones

Frankly, I think the National Trust got away very lightly when I designated myself the authority on NT scones. I'm a pussycat compared to the others out there.

Lamb House: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Rye: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Nunnington Hall

I do like a bit of skulduggery and intrigue at my National Trust properties. If you read the Wikipedia entry for Nunnington Hall you'll find a mysterious little factoid; "Another feature of the garden are the resident peacocks. On June 10th 2007, Bluey, the head of the peacock family, died in suspicious circumstances." 

My imagination ran riot with this piece of information. Was he done in by another peacock? Poisoned by a crazed fan of a rival tourist attraction? Or did he end his own life, consumed with low self esteem because he hadn't been given a very imaginative name?

Nunnington Hall

But it wasn't suicidal peacocks I was looking for today. This trip to Yorkshire was an emergency; my last five missions (to BrockhamptonFyne CourtColeridge CottageThe Firs, and Dyffryn Gardens) were all very lovely, but none of the scones was top class. I was getting worried. I needed a five star scone.

In fact, Nunnington Hall itself turned out to be a nice little place and definitely one of those NT houses that you could live in. Here's some history:
  • In Tudor times, the Nunnington estate was owned by the Parr family - Catherine Parr found great fortune by marrying and outliving Henry VIII, while her brother William was sentenced to death for his part in putting Lady Jane Grey on the throne for nine days (he survived, although Nunnington was taken away from him)
  • The Norcliffe family built the oldest parts of the house we see today in the early 17th century
The Stone Hall at Nunnington
The Stone Hall, built in the 17th century.
Maybe not one for wildlife lovers.
  • Sir Thomas Norcliffe, a devout Puritan, gave the hall up to house Parliamentary troops during the Civil War, after which it fell into disrepair
  • Ranald Graham moved in next - he and then his great nephew Richard remodelled the house
  • Richard also ended up being sentenced to death, this time for being a staunch supporter of James II - he too survived, by naming all of his co-conspirators
  • Nunnington became a derelict farmhouse until bought by the Rutsons
  • Margaret Fife (who was born a Rutson) inherited in 1920 - she and her husband employed Walter Brierley (who also designed nearby Goddards) to turn Nunnington Hall into a family home, and that's what we see today

But let's move on to the scone. It started well. The tea room is in the house and it's table service, which is quite rare - Goddards, Lyme, and Rufford Hall are the only others I can think of that come and take your order. There's also a really lovely tea garden but it was tipping it down with rain so I stayed indoors.

The scone arrived speedily and looked stunning.

Nunnington Hall Scones

Reader, it was stunning. It was light as a feather and fresh as a daisy. I cannot tell you how relieved I was to finally be back on the five star track.

I was so excited by the scone that I forgot all about Bluey the peacock and his untimely demise. Luckily, I was reminded by one of his peacock crew, presumably called Greeny or something, who was pecking about on his own looking for clues.

Nunnington Peacock

Nunnington Hall: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Peacocks: My success in solving the mystery of Bluey's murder: 0 out of 5

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2018

Five years ago today I started this National Trust Scone Blog. We had joined the National Trust but then spectacularly failed to do anything at all with our membership. I decided I needed to a) visit more places and b) learn something at each one, and so the blog was born. I knew I'd pay attention if I forced myself to write about it.

Scone Blog is 5 today

 In the past five years:
  • 171 properties have been visited
  • 64 of them have delivered a 5 out of 5 top-rated scone
And so here is the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List - the 64 properties with 5-star scones, in reverse order of when I visited:
  • The Workhouse - I was certainly tempted to say "please, sir, I want some more" - the scones were very good.
  • Shugborough Estate - the ancestral home of society photographer Patrick Lichfield was a picture! Ha ha!
  • Chirk Castle - murder, scandal, adultery, violence, great'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 150 scones on Pinterest

There's also a book! Yes indeed, the National Trust Book of Scones is available in NT shops or on the internet.

As ever, my heartfelt thanks 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. 

By my count, I think I have around 60 scones left to go. We can do this. Onwards!

Coleridge Cottage

I think it was in May 1994 when a monumental realisation dawned on me; "Sarah, you are poor as a church mouse. You are clueless as to what you're going to do with your life. But look on the bright side; after this term at university, you will never, ever have to think about the Romantic Poets EVER AGAIN."

I love literature, I love reading, but I could never get my head around the Romantic Poets. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats...I just didn't get any of it. I'm sorry.

But the National Trust has a habit of making you face your educational demons and so I found myself at Coleridge Cottage in Somerset today.

I failed to take a picture of the outside of the cottage
so here's one from inside.
Here are some facts:

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772, the youngest of nine brothers
  • He was precociously talented and a bit of a show-off but it sounds like he lacked self-confidence
  • He met Robert Southey and together they formed a plan of emigrating to America and setting up a utopian scheme called Pantisocracy 
  • In their planning for Pantisocracy, Coleridge ended up marrying Southey's sister-in-law, Sara Fricker. Pantisocracy never happened. Coleridge may have regretted the marriage.
  • In 1796, Coleridge moved his wife and young son to the cottage in Nether Stowey, where they could live among nature
  • He befriended William and Dorothy Wordsworth, who joined him in Somerset, and together they wrote their Lyrical Ballads - these included some of Coleridge's most famous works, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Frost at Midnight, and Kubla Khan
  • After only two and a bit years, the Coleridges left the cottage - but it remains the place where he wrote his masterpieces
  • Best fact of all: Coleridge ended up in debt while he was studying at Cambridge and ran away to join the army under the pseudonym of 'Silas Tomkyn Comberbacke'.
  • Even better fact: there's a sign on the wall of the cottage explaining that Kubla Khan has inspired many artists, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whose song Welcome to the Pleasuredome references Coleridge's work
The cottage itself is lovely enough but the garden was the highlight. One of the guides apologised for it, explaining that it had suffered in the hot weather, but I absolutely loved it. Somehow I ended up being the only person out there for about 20 minutes - it has several listening posts that play snippets of Coleridge's poetry and it was truly lovely.

But let us move on to the Rime of the Microwaved Scone. It all started so well - the tea room is actually part of the cottage building, which is always great. I ordered my scone and sat down and then 'PING!'. Unfortunately, I was the only person in there so that PING was definitely connected to my scone. It was nice enough - a bit salty maybe - but why microwave it? 

This isn't the first time that the National Trust has made me face my fears of the Romantic Poets; in April 2016 I went to Wordsworth House near the Lake District and I loved it there as well. Maybe I've been wrong all this time.

Coleridge Cottage: 4.5 out of 5
Scones: 4 out of 5 - nice but microwaved :(
Poems in the garden: 5 out of 5

Fyne Court

"Fyne Court was once owned by the electrician, Andrew Crosse," I learned during my research for this 170th scone mission. It cheered me up immensely - what hope to us all, that the National Trust might one day be interested in our homes! Electricians today - who knows, maybe even marketing managers will get a look-in eventually. I should probably start tidying up.

But of course the word electrician meant something very different in 1805 when Andrew Crosse inherited Fyne. He was known locally in Somerset as "The Thunder and Lightning Man" because of his experiments with the relatively unknown force of electricity...and eventually it all turned a bit nasty, with vicars doing exorcisms outside his house and what-not. Here's what I learned:

1. Fyne Court burnt down in 1894
...but before you jump to any conclusions, the fire had nothing to do with electrical experiments going wrong, or deranged arsonist vicars coming to stop the Devil's work - a housemaid's candle was to blame. I'm only mentioning it so early in my story because you're probably wondering what has happened to my usual stunning photograph of the house (I'm joking). Answer: there is no house at Fyne Court because it was engulfed in flames and pulled down. But here's a picture of the Boathouse which fell into disrepair: 

Fyne Court Boathouse

2. Fyne Court had been built in 1634
The Crosse family built Fyne Court in the 17th century. They were descended from a bloke called Odo de Santa Croce, who had sailed to England with William the Conqueror, and they had stayed close to the political action ever since; Andrew's own father had witnessed the Storming of the Bastille.

Fyne Court folly
This isn't the Bastille - it's the folly at Fyne Court
3. Andrew, the scientific wonderkid
Andrew Crosse was born in 1784 and became interested in electricity when he was around 12 - his father was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, which may or may not have influenced him. He continued his interest at Oxford and then set up his laboratory at Fyne when he returned to live there.

4. Was Andrew Crosse Frankenstein?
I bought a book about Andrew Crosse before my visit, called The Man Who Was Frankenstein. It argues that he inspired Mary Shelley to write her famous book. Further, it argues that the character of Dr Waldman in the book is based on Crosse. 

There is undoubtedly a connection - Crosse gave a lecture about his experiments in London in 1814 that Mary Shelley attended, and she started writing her famous novel in 1816. But much as I'm a sucker for a great story, I wasn't totally convinced, especially as the author bizarrely tries to support his claims by pointing out that a gargoyle in the churchyard looks like Boris Karloff in the 1931 film - don't they all??

However, I was happy to see the NT promoting the possible connection with a big display in the little information centre. I went to an NT property once that had an unsubstantiated link with the Gunpowder Plot and they didn't mention it anywhere. I took this as a sign that the NT is probably very risk averse when it came to rumours and conjecture. But no - turns out they like a good story as much as anybody.

Fyne Court information centre

5. What happened to Andrew Crosse?
Crosse's work benefitted experts and locals alike. He corresponded with some of the leading thinkers of the day, even though he preferred the quiet life at home in the Quantock Hills to hobnobbing in London. Locally, his electrical machine was used for curative purposes - a farmer who had been paralysed on one side was treated by Crosse and was much improved. 

However, it all got very difficult when he made a surprising discovery. During one of his experiments, he seemed to create living insects from a stone. Unable to explain it, he shared this news with a small group of people, one of whom, unfortunately, was the editor of a local newspaper. The good news was that the insects were named after him. The bad news was that it stirred up a tidal wave of vitriol and fear that Crosse was consorting with the Devil and meddling with nature/God's work. This is what brought Reverend Smith up to the estate to perform an exorcism.

6. Fyne Court today
There might not be a house at Fyne Court, but the estate covers 65 acres and there's lot of space for walking. 

Fyne Court walled garden
The Walled Garden - it is indeed walled
7. But what about the scone?
I really wanted a showstopper of a scone today - it was the 170th mission after all, AND it was also the 5th anniversary of me starting this National Trust scone blog project. But the Fyne Court scone turned out to rather suit its surroundings, in that they'd done their very best with limited resources. There's no proper kitchen at Fyne, so I assume the scones were bought in - mine was dry and didn't seem very fresh. But it did taste better than it looked.

Fyne Court Scone

I'm going to end on a sombre note because much as I enjoyed The Man Who Was Frankenstein, it is also sad. Crosse was prone to introspection and depression throughout his life, even before the world ganged up on him and vicars started waving crosses around outside his house. 

His final words to his wife before he died were: "My dear, the utmost extent of human knowledge is but comparative ignorance". Does that mean that when this odyssey is over, I'll still be none the wiser about scones??

Fyne Court: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Andrew Crosse's choice of confidants: 0 out of 5