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'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

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: 
  • 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


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.)


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

Florence Court

I was very excited to get to Florence Court near Enniskillen as it was property number #190 on this National Trust Scone Odyssey. 

Florence Court

  • The house we see today was built in phases - the central part was created by John Cole in the late 1600. The colonnades and pavilions were added in 1771.
  • It was named Florence Court after Florence Cole, wife of the builder.
  • It was given to the National Trust in 1953.
  • The Earl of Enniskillen had initially refused to modernise the house but eventually relented and had electricity installed. He would have been better off sticking to his guns; faulty wiring was to blame for a huge fire in 1955.  
  • The tour guide described how Lady Enniskillen was asleep and saw a glow under her bedroom door. Thinking a light had been left on, she went out to be greeted with a conflagration. She escaped and raised the alarm.
  • What the tour guide didn't tell us (but I read it on Wikipedia) is that Lady Enniskillen had to go to a neighbouring house to use the telephone and contact her elderly husband (the 5th Earl), who was in Belfast at the time. When she told him the house was on fire he is said to have cried "What the hell do you think I can do about it?".
  • The son of the 5th Earl died young and so the title and estate passed to a nephew, David Lowry-Cole, who was living in Kenya.
  • He and his wife Nancy moved back to Florence Court and lived there from 1964 to 1973. The tour guide commented on the huge change for them in moving from Kenya to Enniskillen, from the African heat to a damp country estate. "So did they move back to Kenya in 1973?" asked a member of the tour group. "No, Scotland."
  • David's son is the 7th Earl but still lives in Kenya.
  • There's a yew tree about a mile from the house which is the mother of every Irish Yew tree in the world.
  • There's also a very beautiful mountain that's visible from the house - it's Benaughlin, or 'peak of the speaking horse'. There's a legend of a white horse that would appear on the mountain on the last Sunday of July and talk to local people. I had missed him by two weeks, which is a real shame:
Florence Court Benaughlin

But let's move on to the Florence Court scone. This was the third scone of my Grand Tour of Northern Ireland Summer 2019. I'd already had a top class scone at The Argory (the first cherry scone I'd had in six years of the National Trust Scone Odyssey). I then had the second ever cherry scone about three hours later at Crom.

It was back to fruit scones at Florence Court (don't worry - Castle Coole just down the road provided the third cherry scone about an hour later). It was light and fresh and very tasty. 

The unofficial motto of this National Trust Scone Tour, which was given to me by one of my loyal Sconepals, is 'Mildly Taken Aback by Icing Sugar' or more grandly 'Alii leniter questi sugar vico per erubuerunt' according to Google Translate (I went to a comprehensive school in the 1980s so please don't shout at me if it actually means something totally different). I know there is a school of thought that is dead against icing sugar anywhere in the vicinity of scones but I don't mind it.

Florence Court scone

Florence Court: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Taken abackness by icing sugar: 2 out of 5 (mild)

Sunday, 11 August 2019

The Argory

It is actually possible for you to get to The Argory in County Armagh by canoe, if you were so inclined (I am not so inclined - it was a Renault Clio for me).

I was transfixed by it though - a little jetty on the Blackwater river allows you to pull up and enjoy a scone after a hard day's paddling. It's actually part of a 20km trail for canoeists that meanders through Armagh and Tyrone before ending in Lough Neagh. There's even a camping ground near The Argory so you can make a two-day voyage out of it. I'm not 100% sure why I'm telling you this, as I would rather never eat a scone again than attempt to climb into a canoe but you might be more intrepid than me.
Canoe port at The Argory
Bored of arriving at the NT by car? Pull up here in your canoe.
But you're in for a treat, whichever mode of transportation you choose to get to The Argory, because it's a wonderful place and I'd live there tomorrow if I could.

You have to join a guided tour if you want to see the house. I don't know why this always worries me so much because the tour today was really good, just as previous tours that I've done at Red House, Quebec House, Castle Ward, and Mount Stewart were excellent as well.

Here are some highlights:

The Argory was almost never built
The history of the place is fascinating. A man called Joshua McGeough died in 1817 and left his land to his son and three daughters. The family home was at Drumshill, while the area then known as Derrycaw was tenanted. However, the will stipulated that the son, Walter, could only live at Drumshill when two of his sisters were married. If two remained unmarried, he had to live elsewhere. Two of them did indeed remain single and so Walter had to build his own place on the Derrycaw estate - this became The Argory. It was completed in 1824, the same year that Walter added 'Bond' to his surname in memory of his grandmother, turning the family moniker into McGeough Bond.

A controversial replacement chandelier
The outside of the house might be a little austere but inside it's full of warmth. The West Hall is particularly welcoming, although the chandelier that belongs there has been shipped off for cleaning and a piece of modern art has been temporarily hung in its place. The guide told us that some people like it and others definitely do not - one tour group insisted on standing with their backs to it. 

Modern art at The Argory
Some people hate this
I do like to be respectful of people's opinions but honestly - the key word in the above paragraph is 'temporarily'. The chandelier is coming back. The artwork is also very clever - it emulates the effect of gas lighting, going from bright to dim, then bright again. This is because The Argory has no electric lighting. In 1906, Captain Ralph Shelton installed an acetylene gas plant on the estate and that powered all of the light fittings around the house until 1980, when it was agreed that it wasn't safe. The TEMPORARY fixture replicates that gas lighting effect, which I think is lovely. And I'm not always into modern art at the NT, as per my visit to Tyntesfield.

It has a cabinet barrel organ at the top of the stairs
Walter commissioned the barrel organ in 1822 - the guide said he had planned to build a chapel of some sort but that didn't happen so it ended up in the house. I assumed that it was used to play hymns and religious music but apparently not - think more along the lines of entertaining carousel-type tunes:

Barrel organ Argory
More 'Roll Out The Barrel' than 'How Great Thou Art' apparently
More horse bravery at the National Trust
Walter's son Ralph inherited The Argory in 1866. He continued the family trend of changing his name - he became Captain Ralph Shelton, enjoying an eventful military career. 

Ralph survived the sinking of the Birkenhead off the coast of South Africa in 1852; the guide explained that it was one of the first times that women and children had been evacuated first, leaving every man for himself as the ship went down (the horses had already been pushed overboard to lighten the load). 

Captain Ralph swam for five hours in the vest you see below - the men who took their kit off to swim were more visible and got eaten by sharks apparently. When Captain Ralph woke up on shore, his horse was standing next to him. (See Mottistone Gardens and Tredegar House for more National Trust horse glory stories.)  

Argory vest
The anti-shark vest that saved Captain Ralph
But let's move on to the scone. I stared near-disaster in the face today, readers - I went in to the lovely tea room, bought my scone and tea, took a seat...and the electricity went off. The staff closed the place while they rang an electrician; I remained in situ, pulling my scone closer so that nobody could take it off me or ask me to share it.

It was a magnificent scone in every single way. It looked fantastic and it was completely fresh - it was actually a tiny bit warm from the oven. I had been offered a choice of scone and would normally opt for plain to keep this study scientific, but the cherry ones looked great and they were indeed delicious: 

The Argory scone

I think the electrics were restored shortly afterwards but imagine - I could have travelled 455 miles from home and been denied by a trip switch. The mind boggles.

I can't praise The Argory enough, though - it's a really interesting house in a beautiful spot on the river. Get your canoes out and start paddling. 

The Argory: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Canoe arrival option: 5 out of 5