Sunday 27 October 2013

Osterley Park

Osterley Park is the reason that I started this blog. It was one of the first places we visited after we joined the National Trust and I spent a perfectly pleasant couple of hours there. But could I tell you anything about it afterwards? No. I'd forgotten every single thing before we'd even driven out through the gates.

Now, let's be honest here, forgetting stuff isn't good - it's a bit rude and also potentially life-threatening, if the thing you forget is how to cross the road or that you shouldn't take 50 paracetamol at once. But I have a very specific and terrifying fear about my National Trust membership; that one day I will end up on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, only to hear Chris Tarrant say "For a million pounds then; who designed Osterley House in West London?" and my other half will be going "We went there last week! She knows it! We are rich beyond our wildest dreams!" only to see the sheer terror in my eyes and the already used phone-a-friend icon. That's why I needed to get a grip on things - there could potentially be a million pounds at stake. 

So I started the National Trust Scones blog that you are reading now. And it has been remarkably successful in making me remember stuff. Ask me anything about Petworth, Ham House, Bodiam CastleBrownsea Island, Lyme ParkHughenden, Houghton MillWinkworth Arboretum, or Greys Court and, to paraphrase the great Craig David, I can fill you in. 

To thank Osterley for inspiring me, I decided to return and make it the 10th destination on my scone odyssey. And I’m very glad I did, because I had forgotten how beautiful it is. The walk from the car park takes you round a very handsome lake and then you come face to face with the house itself:

Osterley Park National Trust

Osterley went further up in my estimations by having an audio tour on offer to visitors. I love audio tours. I think that every NT property should have one. I was so excited that I forgot to pick one up for my trusty sconeing companion, so he had to walk round unaided with me occasionally shouting "THEY HAD A DAUGHTER CALLED SARAH-ANNE. SHE USED TO PLAY THE HARPSICHORD." at him. 

(I will take this opportunity to advise you to avoid the audio guide at Whitby Abbey, should you ever go there, at all costs. Having remortgaged my home to cover the cost of entry, the audio tour turned out to be full of shrieking actors pretending to be nuns being burned alive. Dreadful.)

But the Osterley audio guide is big on facts and low on shrieking and so I am proud to share with you my Tarrant-defying-million-pound-winning factoids about Osterley. 
  • Osterley House was designed and built by Robert Adam, one of the pre-eminent architects of the 1700s.
  • It is built in the neo-classical style, which incorporates Ancient Greek and Roman features into the exterior and interior.
  • Adam had honed his architectural style by going on the Grand Tour of Europe.
  • The house belonged to Robert and Sarah Child, who wanted a home that showed off their enormous wealth and cultural sophistication.
  • The Childs made their money from his involvement with the Child & Co Bank and the East India Company!
The Osterley scones
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SCONES I hear you ask. Well, I can tell you that they were very good - there was a choice of fruit or plain and they had a lovely crumbly texture that I liked a lot. Two scones, cream, jam and tea was £4.75:

Osterley Park National Trust Scones

So thank you Osterley for inspiring this blog and being so marvellously beautiful.

Scones: 4 out of 5
Osterley Park: 4 out of 5

PS - I have just discovered that WWTBAM is being cancelled. I can sleep at last.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Greys Court

Greys Court near Henley-on-Thames was originally recommended by another National Trust property, who informed me that I'd find particularly excellent scones there. 

I then had a look on the Greys Court website and saw that they also have a 'rare Tudor donkey wheel', so it was only a matter of time before I headed to Oxfordshire for a look. (I must admit that I didn't actually know what a Tudor donkey wheel was. I think I was hoping that there might be a 500 year-old donkey attached to it. But read on for more about that.)

The Greys Court scones
First, THE SCONES. Greys Court definitely wins the award for best National Trust tea-room so far - it's a lovely set-up in a 16th century building that used to be the stables. I nearly changed this blog to National Trust Pork Pies for the day having seen the hand-made fayre on offer but we are sconers and scones we shall eat.

The scones were perfectly sized - usually two are too much for me, so these smaller ones were ideal. In terms of taste and texture, I'll admit that the word that sprang to my mind was 'bouncy'. I don't think AA Gill or any other food critic will be fearing for their jobs, but the scones had a real lightness that was quite unusual so I'm sticking with bouncy, even if it does make me sound like a cretin.

National Trust Scones at Greys Court

Greys Court itself is a lovely little place. It was built in the 16th century and bought in 1937 by Felix and Elizabeth Brunner, who made it their family home. Lady Brunner died in 2003 and the house is presented pretty much as she left it. (Interesting factoid about Lady Brunner: she founded the Keep Britain Tidy Group.)
Greys Court, National Trust property

But the undoubted highlight for me was the Tudor donkey wheel. You HAVE to go and see it. A picture on the wall brought me up to speed pretty quickly as to what a donkey wheel does - it's basically like a hamster wheel for donkeys. Except that hamsters don't generally power the lifting of buckets of water from a well. And donkeys don't generally have a choice about theirs, so they don't generally choose to get on the wheel at 3am when everyone is trying to get some sleep and all they can hear is Fluffy going like the clappers until one day Fluffy 'escapes' and that's the end of that.

BUT ANYWAY: the donkey wheel at Greys Court was in operation from Tudor times right through to 1914. The donkeys would hear the noise that signalled that the bucket had reached the top of the pulley and they would stop, be turned around, and then walk the other way so that the next buckets were lowered/raised. Ingenious! 

My sconeing companion was also fascinated by it. I am half expecting to hear a lot of sawing and hammering next weekend while he builds one in the back garden. This is a not very good photo of it - just go and see it for yourselves:

Greys Court donkey wheel

Scones: 4 out of 5 
Greys Court: 4 out of 5
Rare Tudor donkey wheel: 10 out of 5

Saturday 12 October 2013

Winkworth Arboretum

Until today, I had only ever been to one Arboretum and that was a pub in Nottingham. I suppose I should be ashamed to say that I don't know if the pub was near a real arboretum or not, but I was a nineteen year-old student at the time and trees were not top of my agenda (nor were European Studies for that matter, which is more troubling as that's what I was supposed to be doing there).

Anyway, trees are not really top of my agenda now either, if I'm honest. I could probably tell you the difference between an oak and a horse-chestnut, and I did once grow an apple tree from a pip (in 26 years it has failed to deliver a single apple and just sits in my mum's garden covered in a weird mould) but other than that, nada. 

However. I wanted to go to Winkworth Arboretum near Godalming in Surrey because it's October and they have a really nice Facebook page with an 'autumn watch' updating the general public on when the leaves will change colour and look stunning so everyone can pile down there and get their entries for the Countryfile photographic competition (I assume).

The Winkworth scone
But before I talk foliage, let's talk scones. Following my slightly disastrous, scone-less trip to Hughenden, I had a mild panic attack at Winkworth when I couldn't see a single scone. "Cream team!" I squeaked at the assistant with a slightly mad look in my eyes and she pointed out that the scones were in a bread-bin. 'Why hide the scones?' I grumbled to myself but I take it all back because the scones were IMMENSE. Two scones, cream, jam and tea was £4.90 and they were DELICIOUS. The bread-bin had kept them soft and moist and truly, truly tasty. I'd go as far as to say that they are THE BEST YET, so they get a 5* from me. (I couldn't eat all of the second scone so I gave a little chunk to a passing duck, who swam up to it, looked at it, and then swam off, but let's not spoil the moment.)

Scones at National Trust Winkworth Arboretum

Anyway, having eaten our scones we set off for a walk through the arboretum. An arboretum is basically a garden of trees - in this case it was a Dr Wilfrid Fox who created the arboretum in 1937 and planted all sorts of trees there, before giving it to the National Trust in the 50s. 

And Winkworth is a really beautiful location. As with many National Trust properties, you walk round thinking how lovely it is, without really appreciating how much effort Dr Fox had to go to, both to plan the space so that it provides the best possible views and then bring in the trees and make them grow:

I'd recommend visiting a little later in October to see the true autumnal majesty of it all, but we had a lovely time.

Scones: 5* out of 5 (we're getting all GCSEy)
Duck's score of scones: 0 out of 5
Winkworth Arboretum: 3 out of 5

PS - I'd like to finish with a picture of some soda bread that my Irish mother baked using the flour that I picked up during my last sconeing mission, to Houghton Mill. I honestly thought that flour would sit in a cupboard for the next 10 years, so I was greatly cheered when she used it. The apples are not from my useless grown-from-a-pip tree but from another tree that I bought her in an effort to make mine do something useful. Mine remains barren and mouldy, while the new one is practically flinging the Bramleys into the kitchen. There are also two green tomatoes at the back of the picture (no, me neither):

Soda bread from Houghton Mill flour