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

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