Saturday 26 April 2014

Nuffield Place

If you drew a Venn diagram and put the National Trust in one circle and Top Gear in the other, the bit in the middle would say Nuffield Place. For this is where Lord Nuffield, founder of Morris Motor Cars, lived for 30 years until he died in 1963.

Nuffield Place

I'm not into cars or Jeremy Clarkson at all, but Lord Nuffield, or William Morris as he was known to his mother, was a fascinating man. He started his own bike-building business in 1892 in his kitchen with just £4 capital - he left school at 14, needing to earn some money for the family, but decided to go it alone when he was refused a pay rise from his bike repairer employer. 

He moved onto motorcycles and then cars. He wanted to build a car that was affordable and he did - the two-seater Morris Oxford was launched in 1912. The four-seater Morris Cowley, and eventually the Morris Minor (and even I know what a Morris Minor looks like), followed.

But you'll be disappointed if you're expecting to see loads of cars at Nuffield Place. The only car on show is Lady Nuffield's Wolseley - Morris bought the Wolseley firm in 1927 when it went bust.

The house is very much the star of the show at Nuffield Place and although it's roomy, it's a very modest house for a multi-millionaire industrialist. 

And that unshowiness says an awful lot about Morris's personality. He was a hugely wealthy man but he preferred to give his millions away - there's an Oxford college named after him and he gave generously to medical causes.

The whole place is down to earth. In his bedroom there's a wardrobe that opens up to reveal a little workshop, allowing him to fix clocks and other household items when he couldn't sleep at night. I was just leaving the room when I overheard the guide tell another visitor "and there's his appendix right there on the shelf of course" so I had to scoot back in for another look and sure enough there it was:

Lord Nuffield Appendix

I read a short book called Lord Nuffield by Peter Hull before I went to Nuffield Place. Admittedly there were paragraphs like "they specially designed and built a small 10-horsepower (8.9 horsepower RAC rating) four-cylinder side-valve T-head engine, with a 60mm bore and 90mm stroke, splash lubricated, with a three-bearing crankshaft and on which both the inlet and exhaust manifolds were cars with the cylinders" which might as well be written in Greek for all I understand of it, but there were plenty of insights into Morris's character. And here's a portrait from his billiard room to give you some idea of what he looked like:

Lord Nuffield portrait

But now the tricky bit. They had scones at Nuffield today but only cheese scones. I realise that nowhere in the terms and conditions of the National Trust Scone Blog does it stipulate that only sweet scones are included (I don't have any terms and conditions for one thing) but we'd had a long drive and a cheese scone just wasn't going to cut it. So I had some Victoria sponge cake, which was divine, and the scone sidekick had to be a millionaire's shortbread sidekick for the day (and that was divine too). 

Nuffield Place: 4 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 - they only had cheese scones
Availability of previous owner's body parts: 5 out of 5

Sunday 20 April 2014

Waddesdon Manor

There are some National Trust properties that are very understated. An old mill. A crumbling tower. A piece of moorland.

And then there are some properties that come into view doing high kicks and going "YOO-HOO! HERE I AM! A FRENCH RENAISSANCE-STYLE CHATEAU BUILT BY BARON FERDINAND DE ROTHSCHILD!". 

Waddesdon Manor near Aylesbury belongs in the latter category. In fact it IS a French Renaissance-style chateau built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild: 

Waddesdon Manor

It's almost like a tornado ripped through the Loire Valley, picked up a chateau, and then deposited it just off the M40.

Waddesdon Manor was actually built in the late 1870s. Ferdinand de Rothschild bought the land from the Duke of Marlborough and commissioned a French architect, Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, to create a brand new build in the style of the French chateaux he admired so much. 

Waddesdon Manor

As you have no doubt worked out for yourself, Ferdinand was a member of the Rothschild family. My limited knowledge of the Rothschilds comes from the Evening Standard, a highly reliable source of 'news', if your idea of 'news' is enough gossip about London-based rich people/celebrities to fill the 20 minute train journey from Waterloo to Mortlake.

But once again the National Trust has rescued me from ignorance. Here's what I learned: the Rothschild family stems from Mayer Amschel, who set up a successful financial business in Frankfurt in the late 18th century. He had five sons - James, Carl, Salomon, Nathan, and Amschel - all partners in the business, who spread out across Europe. Our Ferdinand was the grandson of Salomon. Ferdinand was born in Paris and raised in Frankfurt and Vienna, before settling in England after he fell in love with his cousin, Evelina, granddaughter of Nathan - the Rothschilds were VERY keen on marrying within the family.

Ferdinand seems to have used Waddesdon for two things: 1) housing his collection of art, furniture, china, clocks, mechanical name it, Ferdinand seemed to collect it and 2) entertaining kings, queens, politicians, archbishops etc etc etc and showing them his collections. 

The rooms are exquisite - each one is a treasure trove of beautiful items. And because Waddesdon was left by Ferdinand to his fastidious sister Alice, and then passed to their nephew, James, before being handed over to the National Trust, much of the house and contents are as Ferdinand had them.

Waddesdon Manor White Drawing Room

But it's not just the beautiful facade or the sumptuous rooms that made today so enjoyable. I would go as far as to say that Waddesdon is one of the best National Trust properties I've been to. Here's why:

1. Waddesdon has an audio guide 
God, I LOVE audio guides. I love them. I wish every National Trust property had one. They make a visit so much easier - you notice 10x more than if you try and walk round reading a guide book and you learn 100x more than if you walk round with nothing. There were visitors today walking round unaided and I was most concerned for them. Did they know that Evelina died in childbirth? Had they seen that the mechanical elephant can swing its trunk about and flap its ears when it's wound up? I'm still worrying now.

2. Waddesdon is extremely well organised
My heart sank a bit when I saw a shuttle bus taking people from the car park to the house but there are at least 3 buses and they whizz discreetly round the place, giving you a real 'WOW' moment when you first pull up opposite the Manor. The timed tickets also work really well, the restaurants run like clockwork, the car park is huge, and the staff are very knowledgeable. I really could not fault one bit of it. 

3. Waddesdon has an excellent guide book
If you decide not to part with £3 for the audio tour (WHY?) the 'Waddesdon Companion Guide' is very good value for money; £5 for 144 pages telling you all about the contents of each room in great detail.

4. The Waddesdon scones are superb
Yes indeed, scone fans, Waddesdon also delivered when it came to the main event. The scone was fresh - I'd estimate it'd been out of the oven for two hours, tops - and it was quite simply delicious. Even the scone sidekick gave it a five. 

Waddesdon Manor scones

I'd always suspected that Waddesdon would be one of the National Trust's star properties and I wasn't disappointed. I highly recommend it. 

Waddesdon Manor: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
All-round National Trust Visitor Experience: 5 out of 5 

Friday 18 April 2014

Box Hill

I first went to Box Hill in 2013, shortly after I joined the National Trust. It was very, very, very busy. There seemed to be about 9,000,000 cyclists milling about - I haven't seen that much Lycra since an ill-advised dalliance with aerobics back in 1991. 

The other 11,000,000 visitors were possessed children. The place was teeming with them - it was Easter Monday and there was a chocolate egg trail. 

Typically of me, at the time I wondered how anyone could be BOTHERED with it all, and then twelve months later I forgot about that and decided to borrow a four-year-old and see what the #EasterEggTrail fuss was all about. 

And I can tell you now that the #EasterEggTrail at Box Hill is brilliant. I've never really taken much notice of the trails that many NT properties offer, as I don't have children and I've certainly never felt the urge to take part in one myself. But today I discovered that if you ask a child to run round a nicely sized trail in a bit of woodland and answer questions so they can win a chocolate egg, they're ecstatic. 

I took absolutely no notice of Box Hill itself today, though, thanks to the excitement of the egg trail and the demands of stopping a four-year-old from running through other people's picnics. I know from my previous visit that the panoramic views are fantastic but I'm afraid this picture of some people in what looks like a field is the best that I can offer you:   

Box Hill

The Box Hill scone
Moving on to more routine matters, I hope that nobody at the National Trust is shocked or offended by this but the cafe at Box Hill is far, far too small. It only has five tables inside, although there are a few outside. The staff also struggle with limited space on the other side of the counter - they're having to fill water bottles for cyclists and clear tables and make cappuccinos all at once and as a result they look a bit harassed. 

However, the scones themselves were good - really hefty, with loads of fruit, and although they were a tiny bit dry, they were very tasty. Which is just as well, as the four-year-old absolutely refused to share any of his egg (that's gratitude). 

Box Hill National Trust Scones

Box Hill: 4 out of 5
Scones: 4 out of 5
Box Hill Easter Egg Trail: 5 out of 5

Sunday 13 April 2014

River Wey, Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf

It's not the shortest name in the world is it, the River Wey, Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf? It's like one of those ad agencies that has been through loads of mergers but everyone's egos have to be appeased, so it ends up being called Barraclough, Upson, McDonald and Minchin until everyone loses the will to live and it becomes BUMM. 

Ironically, RWGNDW is one of the smallest National Trust properties that I've been to. You come across them every once in a while; these tiny little places with limited resources that turn out to be far, far better than you ever expected (Shalford Mill is another, as is Cherryburn near Newcastle).

The River Wey is famous for being one of the first rivers to be made navigable so that barges could use it as a working waterway for carrying cargo between Guildford and London. It first opened in 1653. Godalming Navigation opened in 1764 to extend the waterway further.

Dapdune Wharf, where we were today, was the main boat yard for the navigations, established in the 1890s by the Stevens family. 

The star of the show at RWGNDW is the restored barge, Reliance: 

River Wey Reliance Barge

I won't lie to you, I was expecting something a bit more ornamental - basically, to my ignorant mind a barge is a red and green painted thing like the ones I used to see at Foxton Locks near Market Harborough during my teenage years (while I'm being honest, I was more interested in the Woodpecker cider they were serving than the boats, but I did take enough notice to conclude that life on a narrowboat wasn't for me).  

Reliance and the other ten barges built at Dapdune Wharf were proper working craft that could carry up to 80 tonnes. They had no engines - they were usually towed by rope. Reliance was built in 1932 and worked between Guildford and London docks before she sank in 1968. She was found abandoned in 1989, when the National Trust restored her. They're raising funds now to restore Perseverance, who sits a bit forlornly nearby at the moment.

There's a lovely little museum explaining how the waterways changed Britain - and how eventually the railways caught up and replaced the waterways:

The River Wey scone
They warn you on the website that the tearoom at RWGNDW is tiny, and it was. However, it was also very lovely. Admittedly, the scone did come out of a packet but it didn't matter - they also had the most amazing-looking cakes so if a scone wasn't your thing you had plenty of choice.

River Wey Dapdune Wharf Scone

I'd recommend getting there early and booking on a boat tour - we were in a hurry and couldn't wait for the next available one but I will definitely go back. It's a beautiful little place, with helpful and friendly staff, and a real story to tell.

River Wey, Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf: 4 out of 5
Scones: 3 out of 5
Reliance, the barge: 5 out of 5

Saturday 12 April 2014

Basildon Park

Fact: I am the only woman in the UK over the age of 30 that has never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey. I don't know why - I like my Sunday night distractions as much as anybody (ask me anything about Monarch of the Glen) but Downton passed me by.  

Basildon Park was one of the locations used in the Downton Christmas special this year, so I expected it to be full of people saying things like "ooh look Dennis, this is where Bates threatened Lord Rinkydink-Pinkpantherton's valet with a soup tureen" or "this must be the desk where Lady Grantham got the news about Cousin Squiffy having that terrible accident playing bridge in upstate New York" (I don't even watch it and I know the names). 

Basildon Park

And indeed, there were A LOT of Downton fans there today and they surely weren't disappointed. Basildon played the part of the family's London home and in every room there are pictures showing the various scenes that were filmed there. Here's Shirley MacLaine's dress in the dining room, for example:

Basildon Park Downton Abbey

There was also an exhibition room dedicated to Basildon's Downton fame, with a video explaining where the various scenes were shot and which bits of furniture got a starring role:

Basildon Park was also used in Dorian Gray and in the worst-actress-in-the-world-Keira-Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice. I don't blame them for using it as a film location, as it's a beautiful place. The house is built out of Bath stone, so it has that lovely warm glow to it, and the grounds are really welcoming - there were picnic tables everywhere, and kids and dogs jumping about and having a nice time.

Inside, it has some stunning rooms - the Octagon Room in particular was wonderful. I could easily have plonked myself on the sofa and stayed there for hours.

Most important of all: Basildon is WARM. I thought it was the law that stately homes have to be freezing but Basildon is warm as toast. The reason for that probably belongs in its history:
  • In 1952, Basildon House was practically derelict
  • It had been used during the Second World War for housing troops and prisoners of war and it was in a sorry state
  • Lord and Lady Iliffe bought it and restored it with astounding dedication, creating a home that was filled with period furniture and fittings that they bought at auction and from other stately homes 
  • Basildon had originally been built between 1776 and 1783 for Francis Sykes, who had made his fortune through the East India Company before being investigated for corruption
  • His son and grandson frittered away the family fortune and it was bought by James Morrison, who had made his money in haberdashery
  • After his daughter died it was put up for sale and was almost demolished before the Iliffes saved it
  • In 1978 it was given to the National Trust by the marvellous Iliffes

We didn't get to see the top floor as it was shut due to a volunteer shortage, which was really disappointing. However, what we did see made it well worth the visit.

The Basildon Park scone
The tearoom is actually inside the house, which is always a bit special, and the scones were OK - they were tasty but a bit on the dry side. 

Basildon Park scones

So in conclusion, you don't need to be a Downtonite to enjoy Basildon Park - for a picnic on a sunny day, you'd be hard pushed to find anywhere nicer.

Basildon Park: 4 out of 5
Scones: 3.5 out of 5
Chances of me converting to Downton Abbey: 0 out of 5 (sorry)

Thursday 10 April 2014

To The Manor Reborn - a very belated review

Here's a question for all you National Trust members: why did you join the National Trust? 

I joined because I wanted to go to Chartwell. When I got there I realised that if I paid just three times more than the one-off entrance fee, I would be able to visit hundreds of places instead of one. I only got a C at GCSE Maths but I'm not completely stupid. 

Anyway, in the four months after that visit I made it to the grand total of ZERO other properties. And if I had continued to not visit any properties I would not have renewed my subscription. 

Then I started this blog and visited loads of properties. If the National Trust had taken offence to me criticising their scones and banned me and you'd asked if I was going to cancel my membership I would have said "No. For I now know that I'm not just paying for my own entertainment. My cash goes towards the protection of marvellous buildings and areas of beauty and if I happen to visit them, good. If I don't visit them, they're still there and I'm still helping to look after them." 

But my views were changed again by To The Manor Reborn. It's a BBC TV programme about a team trying to do up a National Trust property (Avebury Manor) in 6 months. I'd missed it when it was originally shown in February 2012 so I bought it on DVD following my trip to Avebury.

To The Manor Reborn

To The Manor Reborn is a cross between Countryfile and Flog It and it is a fascinating watch, but the thing it really brought home to me is that your National Trust subscription fees are actually sustaining heritage SKILLS as much as properties. 

Take the woman that made the Tudor-style rush matting that you find at Avebury and at Hardwick Hall - I hadn't really thought properly before now about where that comes from. Now I know: a woman gets on a boat and expertly cuts the rushes, then she plaits them and creates the mat, and then she lugs them out of a van to unroll them onto the floor of a National Trust property for you and I to walk on and say "what a smell!". I presume that the National Trust (and other charities) provides her with a living and thank God they do. Her skills shouldn't be allowed to disappear.

Rush matting To The Manor Reborn

And there was LOADS of this. Furniture-making, glass-blowing, silk-weaving, embroidery, carpet-making, wallpaper-hanging, restoration - so much painstaking expertise and it came from all over the place: "Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland they were making our carpets" and "Luckily, Dave's found a kitchen range from the right era in a house in Liverpool".

Glass making To The Manor Reborn

The (slight) problem was that the programme wasn't sure what it was doing. On the surface it was Paul Martin (from Flog It) and Penelope Keith (who only seemed to be there so they can could call it To The Manor Reborn) biting their knuckles and saying "but will it get done in time, there's so much to dooooo" a lot, which gave you the sense of DIY SOS or Changing Rooms. Speed seemed to be the key thing and I feared corners being cut and designers winking at the camera while trying to hoodwink the National Trust people into thinking that the crockery was Georgian when it came from Lidl.

But it wasn't like that at all. There was no corner-cutting that I could see. The commitment to authenticity and the depth of expertise and the skills that went into everything, from the wallpaper to the beds, were amazing. 

It had to make good TV though and and the programme makers got their quota of "it's all going down to the wire! We hand over to the National Trust TOMORROW!" angst shots. There was plenty of Penelope and Paul saying "can I have a go?" and getting in the way of the bemused Chinese pottery makers and wallpaper painters. And there was a heated debate at one point about a headboard or something, but ultimately it was a programme about authenticity and how it's possible to create an interesting and engaging visitor attraction when you really don't have very much (the house was empty when they started).

It also caused a heated debate between me and my scone sidekick. The designers wanted to make Avebury very touchy-feely - you won't find any pine cones on chairs at Avebury, as the furniture has been specifically made for you to sit on it or lie on it. This makes it a very different experience from the 'touch this and 6 dogs will appear and tear your limbs off' vibe that you sometimes get (and for good reason). I thought this was great - seeing brand new furniture made in the old style - but the sidekick disagreed. He'd rather see the genuine article that James I actually sat on, even if it's about to fall apart and is behind an inch of glass.

ANYWAY. I really enjoyed To The Manor Reborn, even though there wasn't one single mention of scones, and it showed me that being part of the National Trust is about preserving much more than the buildings themselves. It's about preserving skills and heritage in a much broader sense.

I heartily recommend it - you can buy the DVD from Amazon for £7.50.

Monday 7 April 2014

Scotney Castle

I couldn't help but be a bit disappointed in Scotney Castle before I even got there, purely on account of it not being called SCONEY CASTLE. Such a shame.

I'm going to let them off that oversight though, because Scotney is a fantastic place. It has two main parts - the 'new' house completed in 1843 and the old house which dates back to medieval times. 

The old part was originally built by Roger Ashburnham in 1378-1380. The tower in the photo below is known as the Ashburnham Tower and there used to be four of them, just as there is at Bodiam Castle. 

Scotney Old Castle Tower

The Darell family came along after that - they owned Scotney for 350 years, during which time they knocked down bits of the Old Castle and rebuilt the place to suit their needs. Their needs included a priest hole, as they were Catholics and they needed somewhere to hide Father Blount during tricky times. 

The house was then bought by Edward Hussey in 1778. He lived in the Old Castle until he committed suicide. His grandson, Edward Hussey III, had been brought up in St Leonards but he moved back to Scotney and decided to build a new home that used the old place as part of the Picturesque landscape. 

(I don't mind admitting that I had absolutely no clue what Picturesque meant until I went to Scotney. I've since found out that it was an aesthetic concept that reacted against the neat and tidy garden layouts of Capability Brown and co. Having a ruined castle within your view of a landscape was a positive, according to Picturesque thinking.) 

Scotney Old Castle

The house that Hussey built was designed by Anthony Salvin, who was expert in building homes in the Elizabethan style. It's really very pretty while also being a little bit I'm-going-to-pour-boiling-tar-on-your-invading-head foreboding:

Scotney Castle

And that's what I loved about Scotney - it's a real contrast of styles. You can go from medieval to real Elizabethan to faux Elizabethan to the 1950s in 10 minutes. And the house has a lived-in homely feel - Betty Hussey, wife of Edward's great-nephew Christopher, died just a few years ago but she asked that the cat was allowed to remain and so its food bowls are sitting in the kitchen as if Betty had just popped out.

(I've mentioned before that National Trust guidebooks always contain at least one WOWSERS! factoid and Scotney's WOWSERS! factoid is that Betty did the kitchen up with the proceeds of the place being used in the Richard Gere film, Yanks. Richard Gere at Scotney Castle. Who knew.)

The Scotney Castle scone
It was a cold, wet day at Scotney but the one advantage of a cold, wet day when you're visiting a National Trust property is that you are really, really, very, very pleased to see a cup of tea and a scone. 

The Scotney scones looked the part and my goodness did they live up to expectation. Soft, full of fruit, tasty as anything - it was a unanimous 5 out of 5.  

Scotney Castle scones

Scotney also gets extra merit for having a Scone Of The Month. April's SOTM was banana and walnut and it was ruddy delicious. 

Banana and walnut scone Scotney Castle

So go to Scotney and get a ruined castle, a Victorian house built in Elizabethan style, an illusive cat, an Aga funded by Richard Gere, fabulous scones, AND a Scone of the Month - what more could you possibly want?

Scotney Castle: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Banana & Walnut Scone Of The Month: 5 out of 5

Sunday 6 April 2014

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote in Kent (pronounced Item) is 700 years old and has the only Grade I listed dog kennel in existence, which was built for a St Bernard called Dido. If that alone isn't worth the annual National Trust subscription fee then I don't know what is. 

Ightham is a little treasure of a place. You can't really tell from the photo below - am I actually the worst photographer in Britain? Am I? Actually I'm safe, it's my mother - but the house is surrounded by a moat:

Ightham Mote

This picture is marginally better:

Ightham Mote

Anyway, no-one is exactly sure who built Ightham, but the materials used in the the tower and the Great Hall date back to the 1300s. It's been extended and chopped and changed over the years but it has somehow retained a sense of wholeness. Like many other properties, you walk from a medieval Great Hall through to a chapel consecrated in 1633 through to bedrooms refurbished in the 20th century but somehow it feels right at Ightham. Maybe it's because it's on an island. 

Disappointingly, Dido the St Bernard didn't get much publicity. There was no-one leaping about in a big dog costume and no plaque explaining her life and times. Where did she come from? Did she have one of those little barrels of brandy round her neck? Sadly, I'll never know. This is the half-timbered dog kennel that was built for her in 1891 - somebody obviously loved her as it's practically a Wendy house:  

Ightham Mote Dog Kennel

The Ightham Mote scone
One thing that definitely didn't let us down at Ightham was the scones. Ightham has one of the nicest restaurants that I've ever seen at a National Trust property - it's really spacious with very friendly staff. The scones were lovely - nicely sized, and a good texture with a bit of fruit. 

Ightham Mote: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.5 out of 5
Dido's kennel: 5 out of 5


I picked the worst possible day to go to Knole. It was cold and wet and although that shouldn't have mattered, it unfortunately did. But I'll come to that later.

First, let me tell you about Knole itself. I had been reading Inheritance: the Story of Knole and the Sackvilles by Robert Sackville-West before I went. I absolutely love it when you find a rip-roaring read about a National Trust property - it super-charges the whole visit (see also Quarry Bank Mill and Gibside). So it was with Knole. I couldn't wait to see it. 

Knole is enormous. It was apparently at one point a 'calendar house', with 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. It might not have all of that today but it's still impressive:


Knole also has the most fascinating history. Here are a few snippets:

1. Knole has been passed down through 13 generations of the Sackville family 
Thomas Sackville, the first Earl of Dorset, had a nickname: Fillsack. Even by the standards of the 16th century, old Thomas liked to take advantage of his positions of authority (he was Lord Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I), and he bought the freehold to Knole in 1605 with the intention of developing it to show off his massive wealth. 

2. Knole - a fascinating example of primogeniture at work
Thomas had stipulated that Knole should be passed down from "heir male to heir male" and that did happen, sometimes. However, it often got stuck - famously so, when the 3rd Lord Sackville died and his only heir was his daughter, Vita Sackville-West, the author. As a girl, she didn't get to inherit - it went to her uncle Charles and then her cousin Eddy, much to her distress. In the past 200 years, Knole has only ONCE been handed from father to son - every other handover has been fraught with widows or daughters or SOMEONE being disenfranchised. 

3. Lady Anne Clifford - another fascinating example of primogeniture at work
Anne Clifford married Thomas's grandson, Richard, in 1609. She kept a detailed diary, basically documenting her miserable life. Her marriage had started well enough but it was essentially a business deal - she came from a powerful northern family - and she ended up having to fight for the assets she brought with her, which damaged her relationship with her husband, the 3rd Earl. When he died (from eating too many potatoes, apparently) she had to hand Knole over to her brother-in-law. However, she had the last laugh when she ended up inheriting her old Clifford estates back.

4. Charles Sackville - the Restoration rake
Charles, the 6th Earl, was a bit of a lad. His antics read like a non-stop stag do. He inherited Knole in 1677 following its 'interesting' time during the Civil War. The 4th Earl, Edward, fought alongside Charles I - as a result Knole was taken away from him, plus his younger son was murdered. Knole was eventually restored to the Sackvilles and the 5th Earl, Richard, tried to put things back in order. His son, Charles, wasn't really one for order - Nell Gwyn was his mistress for a while, before he handed her on to Charles II, and he liked having a good time. However, he also managed to impress influential people. One of the 'perks' of his role was to dispose of anything not needed at Whitehall, so he disposed of it in his own home at Knole, creating a very fine collection of Stuart furniture. Whitehall burnt down later and everything went with it, while anything saved at Knole is still there today. 

5. The end of the Sackvilles? Not quite.
Lionel, Charles's son, also managed to impress influential people - he escorted George I over from Hannover and was made 1st Duke of Dorset for his pains. He was succeeded by another dissolute Charles, who spent most of his time drunk on the Grand Tour, and cut all the trees down at Knole. His nephew John was a patron of the arts - the rather astonishing nude statue at the bottom of the staircase is his mistress, Giovanna Baccelli. The 4th Duke was killed in 1815 at the age of 21 in a hunting accident. What then ensued was nearly 200 years of a family tree with branches going hither and thither, the name changing to Sackville-West, and then the branches mingling back to produce Vita Sackville-West and eventually resulting in Robert Sackville-West, the 7th Baron Sackville, who lives at Knole today with his wife and three children. Exhausted? I am. 

Knole has also been immortalised in literature over the years. In Vita's novel, The Edwardians, Knole is renamed Chevron. And Virginia Woolf, who was Vita's lover during her strange but apparently happy marriage to Harold Nicholson, based Orlando on the Sackville history. 

The National Trust refers to 'showrooms' at Knole, which I initially found quite odd. However, it's an apt description. The rooms that are open to the public are breathtaking in their scale and in the age of their contents - chairs that James I and Charles I actually sat on, for example - but it reminded me of the Sistine Chapel. You're there to marvel at it all and not feel any sense of home or personality. And to be fair, that's what Knole has always been: a showcase.

Knole is also strangely dark. The Trust must be waging a massive, constant battle against damp and all of the problems that come with it. However, there is something very special about a property that has remained within one single family throughout history. And the rooms are awesome - they're absolutely unlike anything else, and you really must see them.    

But there's one room that's missing at Knole at the moment and that's a tearoom. As you know, I am one of the National Trust's most loyal supporters but even I have to question the decision to have an Outdoor Cafe at Knole while the indoor one is being renovated until 2016. This was the Outdoor Cafe at 2pm today (a Sunday):

Knole Outdoor Tearoom

As you can see, it's very outdoor and completely open to the elements. And it's not the National Trust's fault that I decided to go to Knole on a cold and wet day but let's face it, any summer in the UK is a 50:50 on the weather.

Anyway, even with my enthusiasm for scones, I didn't really fancy it. And I don't know if they had any scones anyway. 

BUT! Scone disappointment aside, Knole is definitely worth a visit and Robert Sackville-West's book is fantastic, so give it a read: Inheritance: the Story of Knole and the Sackvilles

Knole: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 - we'll have to go back in 2016
Robert Sackville-West's book: 5 out of 5


Chartwell is partly to blame for this blog. It was the first National Trust property I ever visited and we did the same thing that hundreds of people do; we decided to go for a look round, got there and realised that the National Trust is a bit of a bargain if you join up, instead of paying for a single visit. And so began the series of events that led to the National Trust Scone Blog.

Chartwell was the home of Winston Churchill. He bought it in 1922 for £5000, much to the despair of his wife Clementine, who took one look at it and knew that it was going to be an expensive project. 

Churchill employed the architect Philip Tilden to modernise the place and although Clemmie was right and it did cause a lot of money worries, it acted as a sanctuary for the Churchills right up until he died in 1965. Clementine did not wish to live there after he passed away, so she worked with the National Trust to restore it to its pre-war glory and that's how we see it today.


I could say that I returned to Chartwell because I loved it so much but actually my second visit was inspired by them getting a new cat. It's a lovely little story: for his 88th birthday in 1962, Churchill was given a ginger cat, which he named Jock. Apparently, the cat was so loved by Churchill that meals would not start until Jock was at the table. Anyway, Churchill decreed that Chartwell should always have a ginger cat named Jock in residence and so last month Jock VI arrived at the house.

This was as close as I got to Jock:

Chartwell jars of marmalade

I must have taken leave of my senses expecting a cat to appear on demand. Cats don't do demand, unless they're doing the demanding. I know this, I have one in my home.

The Chartwell scone
Apart from the absence of Jock the cat, it was unexpectedly enjoyable going back to a property I'd visited before. One of the biggest treats was the fantastic new tearoom. I remember the cafeteria being packed to the rafters last time I was there, so I was pleased to see that the National Trust had made some major improvements in the past 14 months. 

The scones themselves were delicious - one plain scone, one fruit scone - nice and big and crisp on the outside:

Chartwell scones

I highly recommend Chartwell. The spirit of Churchill definitely lives on in the house - if he walked in the door behind you, it wouldn't be a surprise - but it also has a strangely modern feel to it. It doesn't feel as 'preserved' as some other properties. It's also very much a home, despite the fact that several rooms are full of fascinating displays and artefacts. It's a fitting tribute to an exceptional man.

Chartwell: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.5 out of 5
Jock the Cat: 5 out of 5 - we didn't actually see him, but that's cats for you