Saturday 11 June 2016

Rufford Old Hall

I am not a huge fan of topiary. I went to an NT property last year and there was a hedge that looked like Bart Simpson in a cannon. Even the guide book wasn't sure what it was meant to be. 

But the topiary is one of the highlights of the garden at Rufford Old Hall near Preston. 

Rufford Old Hall squirrel

(Please note: I really need you to admire this picture of a topiary squirrel for longer than usual, because there was no guide book and no photographs were allowed in the house*, so this post is going to be a bit on the short side.)

So let me tell you what I know about Rufford Old Hall.

Rufford Old Hall

  • Rufford Old Hall was built in 1530 by Sir Robert Hesketh, the lord of the manor
  • The Great Hall is the only remaining room from that time - there are conservation works going on at the moment so it's a bit messy but it's a stunning room with a remarkable free-standing wooden carved screen that dates from 1530-1540
  • A brick section was added to the house in 1661 and another wing was added in the 1820s
  • There is evidence that William Shakespeare came to Rufford and performed with the Hesketh Company of Players in 1585 but nobody is certain
Rufford Old Hall scone
Rufford is the winner of Most Expensive Cream Tea on the National Trust Scone Odyssey so far: £6. It was a generous helping of two scones though and they were very tasty. The tea room is waitress service and the waitresses were excellent - it was very pleasant. 

Rufford Old Hall scones

Rufford also wins the MC Hammer Award for having the most You Can't Touch This signs. I suppose it is a relatively small house and visitors probably need to be reminded not to reach out and touch the carvings on a 16th century cabinet or whatever, but so many signs on every surface got a bit wearing after a while if I'm honest. 

Rufford Old Hall: 3 out of 5 (no guide book, confusing photography rules, and loads of 'don't touch this' signs don't really make for a nice experience)
Scones: 4.5 out of 5 
Nice gardens that were pretty even in pouring rain: 5 out of 5

* When I got home I realised that although photographs were not allowed in the house, they were allowed in the Great Hall, which I thought was in the house. The National Trust make things very complicated sometimes.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Houghton Mill Revisited

I had a head-melting hangover the first time I came to Houghton Mill. The night before, I had attended the 40th birthday party of my first school-friend to turn 40 - say no more.

The next day, however, I was due to take my sister on her very first National Trust scone mission. She had not exactly been exuberant in her support of my blog when I first explained it to her - "You're doing what? Why?" - and she wasn't hugely enthusiastic about driving to Huntingdon to look at a mill. 

And so I found myself in the car with her that day, chirping away about absolutely nothing, desperately hoping that chirping away would stop me from being sick. 

But this story has a happy, non-vomitous ending: I wasn't sick and she absolutely loved Houghton Mill. She has since voluntarily accompanied me on visits to Wimpole, Anglesey Abbey, Stoneywell, and Woolsthorpe Manor

The Scone Blogger's sister at Houghton Mill
I was still amazed this week, though, when she asked if we could go back to Houghton Mill on a return scone mission. I still have about 100 NT cafes to visit on this scone odyssey of mine, so I don't often do revisits. But they can be fascinating, as they give a good insight into how the NT is always trying to improve. For example, Chartwell had upgraded its tea room in between my first and second visit and it was genuinely interesting to see how it had been done. 

Houghton has also improved things - there are new exhibits that allow you to pour grain into a model and then turn handles to see it moving through the milling process. 

Our old favourites, the rotary quern and the quern, were still there. Imagine having to grind flour for a batch of scones using a quern - it would take HOURS *shudders*:

Quern at Houghton

The hangover scone had scored 5 out of 5 back in 2013 and today's specimen didn't disappoint - very tasty:

Houghton Mill scone

There are no points for revisits, but Houghton remains a firm favourite - read about its history in my original Houghton blog post.