Saturday 27 August 2016

Belton House

I have discovered the secret of making a National Trust property EXTREMELY popular. Yes indeedy, if I was put in charge of an NT house I would simply write a best-selling book about the place and get the BBC to make a TV series about it. Job done.

It certainly seems to have worked wonders for Belton House near Grantham. The children's book, Moondial, was set there, as was the BBC TV series of the same name:

Moondial TV show

And now Belton is the 5th most popular National Trust property, with over 400,000 visitors a year! Amazing.

Sadly, the Scone Sidekick had never seen the TV series, so he had absolutely no idea what he was looking at today. He was even more confused when I explained that it was actually a sundial. The two figures represent Eros (for love) and Chronos (for time). I thought it was great - I can see why Helen Cresswell, the author, was so inspired by it.

The Scone Sidekick - unsure of what he was looking at
I must admit though; I was expecting to find hundreds of people gathered transfixed around the moondial/sundial, but there was only me, the Sidekick, and one other woman of a similar age to me. Maybe the 399,997 other visitors just like Belton.

And that's very possible because Belton is LOVELY. Here are 5 things I learned today:

1. Belton was owned by Brownlows and Custs from 1609 to 1984
Richard Brownlow, a very successful lawyer, bought the Belton estate in 1609. Various Brounlows followed until Sir John Brounlow, Viscount Tyrconnel, had no children and passed the estate to his sister's son, Sir John Cust, in 1754. It remained in the family until 1984, when Edward Cust, 7th Baron Brounlow, gave it to the National Trust.

2. The house was built from 1684
'Young' Sir John Brounlow inherited Belton in 1679 and work started on a new house in 1684. It was built around four central rooms that are still there today, although the property has undergone a lot of change since those days. The very impressive Chapel and the adjacent Drawing Room are the least altered of the 17th century interiors.

3. It played a part in the Abdication crisis!
Peregrine Adelbert Cust, the 6th Baron Brounlow, inherited Belton in 1927. He was a close pal of Edward, Prince of Wales, and became his Lord in Waiting in 1936 when Edward became king.

It all went a bit wrong after that, however. 'Perry' accompanied Wallis Simpson to France to try and extract her from the media storm in 1936. He persuaded her to release a statement on 7 December saying that she would withdraw from the unhappy situation, but by 10 December Edward had decided to abdicate. Many people, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, blamed Perry for the whole sorry mess. He withdrew from public life and died in 1978, after which his son (named Edward) gave Belton to the National Trust.

This is Perry and his wife, Kitty. They even look a bit Eddy-and-Wallisy, don't they?

Perry and Kitty

4. It has a lovely Boathouse
A path takes you from the house through the Pleasure Grounds to the Boathouse, which was designed by Anthony Salvin in 1821. It's a lovely little spot - the Brownlows used it for fishing and picnics.

Belton boathouse

5. It was also in Pride & Prejudice!
It's not just Belton itself that has benefitted from some TV glory. In 1995, this beautifully crafted bureau decided to get a piece of the action by sharing a scene with Colin Firth in the TV series of Pride & Prejudice. 

Belton stood in as Rosings, home of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and this is where Mr Darcy wrote his letter to Elizabeth Bennet:

Here it is, having its moment of fame and waving to its mum:

Anyway, twenty years on and the bureau needs some conservation work, so they are reminding people of the hugely important role it played in bringing Darcy and Lizzie together.

But let's talk about scones. I had always known that the Moondial TV series was filmed at Belton, but I hadn't realised until recently that the original book was actually set there too. There's even a little promo for the NT in there:

Moondial mention of National Trust

There's also a mention of scones in the book, which therefore makes it my favourite book of all time (soon to be replaced by Around England in 50 Scones). Sadly the scones that get mentioned in Moondial are not strictly NT scones - they were made by Aunt Mary - but still.

The Belton scone
Belton House in the real world has a smashing tea room, with a very impressive display of cakery. The scones themselves were great - very fresh and light. 

Belton scone

Anyway, I highly recommend Belton House. And now I need to get a wriggle on, as I've got 565 best-selling books to write. 

Belton House: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Successful TV career of both house and items of furniture: 5 out of 5

Saturday 20 August 2016

Blickling Estate

Here are two superb facts about the Blickling Estate in Norfolk:
  • Anne Boleyn was probably born there
  • It was the location for the video of I've Never Been To Me by Charlene (as in "Ahhhh've been to paradise/But I've..." etc.) - honestly! Watch it! 
I would struggle to come up with two greater claims to fame, frankly. 

Blickling Hall

In fact, Blickling has had MANY claims to fame:

Harold Godwinson (or Harold II as he was for a few months in 1066)
There was a manor house at Blickling in the 11th century which belonged to Harold Godwinson. He later achieved fame as Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon king of England, who succeeded Edward the Confessor and reigned for a few months before meeting a messy end near Hastings. William the Conquerer gave Blickling to his chaplain.

Sir John Falstolfe
Sir John owned Blickling at the beginning of the 15th century - he was an English knight who lived from 1380-1459. However, he was actually made famous in the 16th century as Falstaff, the fat and cowardly knight that appears in three Shakespeare plays. Whether the real John was fat and cowardly, nobody knows. But he definitely lived at Blickling.

Sir Thomas Boleyn
Sir John sold Blickling to Geoffrey Boleyn in 1437. His grandson, Thomas Boleyn, inherited in 1505. Nobody knows when his daughter, Anne, was born, so it's impossible to know whether she was born at Blickling or Hever Castle. However there's a carving on the wall saying "Anna Boleyn - Hic Nata" or 'born here' and who are we to argue.

Anne is said to haunt Blickling on the anniversary of her death. Thomas is also said to haunt the area, cursed for eternity for failing to prevent Henry VIII from executing two of his children. Every year, he has to cross 12 local bridges before cockcrow.

Sir Henry Hobart 1st Baronet
Sir Henry Hobart (pronounced Hubbard) bought the Blickling Estate in 1616 and built the house that we see today. However, instead of razing the previous house to the ground and starting from scratch, he asked Robert Lyminge, the architect, to incorporate the old house into the new. Which he did.

Sir Henry Hobart 4th Baronet
Poor old Henry Hubbard - I'm only including him on this list because he died following a duel. He lost his seat during an election in 1698 and blamed a neighbour for badmouthing him. He challenged the neighbour to a duel, which took place illegally without seconds or witnesses, and his neighbour "ran him through". Henry was carried home, where he died.

Henrietta Howard
Henrietta was the daughter of the Henry that was killed in a duel. She never actually owned Blickling - it belonged to her brother and then to her nephew. However, she did an awful lot for her brother - he benefitted greatly from the fact that she was mistress of the Prince of Wales from 1718 to 1734 (or George II as he was from 1727). Before that it seems she had had a tough old time - she was married to Charles Howard, son of the Duke of Suffolk, who turned out to be a wife-beater and a gambler so she left him in 1717, which meant giving up all contact with her son. 

Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian
Henrietta's nephew, John Hobart, left the house to his second daughter, Caroline, in 1793. His eldest daughter, Harriet, had annoyed him by getting divorced. However, Caroline had no children and so it was Harriet's son by her second husband, the Marquess of Lothian, who inherited Blickling in 1850.

By 1930, Blickling had made its way down the line to the 11th Marquess of Lothian, Philip Kerr. He was British ambassador to the USA from 1939-1940, playing a major role in getting the US into World War II. He was also a huge supporter of the National Trust, helping to set up the Country Houses Scheme. He did a lot to the house and garden at Blickling, which had been tenanted for many years, and it was passed to the Trust after his death in 1940. 

What did I tell you? So much excitement for one house.

But this brings me on to something that always flummoxes me about the National Trust; why do volunteers dress up in period costume at NT properties, but dress up AS SERVANTS. Why? It's not actually 1730, so why not pretend to be Henrietta Howard? Why be a lowly kitchen maid when you could be marching about the place hitting other volunteers with a riding crop for being lazy?

But the volunteers pretending to be cooks at Blickling were great - they were very funny and they engaged brilliantly with the visitors, especially the teenagers; "How old are you? 14? Great, you can start tomorrow" (cue terrified face from teen).

But more importantly, they were selling recipe cards and one of them was for apple scones, which is of course a surefire way to impress me:

The Blickling scone
Speaking of scones, the Blickling tea room was very pleasant and the scone was very, very tasty indeed - one of the tastiest scones I have ever encountered on this Odyssey. I agonised over the score though, because although it was tasty it was a tiny bit dry. In the end, I gave it a 4.9, which is mean considering they also offered recipes for apple scones and all, but this is a very serious study and I have to be ruthless.

Blickling scone

A couple of tips for visiting Blickling:
1. Consult the map. I hate to admit this to you, but I couldn't find the garden. It's enormous but I just could not work out how to get into it. If I had looked at the map, I'd have worked it out.
2. If you need somewhere to stay near Blickling, try The Buckingham Arms - it's a pub located on the estate (not NT), it has rooms, and it looked lovely.

Blickling Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.9 out of 5
Sightings of Thomas or Anne Boleyn ghosts: 0 out of 5

Felbrigg Hall

I've been desperate to visit Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk ever since I read the book Dry Rot & Daffodils by Mary Mackie. She actually lived in Felbrigg Hall while her husband was the administrator there (ie the National Trust employee that lives in a property and stops it from falling down or being ransacked). 

Felbrigg Hall

I am the sort of person that hears noises and sees shadows at 10 o'clock in the morning, so living in a stately home would not suit me at all. (The other night I woke up and was completely convinced for half an hour that there was an actual mallard sitting on my bed. This is 100% true.)

But it wasn't the scary noises that put me off in Mary's book. It was the general public:
  • Men wandering into the estate late at night to shoot rabbits
  • People letting their kids kick the antique furniture
  • Families helping themselves to armfuls of flowers from the gardens
  • People banging on the windows in February shouting "WHY AREN'T YOU OPEN? YOU SHOULD BE OPEN." etc. etc. etc.
I wouldn't last five minutes in charge of a National Trust property, not without landing myself a stretch in Holloway Prison anyway. 

BUT! I was in for a big surprise today. Mary's book didn't prepare me AT ALL for what I found at Felbrigg Hall. Several times in the book she mentions how nearby Blicking Hall gets all the attention in the Cromer area, what with its celebrity connections to Anne Boleyn and King Harold of Hastings battle fame. 

But I am going to stick my neck out and say that Felbrigg is one of the best National Trust properties I have ever been to.

Before I tell you why, however, here's some history of Felbrigg:
  • There were originally some actual Felbriggs at Felbrigg, but they sold the estate to John Wymondham (later Wyndham) in 1450
  • Thomas Wyndham may have built some of the bits of Felbrigg Hall that are still extant today before he died in 1522
  • In 1620, another Thomas Windham, began to rebuild Felbrigg - at the same time, Blickling was being built about 8 miles away and so the same workmen and architect were probably used
  • William Windham II spent four years on the Grand Tour, returning in 1742 - he extended Felbrigg to make room for his souvenir paintings and books
  • William Windham III left the estate to his half-nephew, William Lukin, in 1810 but he changed his name to Windham to keep things simple for us
  • His grandson was named 'Mad Windham' by his contemporaries at Eton - he was certainly very eccentric
  • He loved uniforms - as a child he had a servant's uniform and would wait at table; later he had a train guard's uniform and would cause chaos on the platforms of local stations by blowing his whistle at inopportune moments
  • He 'fell into the clutches' of a woman called Agnes Willoughby whom he met at Ascot - his uncle tried to petition that Mad Windham was too mad to enter into a marriage settlement but the court disagreed
  • Agnes and Mad were married but she soon ran off
  • Thanks to Mad's enormous debts, the Felbrigg estate became the property of his bank and was sold to a John Ketton in 1863
  • Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was the final owner of Felbrigg before he passed it to the National Trust when he died in 1969
The property is presented as Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer had it, so it's a very comfortable stately home. This is the Great Hall;

The Great Hall Felbrigg

So why have I decided that Felbrigg is one of the very best NT properties in Britain? Here are some of the reasons.

1. A Fantastic House with Great History
Felbrigg was way better than I expected. I've had to borrow this picture as I failed to see it for myself while I was there, but below is the South Front (on the right), which was begun in 1620, and the East Front (on the left), which was completed in 1675. Amazingly different.

2. A Free Mini Guidebook
My second mission for this blog was to Ham House. I was given a free mini guide book, with a few highlights of history in it. I thought it was brilliant, although I didn't realise at the time that very few other properties offer them.

Felbrigg had one too and it was great - really well written, with interesting factoids and pictures to help find the items of greatest interest. I wish all NT properties did them:  

Mini Guidebook Felbrigg

3.An Accomplished Pianist
I was admiring the portrait of William Frederick 'Mad' Windham (as they call him in the guidebook) when a room steward opened the piano in the Morning Room for a visitor. I think we've all walked round properties to the sound of somebody forgetting that they can't actually play the piano, silently wishing that the NT had kept its 'DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING AT ALL' policy. But this visitor really could play and shared the most moving music - it was just perfect.

4. A Book about Scandal
I absolutely love it when you find a fantastic book about an NT property - see also the peerless Wedlock from Gibside, Circle of Sisters from Batemans, Mistress of Charlecote from Charlecote, A Kingston Lacy Childhood from Kingston Lacy, and A Lady of Cotton from Quarry Bank Mill

I thought I'd already covered Felbrigg with Mary Mackie's books BUT NO! There was another treat waiting for me in the shop. And with a title like A Scandal at Felbrigg, it's like they knew I was coming. It's about Mad Windham and his marriage to Agnes Willoughby. I've only read 20 pages but I'm loving it - I'll report back when I'm finished.

Scandal at Felbrigg

5. The Felbrigg Scone
I normally snaffle up my scones before I look round an NT house, otherwise I walk around going "what an amazing room...will there definitely be scones left?" 

At Felbrigg, I left the scone til last. Everything else had been pretty much perfect and I was almost dreading the scone letting the side down.

But it didn't let the side down. It was absolutely spectacular - one of the best scones I've ever had on the National Trust Scone Odyssey. Light, fluffy, fresh as anything, but really, really tasty. Fantastic.

Felbrigg scone

The Only Not-Brilliant Thing - The Scone Queue
I'm going to mention this mainly so you don't think I got brainwashed by Felbrigg. The ONLY thing that wasn't brilliant today was the queue for the tea room. And I KNOW - I was there at 2.30pm on an August Saturday - I probably picked the busiest hour of the entire year. But I've known glaciers move faster - it was the slowest I've ever come across.

In mitigation, when I got to the front of the queue there was a man whose bank card kept being declined by the machine. I don't know about you, but my reaction in that situation would be to apologise profusely and use another card or pay cash or offer to wash up. He was blaming the machine. It was unbelievable and yet another reason why me ever working at the NT would result in a prison sentence. I'll stick to visiting.

Felbrigg Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Volunteer pianist: 5 out of 5

Sheringham Park

Here's a story about Sheringham Park: The hall was started in 1813. The owners, Charlotte and Abbot Upcher, originally wanted the house to face north and have a view of the sea, but Humphry Repton, their designer, was having none of it. "The sea at Sheringham," he wrote "is not like that of the Bay of Naples." 

If I had been Mr & Mrs Upcher, I would have said; "Quite right, Mr Repton, the sea at Sheringham is not like the Bay of Naples, because Sheringham is in North Norfolk and the sea is the North Sea. So we'll let you crack on with all of those Italian projects you undoubtedly have lined up and we'll find someone else to build our house."

They didn't say that though. Even though he was getting on a bit by the time he accepted the commission to design Sheringham, you don't hire Humphry Repton to design your house and then pooh-pooh his ideas.

Sheringham House
Sheringham Hall - the sea is only a few hundred feet behind, 
not that you'd know it if you lived there
In fact, Sheringham Park, near Cromer, is the best preserved example of Humphry Repton's work, according to the NT. Here are a few factoids:
  • Humphry Repton knew the area well and had been trying to find a use for it for a while before Abbot and Charlotte came along
  • In 1812, Repton presented his proposals to the Upchers in one of his 'Red Books' - the books contained watercolours of before and after his proposed ideas, along with some poetry and prose to flatter his clients
  • The Upchers decided to go ahead, and foundation stones were laid in 1813
  • By 1816 the woodlands, orchards, and parkland were being planted
  • Sadly, Abbot died in 1819 at the age of 35 and work on Sheringham stopped
  • It remained empty for 20 years, with Charlotte staying in the old farmhouse that had stood on the site for many years
  • Sheringham was eventually finished by her son, Henry Upcher, in 1839
  • The Upcher family continued to own Sheringham and they stayed faithful to Repton - in 1975, his design for a temple was finally brought to life
  • The National Trust bought Sheringham Park in the 1980s
You can't access the house. However, the coastal and woodland walks within Sheringham Park are really very lovely. It's just as well that I only found out about the 'Adder Adventure' events that the Trust holds at Sheringham when I got home though, or my leisurely walk might have been more of a sprint.

I'm going to include this next picture, even though it's a bit rubbish and probably nobody will find it funny BUT on turning a corner I suddenly found myself looking at a recreation of Liam Gallagher's head on the path. It turned out to be a little shelter for dog walkers (none of whom looked particularly mad for it);

The Sheringham scone
Anyway! Moving swiftly on from Liam Gallagher before you think I am completely mad; I don't think Humphry Repton's Red Books included a chapter on SCONES - he was probably more of a panettone man - but luckily Sheringham didn't let me down.

The Courtyard Cafe is more of a refreshment kiosk than an actual cafe, but they had cakes and tea and coffee galore. The scone wasn't home-made but it was nice enough and the tea was lovely. 

Sheringham scone

My one complaint; the guide book really needs a map. There's a big map on a noticeboard at the entrance to the park, but I failed to take a picture of it and I have the memory of a goldfish, so I was completely clueless on where I was going. I didn't see the temple or the rhododendron garden. But - I did get to see the sea and it was WAY better than the Bay of Naples if you ask me.  

Sheringham Park: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Sea view from the master bedroom: 0 out of 5

Thursday 18 August 2016

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2016

The National Trust Scone Blog is three years old today! I know, I don't look old enough.

I started this blog to help me get more use out of my National Trust membership, and to force me to take more notice of the places I was visiting. I have definitely succeeded on both counts. In three years I have:

  • Visited 136 NT properties!
  • Eaten 158 NT scones!
  • Awarded 48 of them the Scone d'Or!

And here are the 48 properties with 5 star scones - in reverse order of when I visited:
  • 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 didn't see any bluebirds overhead but I did see two very, very good scones. And lots of ferries!
  • 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!  

If you'd like to see what 117 different NT scones looks like, check them out on Pinterest

I'd like to thank all the lovely Sconepals that I have met along the way - keep sharing those National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

But the fact remains, readers, that I am still only half way through this National Trust Scone Odyssey. This weekend I start my quest to reach the other 120 or so NT properties that have tea rooms. Onwards!

Saturday 13 August 2016


I try to avoid National Trust gardens, as they are very dangerous places. I always end up walking around thinking "A white garden - what could be simpler. I could definitely do this at my house," while ignoring stuff in the guide book like "Hidcote took 30 years to create" "the owner was a very rich man" "there are 9 full time gardeners at Hidcote" etc.

But I threw caution to the wind today and went to Hidcote near Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds. And I'm very glad I did, because it's a beautiful place.


Here are some highlights:

1. The manor house!
The house was originally built in the late 17th century as a farmhouse. It was bought by Lawrence Johnston and his mother in 1907.

Hidcote Manor

2. Gertrude Winthrop!
Gertrude was the mother of Lawrence Johnston. She was from a wealthy New York family (they made rope) and she married Lawrence's father, Elliott, who was from a wealthy Baltimore family (they were bankers). They got divorced and she married a wealthy man called Charles Francis Winthrop (he was a retired stockbroker). When Lawrence decided to settle in the Cotswolds, she came with him and bought Hidcote.

3. Lawrence Johnston!
Lawrence spent his early life going back and forth between Europe and the US. In 1900 he became a British citizen and joined the Northumberland Hussars to serve in the Boer War. While he was with them, he decided to find a permanent residence and came across Hidcote - it was perfect, both for the many friends he had in the area and because it allowed him to pursue what became his life's work; plants and gardens.

4. Development of the garden!
Johnston started work on the garden right away, creating 'garden rooms' around the manor house in the Arts and Crafts style. There was a hiatus while he went to fight in the First World War, but the 1920s and 1930s were the glory days of Hidcote. It was visited by Edith Wharton, Vita Sackville-West, and other eminences. 

Lilypond Hidcote

5. The gardens today!
There are 37 areas listed on the map that you can walk round, although I was surprised at how tightly packed it all was - you can easily walk round it in less than an hour, although if you actually want to look at the plants then you'll need a lot longer. 

There's a White Garden, a Maple Garden, the Red Borders, a Fuschia Garden, a Pillar Garden with clipped yew trees as below, and lots more;

There's also a bit of wildlife wandering around; the Scone Sidekick decided to investigate a bustle in a nearby hedgerow at one point, expecting to find a squirrel, and nearly had his head taken off by an annoyed cockerel.

6. The National Trust!
Lawrence eventually decided to move to France, where his mother had bought a place. He contacted James Lees-Milne at the National Trust to see if the NT would take on the upkeep of Hidcote. We have seen before that James L-M was not the kindest of people - he described Lawrie as "a dull little man" who was "mother-ridden". Anyway - the NT wasn't sure about the idea and then they were and in 1948 the papers were signed.

7. The Hidcote scones!
I had another scone scare today, following my Room 101 scenario at Kedleston Hall last week, where I saw a waiter walking around with a sign saying "SOLD OUT - FRUIT SCONES". Stuff of nightmares.

Anyway, I joined the tea queue today and realised that there were only two scones left on the counter and three people in front of me. Even with my poor maths, I knew I was in trouble.

I also knew I had to act fast. I recalled a Victoria Wood sketch where the Julie Walters character tries to take the last two croissants and so Victoria grabs them and licks them. However, I wasn't sure that this would go down too well in a National Trust tearoom? Luckily, by the time I had talked myself out of that course of action, the three women in front of me had decided to stick with coffee only and so I was able to seize my scones without being thrown out.

Hidcote scone

The trouble with taking the last scone is that it's often the runt of the litter. This scone looked quite small and flat and I was very concerned about it (in other words I moaned for five full minutes to the Scone Sidekick until he asked me to stop). But it was absolutely delicious - it was fresh as a daisy and really tasty.

Hidcote reminded me a lot of Nymans - a beautiful place that somehow manages to cope with huge numbers of visitors while retaining a lovely relaxed atmosphere. I highly recommend it.

Hidcote: 5 out of 5 
Scones: 5 out of 5
Unexpected cockerel: 5 out of 5

Friday 12 August 2016

Buscot Park

I only knew two things about Buscot Park before I went there today, both of which I found very disturbing:
  • They have their own website. Why? WHY?? Every other NT property makes do with a few simple pages on the official NT site. Why does Buscot need to do its own thing? What does it mean??
  • Nowhere on that website does it mention scones

I always expect the worst when NT properties have their own websites, as it usually means one of two things. Either:
  • The property is not run by the NT - Tatton Park for example is actually run by the local council, which is why it has its own website to promote events like the Moscow State Circus, rather than the usual NT events like 'Sticks - they're really great'.  
  • The property thinks it's a bit special
It didn't take long for me to work out that Buscot belongs in the first category. Lord Faringdon, administrator of Buscot, writes on their own Buscot fancy website:
Any reservations you may have - about the internal colour schemes, the changes in the walled gardens or the way we open the property - must be laid fairly and squarely at my door and not that of the National Trust, for the Trust plays no part in the day-to-day running of Buscot Park, nor on the vermilion reds or the germolene pinks we may choose.

Lord Faringdon; for using the words "germolene pinks", I'll forgive you everything - even not being open at weekends or allowing photographs in the house.

Anyway, I trotted along to Buscot today with very low expectations. And as often happens when your expectations are low, I was very pleasantly surprised. Here are my highlights:

1. The house

Buscot House

Buscot House was built between 1780-1783 for a man called Edward Loveden. He sounds like a character - he was a magistrate and an MP and a big advocate for canals. OK - he also had a very scandalous divorce. And a son called Pryse Pryse.

The house was sold in 1859 to Robert Tertius Campbell, another interesting character, who turned the Buscot estate into the most industrialised farm in the country. I don't think he had any scandalous divorces or sons with bizarre names though.

Finally, along came Alexander Henderson, the 1st Lord Farimgdon, who bought Buscot in 1889. He was another man of his time - a top financier in the City, he also headed up railway companies. His grandson, Gavin, had been a member of the 'Bright Young Things' set in the 1920s before becoming 2nd Lord Faringdon. And his grandson, Charles, is the 3rd Lord Faringdon that still lives at Buscot today, painting the walls germolene pink.

The house was bought by Ernest Cook in 1948 and was leased to Lord Faringdon. Cook left the house to the National Trust in 1956.

2. The Burne-Jones pictures in the Saloon
I know absolutely nothing about art. But sometimes you see something that astounds you and you know it's special - and that's what happened to me today in the Saloon at Buscot.

Edward Burne-Jones, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, started a series of paintings based on Sleeping Beauty as early as 1871. They were eventually exhibited in 1890 to huge acclaim as four pictures called 'The Legend of the Briar Rose'. The first Lord Faringdon bought them, and Burne-Jones himself came to see them at Buscot. He didn't like the way they looked, so he extended the frames.

I'm probably going to get sued for borrowing this off Wikipedia, but I'd rather that than have Lord F think that I disobeyed his photography rule. This is one part of Burne-Jones's The Legend of the Briar Rose. It's breath-taking and you must go and see it:

3. The Water Garden
The grounds at Buscot are really beautiful - I can see why visitors would go back over and over again to walk around them. I particularly loved the Water Garden:

4. The Big Lake
The Water Gardens lead down to The Big Lake, which is indeed a lake that is big:

Buscot Big Lake

5. The Terracotta Army
I was completely stunned to find a load of life-sized Terracotta Army figures lined up along the path in the garden. It's like they just woke up one morning in Xi'an and said "I fancy a scone - do you fancy a scone? Shall we go to Oxfordshire and get a scone?" and have been silently inching along towards the Buscot tea room ever since. I still have absolutely no clue why there are there. Not since I walked into a Dalek in the stables at Tredegar House or found a copy of Wham!'s Greatest Hits at Sizergh have I been more surprised by an artefact at an NT property.

6. The Swimming Pool
Buscot has a swimming pool! It's only the second swimming pool that I have ever seen at the NT (the other was the decidedly less attractive-looking one at Upton House). 

Swimming pool Buscot

7. The Buscot Scones
If the NT plays no part in the day-to-day running of Buscot, then I assume Lord Faringdon himself baked these scones and they shouldn't really count in this highly controlled study of mine. 

But I'm going to include them. They were certainly the weeniest little scones I've ever seen - they were like doll's house scones. They also looked a bit pale and so my hopes were low. But they were delicious. They tasted home made and fresh and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

So there you have it - Buscot Park is a lovely place, own website or not.

Buscot Park: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.5 out of 5
Surprise factor of the Terracotta Army: 5 out of 5