Tuesday 22 August 2017

Rowallane Garden

Rowallane Garden near Belfast presented me with two very significant challenges:

1. I have a terror of mispronoucing place names - regular viewers will recall my traumas at Trerice last year - and naturally I got Rowallane completely wrong. "I'm off to Roe-a-lane Garden tomorrow!" I trilled to the woman at Castle Ward, who nobly didn't bat an eyelid but said "Oh, it's lovely at Roe-Alan!"

2. It's a garden. Whenever I see a nice garden, I hear Alan Titchmarsh's voice saying "and the gentle willow provides shelter for the charming crocuses that will surely peep through in the Spring" while a trumpet parps away beguilingly in the background, but my trusty inner cynic is always on hard to shout "it took 15 hours of back-breaking work to plant those bulbs". I will not be lulled into a false sense of security that I could be any good at gardening.

Luckily, Rowallane is not one of those extremely neat, structured gardens like Hidcote or Sissinghurst. It does have a nice neat, structured walled garden:

Rowallane Garden

But then the rest of it is more of a rambling estate of trees and shrubs and enclosed areas with boulders and other natural features. I kept expecting to come across a flock of sheep.

Rowallane Garden

There was no guide book so my knowledge is a bit scant:
  • The garden was created by the Reverend John Moore in the mid 1800s
  • His nephew, Hugh Armytage Moore, continued the work 
The Rowallane scone
But onto the scone. Rowallane is the headquarters of the National Trust in Northern Ireland and so I was expecting the scones to be absolutely tip-top. 

In fact, it was a very surprising scone. Firstly, it was the cheapest cream tea in NT Scone Blog history - I think it was £2.75. Secondly, the cream was whipped cream and it was available in a big pot by the milk, as was the jam. The scone itself was well-baked but very tasty. I ate the whole thing, which is always a good sign.

Rowallane scone

Rowallane Garden: 3.5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Bargain hunter's score: 5 out of 5

In 2019, I went back to Northern Ireland to complete my rounds. Read more about Carrick-a-Rede, CromCastle CooleCushendunDivis and the Black MountainWhite Park BaySpringhill

Monday 21 August 2017

Castle Ward

I never expected the National Trust to be a source of marital advice, but today I learned a useful, if possibly expensive, way to assure harmony with your spouse.

Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor, built Castle Ward in County Down in the 1760s. He was a big fan of the Classical style, but his wife Ann wanted a Gothic look. So they built a house with two facades. The north side is Gothic:

Castle Ward gothic rear

while the front is designed in a Classical style:

Castle Ward classical front

You'll notice that I put my drowned rat of a sister into each picture to prove that these are indeed two sides of the same house.

Sadly, it seems like the compromise on the house build didn't do much for Bernie and Ann's marriage: once the house was finished, she left him and headed to Bath. 

I learned all of this from Dorothy, the very excellent tour guide, who also revealed that Bernard and Ann had actually hated each other on sight. They had to be cajoled into marriage on account of him having the estate and her having the money.

They were so opposed in their tastes that the entire house at Castle Ward is split down the middle - his side is all classical ceilings and door-frames:

Castle Ward classical ceiling

While her side is all Gothic ceilings and finishings:

Castle Ward gothic ceiling

They had eight children though, so presumably they did meet up occasionally.

And if that isn't enough to send you running for the next flight to Belfast, then let me share some other fascinating factoids:

1. Old Castle Ward is still there
The original house is actually a tower, built in 1590 to provide protection during troubled times. It was cramped but the Ward family was only relatively prosperous at the time.

2. The Boudoir has to be seen to be believed
Judge Michael Ward (1683-1749) built the family fortune on linen and other business interests. It was he who encouraged his son Bernard to marry Ann and it is she who is responsible for one of the most jaw-dropping rooms I have ever seen at the NT:

John Betjeman apparently said that being in the Boudoir was like living under the udders of a giant cow. I think we can see what he meant.

3. Attempted fratricide at Castle Ward!
Bernard and Ann had three sons. The eldest, Nicholas, was eventually certified insane. His brother Edward apparently looked after him, but when Edward died in 1812 the other brother, Robert, tried to kill Nicholas. It sounds like he chose his methods from the Laurel and Hardy book of murder techniques - he tried loosening the stair bannisters so Nicholas would fall through them, which failed, as well as removing a cover from a coal chute so he'd fall down it. Robert was an all-round rotter, as he also plundered the house of its valuable contents, carting them all off to his own home.

4. A mystery about a missing village!
The guide book explains how the widow of the 3rd Viscount may have paid for an entire village to board a ship and start a new life in America, allowing her to knock down their houses and take possession of the land. Nobody knows if it is true but the village of Audleystown did disappear completely.

5. Mary Ward - the first person killed in an automobile accident
The wife of the 5th Viscount was a very intelligent woman - she was hugely respected in scientific circles for her use of the microscope. However, she is probably most famous for being killed by a steam engine built by her cousin - she fell under its wheels and was crushed in 1869.

6. Castle Ward = Winterfell 
I haven't watched one single minute of Game of Thrones, so this was all a bit lost on me, but the farmyard at Castle Ward was used as the location for Winterfell! 

7. Boxing squirrels
Now. You know on TV when they say "this next report contains scenes that some viewers may find upsetting"? Well, this part of my post comes with a warning that you might find the next picture a little...odd. 

It is without the doubt the maddest thing I have ever seen at the National Trust (and there's some competition for that, let's face it):

Boxing squirrels

It's basically five glass cases depicting the stages of a boxing match between two red squirrels. Yes, for 150 years these ten squirrels have been frozen in a tableau where they're either shaking hands or being punched in the face by another squirrel. 

I borrowed this close-up from Castle Ward's Facebook page as I wanted to show you the detail involved - it's unbelievable. They were created by a taxidermist called Edward Hart - he made several copies and one of them recently sold for $70,000.

I had to be physically dragged from the room - I could have stood there all day boggling at the expressions on their little faces.

The Castle Ward scone
But into the scone. The Castle Ward tea-room is one of the nicest that I've encountered - the seats were really comfortable and we were very happy to sit in there out of the rain drinking our tea. The scone itself was very tasty - maybe just a little bit on the dry side but definitely fresh. 

Castle Ward scone

Castle Ward is one of those NT properties that you just have to visit - amazing architecture, fantastic history, and a bit of Game of Thrones thrown in if you're that way inclined. 

Castle Ward: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Boxing squirrels: 100 out of 5

In 2019, I went back to Northern Ireland to complete my rounds. Read more about Carrick-a-Rede, CromCastle CooleCushendunDivis and the Black MountainWhite Park BaySpringhill

Mount Stewart

I met my match at Mount Stewart in County Down. I don't mean that I found a giant scone that I couldn't eat, or that I was confronted by a posse of angry catering staff wanting vengeance for all the 0/5 marks that I've given out over the years.

I'm talking about my reading. I love it when I find a really good book about an NT property and I was over the moon to find one about Robert Stewart, aka Castlereagh, in the shop at Mount Stewart - I knew he was an interesting character. But in my excitement I failed to notice quite how weighty it was. 

Here it is, with the NT handbook (and my cat's tail) for perspective: 

Castlereagh book

Let's face it, scone fans; I was never going to read all of that on an Easyjet flight from Belfast to Luton. But let me share what I've learned so far:

1. Mount Stewart - the history

Mount Stewart House

  • A man called Alexander Stewart, born in Donegal but descended from Scottish Presbyterians, married a wealthy woman called Mary Cowan in 1737 and they acquired an estate on the shore of Strangford Lough in County Down
  • It was originally known as Mount Pleasant, but became Mount Stewart
  • Their son, Robert, became an MP in the Irish Parliament in 1771, and although the house at Mount Stewart remained relatively simple, additional pieces were added - an ornamental building called the Temple of the Winds, lodges and driveways
  • Robert's second wife was the daughter of the Earl of Camden, a mighty bigwig. This might explain how Robert was made Baron Londonderry in 1789, Viscount Castlereagh in 1795, and then Earl of Londonderry in 1796.
  • His eldest son by his first wife, also Robert, styled himself Viscount Castlereagh - he's the 'interesting' Castlereagh that we're going to come to in a minute
  • Work was carried out on the property to extend it over the years - after Castlereagh killed himself, his half-brother Charles made a very wealthy marriage of his own and building work took off in earnest
  • Mount Stewart was a bit neglected by the fourth and fifth marquesses (Charles' sons) but the seventh marquess transformed Mount Stewart with the help of his wife, Edith - the house is presented today as they had it
  • Charles and Edith left the house to their youngest daughter, Mairi, who died in 2009. Her daughter, Rose, still lives there today.
  • Interesting-factoid-probably-only-interesting-to-me-and-anyone-else-in-West-London: The title of Marquess of Londonderry passed to Mairi's brother, Robin. He had three children, one of whom went on to become Annabel Goldsmith, mother of Zach Goldsmith, current MP for Richmond.

2. Mount Stewart - the house
We got there early so we joined the guided tour, which was really good. A restoration project has been going on for five years and the guide pointed some highlights:

In the Central Hall, black and white linoleum tiles that had been put down in the 1960s were removed to reveal the original 1840s floor: 

Central Hall Mount Stewart

On the stairs is a picture of Hambletonian, a racehorse owned by the grandfather of the fifth Marquess of Londonderry. Hambletonian took part in a two horse 'race off' in 1799 and won - this portrait shows him being rubbed down afterwards.

George Stubbs, the painter, was apparently unimpressed by how badly the horse had been treated during the race and as a result the picture has some imperfections; the horse is standing on its two left legs, for example, and the stable lad would have to have been Mr Tickle to have an arm long enough to reach the horse's back like that:

Below is the study of the seventh Marquess, who was Minister for Education in the Northern Ireland government from 1921. The guide told us how his plan for education laid out two requisites for the education of children: Catholics and Protestants should be educated together, and religion should not be included on the curriculum. His ideas were not popular and children still attend church-run schools today.

3. Castlereagh - great statesman or despicable murderer?
But let's move on to the most famous owner of Mount Stewart. There's a poem by Shelley, written in 1819 after the Peterloo massacre, and our friend Castlereagh gets a couple of verses:
I met Murder on the way -
He had a mask like Castlereagh -
Very smooth he looked, yet grim;
Seven blood-hounds followed him:

All were fat; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed the human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.

I can tell you now; it doesn't matter what you read about Castlereagh - nearly 200 years after he killed himself, these verses from The Masque of Anarchy will be there, giving you a fairly graphic idea of why he's none too popular in certain circles.

However, the one place you won't hear about the poem is on the guided tour at Mount Stewart - he is just referred to as "one of the greatest foreign secretaries".

So what was so bad about him? Here's some background:
  • Castlereagh was born in Dublin into a Presbyterian family that was part of the English landed gentry
  • He was considered to be a brilliant young man - his father almost bankrupted himself getting his son elected as an MP in the Dublin Parliament
  • However, while some of Castlereagh's contemporaries allied themselves with the Irish Catholic populace and fought for an independent Ireland, Castlereagh went the other way and fought for an even closer union with Westminster
  • He is therefore reviled in Ireland for a) his response to the Irish Rebellion in 1798 when he was Chief Secretary of Ireland and b) bringing in the Acts of Union in 1800, which saw the abolition of the Irish Parliament
  • He moved to London where he held many prominent positions in government, including Secretary of State for War (1807-1809) and Foreign Secretary (1812-1822)
  • His reputation as a great statesman comes largely from his contribution as the main British representative at the Congress of Vienna, which put a peace plan in place for Europe following Napoleon's defeat in 1814
  • He wasn't the only one criticised for the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, when the cavalry charged into a gathering of 60,000-80,000 people in Manchester who were protesting for voting reform, killing 15 people and injuring 400-700 - the outcry was against the whole government and all of the MPs that supported the Six Acts, which banned further gatherings. 
  • In 1821, his father died and he became Marquess of Londonderry
  • However, by 1822 it was clear that he wasn't well - his family and even the King had noticed that he seemed to be suffering from paranoia or some sort of breakdown
  • On 12 August 1822 he cut his own throat and died - an inquest recorded that he was insane, allowing him to be buried in Westminster Abbey
A portrait of Castlereagh
4. Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry
Castlereagh isn't the only well-known inhabitant of Mount Stewart. I also picked up a book about Edith Londonderry, the wife of the seventh Marquess. It's an interesting read - for 50 years, from her marriage in 1899, she was hob-nobbing with the great and the not-so-great in society (they met Hitler and various other Nazi bigwigs, which damaged their reputation) and the book details all of it. She was responsible for creating the gardens that we see today at Mount Stewart.

5. The Mount Stewart Scone
You're probably dying for a cup of tea and a scone after all that history (I know I was). And we weren't disappointed - the scone was really fresh and tasty. Top marks to Mount Stewart.          
Mount Stewart scone

So there you have it. It's probably just as well that I haven't read the Castlereagh book yet, otherwise this post would be twice as long. 

Mount Stewart: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Chances of me having finished my Castlereagh book by Christmas: 1 out of 5

In 2019, I went back to Northern Ireland to complete my rounds. Read more about Carrick-a-Rede, CromCastle CooleCushendunDivis and the Black MountainWhite Park BaySpringhill

Saturday 19 August 2017

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2017

It has been FOUR YEARS since I started this blog. Four years since I woke up one morning and thought "I need to get my act together with this National Trust membership. I joined six months ago and I haven't even managed to visit the huge stately home situated 1.5 miles from my living room. And when I do visit, I'm not learning much because I walk around thinking about cake and not really looking at anything." 

In a flash, it came to me - I always remember stuff when I write it down so I'll start a blog. And lo! The National Trust Scone Blog was born. 

National Trust scone blog fourth birthday

 In the past four years the Scone Sidekick and I have:
  • Visited 159 NT properties!
  • Awarded 58 of them 5 out of 5 and a coveted Scone d'Or!
Scone Boffin Corner: Interestingly, our hit rate has gone up in the last 12 months. We've visited 23 properties and 11 of them served 5-star scones. Even with my worse-than-Diane-Abbott-maths, I can tell that's pretty good, and with my trusty calculator I can tell you it's actually a 48% hit rate against a lifetime 37%! Fascinating.

And so here is the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List - the 58 properties with 5-star scones, in reverse order of when I visited:
  • Peckover House & Garden - you can 'bank' on good scones at Peckover! It used to be a bank! See what I did there? Never mind.
  • Clumber Park - the house was demolished many years ago, but Clumber offers beautiful gardens, a beautiful lake, and beautiful scones!
  • The Needles Old Battery - it was originally known for being a row of chalk rocks, then for being piled up with guns for defence purposes, then as a secret missile testing site. And now - outstanding scones!
  • Wicken Fen - home to 9,000 species of wildlife, flora, fauna and a first class species of scone! Bravo.
  • Berrington Hall - even Capability Brown couldn't improve the scones at Berrington Hall - they were berri-good!
  • Tyntesfield - maybe one day someone will describe Tyntesfield without saying "the man who built it made his money from Peruvian bird poo" but that day isn't today. The scones were a bird poo-free zone.
  • Sudbury Hall - a great house AND the Museum of Childhood starring Sooty and Sindy AND an outstanding scone! What more do you want from life.
  • Melford Hall - famed for its celebrity resident, the original Jemima Puddleduck! Her views on scones are not known.
  • Wallington - the former home of Charles Edward Trevelyan, the third most hated man in Ireland (after Oliver Cromwell and Thierry Henry), who was name-checked in The Fields of Athenry.
  • Belton House - the kids book and 80s TV show, Moondial, was set at Belton! And when I tweeted that I'd been there, the actor who played Tom responded! Fantastic.
  • Felbrigg Hall - poor old William Frederick 'Mad' Windham - all he wanted to do was dress up as a train guard and blow a whistle on the station platform at inopportune moments. Instead he ran up huge debts and lost Felbrigg. Amazing scone. 
  • 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!  
You can see all 137 scones on Pinterest. This year also saw the publication of the National Trust Book of Scones, which you can buy in NT shops or on the internet.

I'd like to sincerely thank all the lovely Sconepals for your ongoing support - keep sharing those National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

I still have a way to go until I have completed this National Trust Scone Odyssey - by my rough count, I have about 70 scones left to go. But I'm confident we can get there, so onwards and upwards!