Saturday 18 August 2018

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2018

Five years ago today I started this National Trust Scone Blog. We had joined the National Trust but then spectacularly failed to do anything at all with our membership. I decided I needed to a) visit more places and b) learn something at each one, and so the blog was born. I knew I'd pay attention if I forced myself to write about it.

Scone Blog is 5 today

 In the past five years:
  • 171 properties have been visited
  • 64 of them have delivered a 5 out of 5 top-rated scone
And so here is the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List - the 64 properties with 5-star scones, in reverse order of when I visited:
  • The Workhouse - I was certainly tempted to say "please, sir, I want some more" - the scones were very good.
  • Shugborough Estate - the ancestral home of society photographer Patrick Lichfield was a picture! Ha ha!
  • Chirk Castle - murder, scandal, adultery, violence, great's all going on at Chirk.
  • Longshaw Estate and Eastern Moors - I though the mud might defeat me but no - I finally found my Peak District scone and marvellous it was too.
  • Mount Stewart - its one-time owner, Viscount Castlereagh, was none too popular, but the scones were certainly popular with me.
  • Peckover House & Garden - Lonely Planet has just announced that a cream tea at Peckover is one of the top eating experiences in the world! I concur!
  • Clumber Park - it might have lost its house to the demolition men but Clumber offers beautiful gardens, a beautiful lake, and beautiful scones!
  • The Needles Old Battery - chalk rocks, guns, secret missile testing. 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 really was inspired to ransack the Vera Lynn back catalogue and sing "we'll meet again" to the WCoD scone - it was that good. 
  • 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 150 scones on Pinterest

There's also a book! Yes indeed, the National Trust Book of Scones is available in NT shops or on the internet.

As ever, my heartfelt thanks to all of the lovely Sconepals for your ongoing support - keep sharing your National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I love them. 

By my count, I think I have around 60 scones left to go. We can do this. Onwards!

Coleridge Cottage

I think it was in May 1994 when a monumental realisation dawned on me; "Sarah, you are poor as a church mouse. You are clueless as to what you're going to do with your life. But look on the bright side; after this term at university, you will never, ever have to think about the Romantic Poets EVER AGAIN."

I love literature, I love reading, but I could never get my head around the Romantic Poets. Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats...I just didn't get any of it. I'm sorry.

But the National Trust has a habit of making you face your educational demons and so I found myself at Coleridge Cottage in Somerset today.

I failed to take a picture of the outside of the cottage
so here's one from inside.
Here are some facts:

  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born in 1772, the youngest of nine brothers
  • He was precociously talented and a bit of a show-off but it sounds like he lacked self-confidence
  • He met Robert Southey and together they formed a plan of emigrating to America and setting up a utopian scheme called Pantisocracy 
  • In their planning for Pantisocracy, Coleridge ended up marrying Southey's sister-in-law, Sara Fricker. Pantisocracy never happened. Coleridge may have regretted the marriage.
  • In 1796, Coleridge moved his wife and young son to the cottage in Nether Stowey, where they could live among nature
  • He befriended William and Dorothy Wordsworth, who joined him in Somerset, and together they wrote their Lyrical Ballads - these included some of Coleridge's most famous works, including The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Frost at Midnight, and Kubla Khan
  • After only two and a bit years, the Coleridges left the cottage - but it remains the place where he wrote his masterpieces
  • Best fact of all: Coleridge ended up in debt while he was studying at Cambridge and ran away to join the army under the pseudonym of 'Silas Tomkyn Comberbacke'.
  • Even better fact: there's a sign on the wall of the cottage explaining that Kubla Khan has inspired many artists, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, whose song Welcome to the Pleasuredome references Coleridge's work
The cottage itself is lovely enough but the garden was the highlight. One of the guides apologised for it, explaining that it had suffered in the hot weather, but I absolutely loved it. Somehow I ended up being the only person out there for about 20 minutes - it has several listening posts that play snippets of Coleridge's poetry and it was truly lovely.

The Coleridge Cottage scone
But let us move on to the Rime of the Microwaved Scone. It all started so well - the tea room is actually part of the cottage building, which is always great. I ordered my scone and sat down and then 'PING!'. Unfortunately, I was the only person in there so that PING was definitely connected to my scone. It was nice enough - a bit salty maybe - but why microwave it? 

This isn't the first time that the National Trust has made me face my fears of the Romantic Poets; in April 2016 I went to Wordsworth House near the Lake District and I loved it there as well. Maybe I've been wrong all this time.

Coleridge Cottage: 4.5 out of 5
Scones: 4 out of 5 - nice but microwaved :(
Poems in the garden: 5 out of 5

Fyne Court

"Fyne Court was once owned by the electrician, Andrew Crosse," I learned during my research for this 170th scone mission. It cheered me up immensely - what hope to us all, that the National Trust might one day be interested in our homes! Electricians today - who knows, maybe even marketing managers will get a look-in eventually. I should probably start tidying up.

But of course the word electrician meant something very different in 1805 when Andrew Crosse inherited Fyne. He was known locally in Somerset as "The Thunder and Lightning Man" because of his experiments with the relatively unknown force of electricity...and eventually it all turned a bit nasty, with vicars doing exorcisms outside his house and what-not. Here's what I learned:

1. Fyne Court burnt down in 1894
...but before you jump to any conclusions, the fire had nothing to do with electrical experiments going wrong, or deranged arsonist vicars coming to stop the Devil's work - a housemaid's candle was to blame. I'm only mentioning it so early in my story because you're probably wondering what has happened to my usual stunning photograph of the house (I'm joking). Answer: there is no house at Fyne Court because it was engulfed in flames and pulled down. But here's a picture of the Boathouse which fell into disrepair: 

Fyne Court Boathouse

2. Fyne Court had been built in 1634
The Crosse family built Fyne Court in the 17th century. They were descended from a bloke called Odo de Santa Croce, who had sailed to England with William the Conqueror, and they had stayed close to the political action ever since; Andrew's own father had witnessed the Storming of the Bastille.

Fyne Court folly
This isn't the Bastille - it's the folly at Fyne Court
3. Andrew, the scientific wonderkid
Andrew Crosse was born in 1784 and became interested in electricity when he was around 12 - his father was a friend of Benjamin Franklin, which may or may not have influenced him. He continued his interest at Oxford and then set up his laboratory at Fyne when he returned to live there.

4. Was Andrew Crosse Frankenstein?
I bought a book about Andrew Crosse before my visit, called The Man Who Was Frankenstein. It argues that he inspired Mary Shelley to write her famous book. Further, it argues that the character of Dr Waldman in the book is based on Crosse. 

There is undoubtedly a connection - Crosse gave a lecture about his experiments in London in 1814 that Mary Shelley attended, and she started writing her famous novel in 1816. But much as I'm a sucker for a great story, I wasn't totally convinced, especially as the author bizarrely tries to support his claims by pointing out that a gargoyle in the churchyard looks like Boris Karloff in the 1931 film - don't they all??

However, I was happy to see the NT promoting the possible connection with a big display in the little information centre. I went to an NT property once that had an unsubstantiated link with the Gunpowder Plot and they didn't mention it anywhere. I took this as a sign that the NT is probably very risk averse when it came to rumours and conjecture. But no - turns out they like a good story as much as anybody.

Fyne Court information centre

5. What happened to Andrew Crosse?
Crosse's work benefitted experts and locals alike. He corresponded with some of the leading thinkers of the day, even though he preferred the quiet life at home in the Quantock Hills to hobnobbing in London. Locally, his electrical machine was used for curative purposes - a farmer who had been paralysed on one side was treated by Crosse and was much improved. 

However, it all got very difficult when he made a surprising discovery. During one of his experiments, he seemed to create living insects from a stone. Unable to explain it, he shared this news with a small group of people, one of whom, unfortunately, was the editor of a local newspaper. The good news was that the insects were named after him. The bad news was that it stirred up a tidal wave of vitriol and fear that Crosse was consorting with the Devil and meddling with nature/God's work. This is what brought Reverend Smith up to the estate to perform an exorcism.

6. Fyne Court today
There might not be a house at Fyne Court, but the estate covers 65 acres and there's lot of space for walking. 

Fyne Court walled garden
The Walled Garden - it is indeed walled
7. But what about the Fyne Court scone?
I really wanted a showstopper of a scone today - it was the 170th mission after all, AND it was also the 5th anniversary of me starting this National Trust scone blog project. But the Fyne Court scone turned out to rather suit its surroundings, in that they'd done their very best with limited resources. There's no proper kitchen at Fyne, so I assume the scones were bought in - mine was dry and didn't seem very fresh. But it did taste better than it looked.

Fyne Court Scone

I'm going to end on a sombre note because much as I enjoyed The Man Who Was Frankenstein, it is also sad. Crosse was prone to introspection and depression throughout his life, even before the world ganged up on him and vicars started waving crosses around outside his house. 

His final words to his wife before he died were: "My dear, the utmost extent of human knowledge is but comparative ignorance". Does that mean that when this odyssey is over, I'll still be none the wiser about scones??

Fyne Court: 4 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Andrew Crosse's choice of confidants: 0 out of 5