Monday 23 September 2019

Podcast of the National Trust Scone Blog

I ate 21 National Trust scones in August. It must be a world record, or qualify me for an OBE or something. But there's only one prize that I have my eyes on and it's the completion of this National Trust Scone quest. I want to be finished by December 2020.

But everytime I think of the end of this scone quest, I have a very uneasy feeling that it'll be like the running scene in Forrest Gump. He runs for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours (a mere trifle compared to my 7.5 years but let's not quibble) and then suddenly he just stops in the road and says to his co-runners; "I'm pretty tired. I think I'll go home now," and he slowly limps off, leaving them abandoned.

I've gained a lot from this project - weight, mainly - but the most important thing I've acquired is access to a community of funny, interesting people that have supported the quest on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and have become a huge part of the entire thing.

So I'm creating a podcast where I'll interview some of the people that have inspired and influenced this National Trust Scone Odyssey. The idea is currently on hold until 2020 but you can listen to the first episode, which covers the important subject of Christmas Pudding scones. Enjoy!

Thursday 12 September 2019

Carlyle's House

SPOILER: There are no scones at Carlyle's House in Chelsea, as there's no space for a tea room. The building is almost Harry Potter-esque, in that you leave the King's Road, head down a leafy London side street, and probably walk straight past the house if you weren't paying attention.

And if you do manage to spot the neat little sign and go inside, you find yourself immediately in the 19th century. It genuinely feels as if you're paying a visit to Thomas Carlyle and his wife, Jane. It's very different to other National Trust properties and quite an odd experience to be having in 21st century London.

But let me share some highlights as it's a lovely, fascinating house:

Thomas Carlyle - influencer of the 1830s and 1840s
Carlyle was a Scottish author, historian, and social commentator who influenced Dickens, Ruskin, William Morris, and many others. His most celebrated book, The French Revolution, almost didn't make it into print - he lent the only copy of the manuscript to John Stuart Mill, who appeared at the front door one night in 1835 with the unenviable task of telling Carlyle that a servant had accidentally thrown it on the fire. Carlyle had to start all over again from scratch.

Thomas Carlyle bust
One of the many busts and portraits of Carlyle in the house
- I'm surprised he got any work done with so many artists turning up.
Jane Carlyle - the witty one 
Jane and Thomas married in Scotland in 1826, although her mother wasn't happy about it as she had higher hopes for her daughter. Jane and Thomas seem to have become a bit of a Carlyle double act - she was witty and sociable, and was well-liked by many of Carlyle's friends.  

The house - never actually owned by the Carlyles
The Carlyles always rented the house on Cheyne Row. I might not know much about his books, but I do know that Thomas deserves a lifetime achievement award for being the only person in the history of mankind that has managed to live in London for longer than two weeks without ever seeing a rent increase; for the 47 years that he lived in the house, the rent was £35 a year. 

Cheyne Row - not the stylish part of town
Chelsea wasn't an attractive part of London in the 1830s and 40s. Thomas himself described the house as "unfashionable in the highest degree but in the highest degree comfortable and serviceable." However, lots of illustrious people lived on Cheyne Row, including the artists Turner and Whistler and the authors George Eliot and Mrs Gaskell.

Jane Carlyle - the demanding one? 
Until Jane died in 1866, the couple managed with one live-in maid-servant who had to do pretty much everything. The fact that Jane got through 34 of those maid-servants in 32 years says a lot. One was fired for being "mortal drunk", while another one gave birth in a closet without Thomas knowing, even though he was sitting in the next room at the time. The mind boggles.

The Parlour 
There's a lovely picture from 1857 on the wall of the Parlour that shows Thomas and Jane actually in the very same Parlour. It's a strange experience, as the furniture and decoration are exactly the same, so it's almost like a mirror - you half expect to turn around and see Jane sitting at the table (probably writing out another P45).

Carlyles House Parlour

A shrine since 1895 
Thomas died in 1881. A Carlyle devotee called George Lumsden visited the place in 1894 and was shocked to see that it had been taken over by stray cats and dogs. He launched a campaign to buy the house and it was opened to the public in 1895. The National Trust took over in 1936.

The National Trust Scone Blog podcast
I live about 9 miles from Carlyle's House, so it's unforgiveable that I hadn't visited before, scones or no scones.

But I had an extra reason for my visit today; the brilliant staff at the house had very kindly agreed to let me record an episode of the upcoming National Trust Scone Blog podcast. I got to hang out in the kitchen that would once have been presided over by Jane Carlyle and her endless stream of skivvies.

My interviewee was Helen Wood, the comedy performer who took her one-woman show, the National Trust Fanclub, to the Edinburgh Festival last month. She's going on tour in the spring and I recommend getting yourself a ticket if she comes to a town near you - there's a whole section devoted to scones. Anyway, watch out for the release of this podcast episode in the next few weeks. And a heartfelt thank you to the wonderful Linda and the team for accommodating us.

The weighing scales belong to the kitchen and are not part of my recording equipment,
just in case Colin the podcast tutor is reading this and thinking "HUH?"

Carlyle's House: 5 out of 5
Scone: there's no tea room
Staff: A million out of 5. The loveliest people ever.

Sunday 1 September 2019

Hardcastle Crags

Hardcastle Crags is home to the northern hairy wood ant. I didn't actually realise this until I got home and I was quite pleased about that, as they don't sound like my cup of tea at all. But after five minutes of reading, I found out that the National Trust has managed to catch some of the ants and put 1 millimetre radio transmitters on them. As you do. The National Trust will never not surprise me.

ANYWAY. Let's put the tagged-hairy-ants-that-aren't-actually-hairy to one side and I can tell you more about what I DID see at Hardcastle Crags, which is just outside Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.

Gibson Mill

There are five highlights at Hardcastle Crags (six if you count the ants):

Gibson Mill - one of the first cotton mills!
Gibson Mill was built in 1800 and was one of the very first cotton mills to be built during the Industrial Revolution. It continued to produce cloth until 1890.

Gibson Mill and Millpond

It then became an 'entertainment emporium' for local people. I will admit that when I first heard this I immediately assumed it was a euphemism for something dodgy; the West Yorkshire mob running an illegal gambling joint or hairy ant racing or something. But no, it contained a dance hall and a roller-skating rink as well as restaurants.

The roller-skating rink is a story all in itself. A man called Arnold Binns from Hebden Bridge was a world record holder for roller-skating; in 1930 at the age of 47 he skated for 40 hours non-stop and then apparently skated from Land's End to John O'Groats. He gave skating lessons at the mill:

If Gibson Mill started life as a pioneer of modern energy use, it's quite fitting that today it is the National Trust's flagship sustainable building. It isn't on the national grid - the place is entirely self-sufficient for gas, electricity, water, and waste treatment. 

The actual Hardcastle crags
I'm afraid I can't tell you much about the actual crags themselves. They're quite imposing even though they're a bit off the beaten track:

Hardcastle Crags

15 miles of footpaths!
I was slightly apprehensive about going to Hardcastle Crags with my friends Sarah-Jane and Steph. They're both excellent walkers and cyclists - they think nothing of getting on their bikes and covering loads of miles, whereas I would think very carefully about doing that (and then I wouldn't do it). 

But we covered a lot of footpath - maybe not all 15 miles of it, but certainly about 1000% more than I'd usually cover - following the trail along Hebden Water. It's a truly beautiful place for a walk.

Hebden Bridge is a must-visit town
I had been to Hebden Bridge once before, when I was 18. I had turned up at university in Nottingham and had the spectacular good fortune to immediately make friends with a girl who invited me to tag along when she went back home there for the weekend. It's the folly of youth; at the time I thought it was a brilliant place because it provided me with a pubful of interesting strangers-who-weren't-really-strangers-because-they-were-exactly-like-my-own-friends.

This time I could truly appreciate what a unique and characterful place it really is. It prides itself on having no chain stores on the high street, but it's a very practical Yorkshire town that has a very creative edge to it. I highly recommend a visit.

The Hardcastle Crags scone
The Weaving Shed Cafe by the mill is a nice little place. The scone itself wasn't home-made - I'm not sure if this was a temporary thing or if the kitchen isn't equipped to provide them (either in space or power) but anyway; it gave me the energy to keep up with SJ and Steph on our walk.

Hardcastle Crags scone

We'll overlook the fact that one of us isn't eating a scone
Hardcastle Crags provided the fourth scone of the weekend, following our trip to the Lake District for visits to Fell Foot, where we had a world-class scone, Wray Castle, and Sticklebarn. All great places but if it's woodland walks, roller-skates and ants you're after, Hardcastle is the place for you.

Hardcastle Crags: 5 out of 5
Scone: 3 out of 5
Roller-skating in a flat-cap: 5 out of 5