Saturday 28 December 2019

National Trust Scone of the Year 2019

I visited 36 National Trust properties this year and nearly all of them were able to provide me with a scone. In itself that's not wildly impressive - I managed 48 in 2014. But this year I made it to 26 NT places IN AUGUST. One single month of careering around the country eating jam. I truly lived the dream in 2019.

I have committed to finishing this National Trust Odyssey by December 2020. This means I have just 12 months left to career around the country again and visit the remaining 40 or so National Trust properties that have an NT-run cafeteria serving scones. That's the criteria for inclusion, by the way - I'm always overjoyed to stop off at lovely places that don't have a tea room, or have one run by tenants, but they're very much an optional extra as I have to draw the line somewhere.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. This post is all about the highlights of 2019 and the big question that I now have to face; which of the 36 properties provided my favourite scones over the past 12 months?

It's been very difficult to narrow it down but narrow it down I must. So here we go with my Top 10 National Trust Scones of 2019:   

10. Cotehele
"COTEHELE IS WONDERFUL AND YOU HAVE TO GO THERE IMMEDIATELY" is basically what I've been told, about 100 times, since I started this blog (turns out Cotehele has a very large and ardent fanbase). And so this year I DID make it to Cotehele in Cornwall and it IS a wonderful place - it's just very dark and it threw me somewhat as I wasn't expecting it. The restaurant on the other hand is light, bright, and airy and the scones were delicious.

9. Antony

My sister and I arrived in Plymouth for our 2019 Summer Tour of Devon, all revved up and ready to atone for years of neglect; until this year I'd only managed about four visits to Devonshire. We picked up the car, set the sat nav for Antony...and within minutes found ourselves on a ferry sailing across the Tamar into enemy territory. And so the first National Trust scone of our Grand Tour of Devon Cornwall. It was a wonderful scone though.

8. Dudmaston
I know that the Dudmaston scone was exceptional because I can still remember it, despite the fact that the entire West Midlands wasp population decided to join me while I was trying to eat it. The scone was light, fresh, and a good size. "Jammy, with jammy undertones," added A Wasp.

7. Kinver Edge & The Rock Houses
If there was an award for Most Bizarre National Trust Property, the Rock Houses at Kinver in Staffordshire would walk it. To quote Danny Dyer, they still do my nut in to this day. People actually used to live in the rocks, doing them up like a country cottage and just digging out a bit more sandstone whenever they needed another room. Truly remarkable. The tea room was tiny and I had zero expectations of the scone, but it was stunning.

6. Erddig
I had been reading up on the sad story of Ellen Penketh, housekeeper at Erddig from 1902-1907, before my visit to Wrexham. This meant that I was unusually focused on the kitchens and staff quarters where she once lived before she was prosecuted for stealing. But luckily I remembered to visit the restaurant where I found an unexpectedly delicious fruit scone AND a Hot Cross Scone. 

5. Arlington
I loved Arlington in North Devon. I loved its peaceful location, and its rooms, and the fact that the National Trust Carriage Museum is located in the stables and one of the carriages was powered by a goat. But most of all I loved its scones. There are some scones that you never forget and the Arlington scone is one of them.

4. Croft Castle
It's scone blog tradition that the first scone mission of the year is usually a total disaster. Croft Castle in Herefordshire refused to play along with that. It was open in January (a good start) and homely, and the tea room served a big, fresh, wondrous scone that had us all impressed.  

3. The Argory
My summer tour of Northern Ireland was surprising for many reasons, but most memorable of all was the universal love for a cherry scone that I found across the province. I never got bored of them, either - turns out that cherries can perk up a scone like nobody's business and the one that I had at The Argory in County Armagh will never be forgotten.

2. Watersmeet
Picture the scene: it's August 2013 and I have started a new blog about National Trust scones. I'm riddled with doubts about the whole idea and my mouse cursor is hovering over the 'delete it all' button. 

And then I turn on Countryfile and His Royal Majesty Sir John of Craven is baking National Trust scones at Watersmeet in Devon. I take it as a sign from the gods and I persevere with the blog (and the scones). Watersmeet has been a place of pilgrimage in my mind ever since and I finally made it there this year. The scones were beyond my wildest imaginings - fresh, crumbly, warm and eaten in beautiful surroundings on a sunny day. Perfection.

1. Fell Foot
If I've learned one thing from this National Trust scone project it is that the most unassuming of properties can sometimes deliver the loveliest rewards. 

Fell Foot, on the banks of Lake Windermere in Cumbria, has no grand house - it was knocked down. The cafe is not what you'd describe as cosy - it's large and wooden and basic to accommodate all the walkers and watersporters. And yet the scone was sublime. I'm so glad that my great friend Sarah-Jane was there with me to witness it, otherwise I'd be questioning myself that a scone could be that good. But we both knew we were in the presence of something very special. 

So well done to Fell Foot for winning my National Trust Scone of the Year for 2019. They join the previous champions in the pantheon of the greats: Shugborough (2018), The Needles Old Battery (2017), Cornwall Properties (2016), South Foreland Lighthouse & White Cliffs of Dover (2015), Dunwich Heath (2014), Flatford (2013). 

And that's a wrap for 2019. A huge, huge thank you to everyone that has supported the scone odyssey this year, either by reading the blog, buying the Book of Scones, or sending me photos of your National Trust tea-room adventures. Every single photo, comment, and like is appreciated, I promise you.

My attention now turns to completing my quest by 31 December 2020. The good news is that it's a Leap Year, which means I get an extra 24 hours, but I'm still going to need a fair wind and positive thoughts. Wish me luck and meet you back here next year for the big one: who will be the Scone To Rule Them All?

Sunday 22 December 2019

National Trust Sconepals' Choice Award 2019

There's only one short week to go until I announce my top National Trust Scone of 2019. I visited a whopping 36 NT properties this year so it's going to be a very difficult decision. But before I declare my own winner, I asked you all to vote for your favourites of the past 12 months. 

So without further ado, let's get the big golden envelopes out and ask our adjudicators to stand at the side of the stage with their briefcases but not mess things up, a la the Oscars in 2017.  

53 properties got at least one vote this year, so bravo to all of those expert scone bakers who wowed us throughout the year. 

However, there can only be one winner.

So eyes down as we reveal, in reverse order:

In third place! It's Fountains Abbey!

In second place, our runner-up! It's Treasurer's House in York!

And in first place, the Sconepals' Choice of 2019 is...

It's Ickworth! 

Congratulations to the team at Ickworth. It's a few years since I went there, so it's clearly time to go back. You can read about my scone mission to Ickworth here.

A huge well done and thank you to all of the National Trust baking teams across the land. Among the honourable mentions this year were: 

Buckland Abbey
Hardwick Hall
Sizergh Castle
Attingham Park
Lavenham Guildhall
Quarry Bank
Acorn Bank
Basildon Park
Calke Abbey
Castle Drogo
Clumber Park
Coleton Fishacre
Dunham Massey
Fell Foot
Gunby Hall
Houghton Mill
Kinver Edge
Lyme Park
Lytes Cary Manor
Oxburgh Hall
Penrhyn Castle
Powis Castle
Scotney Castle
Sutton Hoo
Waddesdon Manor
Wentworth Castle Gardens
Wightwick Manor

Finally, a huge THANK YOU to everyone that voted and to everyone that has continued to send in scone pictures this year. 

With a fair wind, 2020 will be the final year of this National Trust Scone Quest, so keep your photos coming - I love to see where you've been (and what you've eaten). 

Look out for the National Trust Scone Blogger's Scone of 2019 - I'll be announcing my honours list next week!