Saturday 14 March 2020

Wentworth Castle Gardens

I openly admit that I love reading bad reviews of National Trust properties on TripAdvisor. In most cases, the reviewer has gone for a day out somewhere and then come home to vent their anger online about things that were totally beyond the control of the staff: "1 out of 5 - it was raining!" "1 out of 5 - it was closed!" "1 out of 5 - they wouldn't let my dog in!" etc. etc. etc.

So I took a quick look at the very small number (only three in fact) of Terrible reviews of Wentworth Castle Gardens before I set off for Barnsley, fully expecting to take absolutely zero notice of them. But there it was: 1 out of 5 - "There was nothing of any interest to see. Scones in the cafe were good though." 

Wentworth Castle
"Nothing of any interest to see" apparently. Apart from the outside of this massive house, loads of gardens, a conservatory, and several follies.
This stopped me in my tracks. My initial response was outrage - if the scones were good then it's a cast iron five out of five! Even if the rest of the property was a cabbage patch! Who are these people?

But outrage quickly gave way to great hope. Here was someone with standards beyond the reasonable admitting that the Wentworth Castle Garden scones were good. I could be in for a real treat.

Anyway. Before we get to the big reveal re the scones, here's a bit of history about Wentworth Castle Gardens. There was no guide book so I had to glean what I could:
  • Wentworth Castle was basically built out of rage. Thomas Wentworth, a successful army officer, had expected to inherit the family fortune and Wentworth Woodhouse estate from his cousin, the Earl of Strafford.
  • However, when the Earl of Strafford died he left the lot to another cousin, Thomas Watson, instead.
  • Thomas Wentworth was not happy about this. He bought nearby Stainborough Hall in 1708 and set about building an estate to rival that of his "vermin" cousin (as he charmingly referred to Thomas Watson).
  • He built a folly in 1730 that he called Stainborough Castle, at which point he changed the name of the inhabited hall itself to 'Wentworth Castle'.
Stainborough Castle
The Stainborough Castle folly built by Angry Thomas and referred to as a 'sham ruin' on Wikipedia,
which seems a bit harsh. Although that is indeed what it is.
  • Thomas Wentworth was very successful as a soldier and diplomat. Queen Anne made him Earl of Strafford and a Knight of the Garter.
  • But everything went wrong when Queen Anne died in 1714. His achievements were questioned and he ended up retired and humiliated. 
  • So he did what you'd expect an angry, grudge-bearing man to do at the time; he secretly joined the Jacobite cause to restore the Stuart king (James III) to the throne. He couldn't risk doing so publicly though, so he built symbols into the follies around the estate.
  • The estate was passed down, with generations adding their own touches - a later Thomas Vernon-Wentworth added the Conservatory for example - before Bruce Vernon-Wentworth sold the house and gardens to Barnsley Corporation in 1948.

Wentworth Castle Conservatory
The Conservatory - an enormous amount of effort went into fund-raising for its restoration.
  • Today the main house is home to the Northern College for Residential and Community Adult Education - it's not generally open to the public.
  • What you still get is access to all of the follies and monuments around the estate, as well as the gardens themselves.

Wentworth Fernery
The ferns in the fernery still in their winter coats - and who can blame them?

The Wentworth Castle Gardens Scone

But let's move on to the all-important scone. Have you seen the film Super Size Me? It's about a man (documentary maker Morgan Spurlock) who only eats McDonalds food for 30 days. One of his rules is that every time he is offered a Super Size meal, he has to accept and eat the larger portion.

I'm now exactly like that, only with Scones of the Month instead of Big Macs. If a National Trust property offers a fruit scone AND a temporary guest scone then I have to try both. It's the rule. The first time I did this (at Nostell and then at Erddig), I felt like a terrible Bruce Bogtrotter-style glutton and literally cringed myself into muscle spasms as I proffered my tray at the woman on the till - "so you want one cup of tea...and TWO scones?" - but I'm glad to report that I now don't care a single jam-covered jot. I've eaten 200 scones on this odyssey - what's another 350 calories? 

So I was overjoyed today to see a display of Cherry & Vanilla Scones of the Month. They looked utterly delicious and they smelt delicious too; so delicious in fact that I broke with tradition and tried the C&V first. It was divine. So full of cherries that it had turned pink.

Wentworth Castle Gardens Cherry Scone

BUT. In the spirit of full disclosure, I need to tell you that the display for the Cherry & Vanilla scone also featured a copy of the Book of Scones. You'd probably expect me to be delighted by this, and I am indeed always enormously grateful and happy to see it. But it puts me under huge pressure to love the scones, and that is one thing I cannot do. I cannot cheat you, readers. If the scone is not worth a 5 out of 5, it is not getting one.

So I turned to the fruit scone with some trepidation. I cut into it and it looked dry. I was almost glad. And then I ate it and it was utterly perfect. Just the right side of chewy and full of fruit. An indisputable 5 out of 5.  

Wentworth Castle Gardens scone

If you've seen any really good 'Terrible' reviews of NT properties on TripAdvisor, let me know. Let's see if we can top the review that complained that the walls between the toilet cubicles at West Green House Garden were too thin.

Wentworth Castle Gardens: 4.5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Bonus of the Cherry & Vanilla scone: 5 out of 5

Yorkshire has been a very happy hunting ground for the National Trust Scone Blogger. Other Yorkshire properties scoring 5 out of 5 were Nostell PrioryNunnington Hall, Fountains Abbey, Goddards, Beningbrough Hall, and Treasurer's House. Only Hardcastle Crags came in under 5 in Yorkshire but it was still a great place to visit.

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