Saturday 29 January 2022

Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak

Consider this: in the first seven years of the National Trust scone project, I visited an average of 32 National Trust properties per year. That's thirty-two different places visited (and scone purchases attempted) annually.

Last year, I managed one - ONE National Trust property with ONE single National Trust scone. As it happens, that one visit to Winchester City Mill was great: I was joined by one of the Sconepals, so I got to meet her after years of following her on social media, plus the volunteer guides in the Mill were brilliantly entertaining and knowledgeable.

But the scone situation was just too stressful. It was takeaway only (due to COVID), it was absolutely pouring with rain (due to England), so at one point our only recommended option was to take the scones and eat them in Winchester Bus Station. (We didn't do this, obviously: we just stood outside eating a cream tea in a downpour next to a river, because that's what you do when you're British.) 

For this reason, I decided to sit it out last year and wait. It didn't feel right to be highlighting missing scones or closed tea rooms caused by staff shortages. And as Johnny Logan said; "What's another year, when it's already taken seven?" (He didn't say that last bit.)

What I had forgotten is that visiting the National Trust always contains an element of risk, because COVID isn't the only thing that can shut a tea room. Power cuts, never know when your plans might need to change. As Steven Tyler from Aerosmith said; "We're living on the edge in the National Trust." (He didn't say that last bit.)  

It probably helps to manage the risk with some planning and weather awareness skills but I don't have any, so I was halfway to Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak today before I was even aware of Storm Malik. I hastily looked at the Twitter feeds of some NT properties and saw that a few were closing their doors for safety reasons. But we continued on and made it to the Manifold tea room, which is named after the nearby river and valley. 

I'm going to start with the scone, having made you wait 223 days for it. As you know, I have a 'Scone First' policy whenever I visit a new property because otherwise I walk around mentally accusing all the other visitors of having just eaten the last scone of the day.

And that policy served me well today, viewers, because by the time we got back from our walk the tea room had been closed due to the high winds! Can you imagine if we'd waited? But Scone First it had been and so I'd already bagged this big, rugged and reassuring scone. It was also very fresh and delicious and got a unanimous 5 stars from the panel:

Ilam Park National Trust Scone

The panel today was made up of members of the Scone Blogger's family. This wasn't their first rodeo and their standards seem to have gone up during the COVID hiatus: there was a minor complaint from one member who claimed that all of her fruit was in the bottom half of her scone. This was overruled by everyone else. But we all agreed that the tea room itself was lovely with friendly, helpful staff. 

Ilam Park Tea Room

We then set off to see what Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak had to offer. I was completing my Peak District trilogy today, having visited Kinder, Edale and the Dark Peak in June 2019 and Longshaw, Burbage and the Eastern Moors in January 2018. You'd probably assume that I would have been prepared, but no - I was still tottering around with a handbag and a pair of trainers while sturdy booted rucksackers strode past me. I think we have established that I will never learn.

So here's what we discovered:

  • This area of the Peak District National Park is known as the White Peak Estate
  • It's situated in the central and southern part of the Peak District, while the Dark Peak covers the north-east-west area
  • The White Peak Estate contains Ilam Park and the valley of Dovedale as well as other valleys
  • Ilam Park contains Ilam Hall, the Italian Gardens and the tea room
  • Ilam Hall was built between 1821-1826. It is currently a youth hostel and you can stay there for just £15 a night! Bargain!
  • There's a very nice walk from Ilam to Dovedale - you can either walk across the fields and hop over one small stile, or head up a hill and go the long way. We won't dwell here on the option we chose. Let's just say that we came back the less arduous way.
  • The stepping stones across the River Dove are quite easy to negotiate (I didn't negotiate them)

Stepping Stones in Dovedale

What you don't see in any of these pictures, of course, is the wind. It was almost unworldly - a huge swirling gust would suddenly build up and almost knock you off your feet.

This led to a first for Team Scone Blogger. As we walked along the river there was a sudden loud creaking sound and a tree on the other side was uprooted and fell away from the water. The smell of damp wood was incredible as the roots were exposed to the fresh air. Even the Scone Blogger's mother, who grew up in the countryside in Ireland, had never seen such a thing. We were very lucky it didn't fall on any passing walkers, as it was a very clear reminder of the sudden dangers of the weather. Plus it explained why the NT closed the car park and tea room as a safety precaution.

So that completes the first National Trust Scone Mission of 2022! Bring on the final 23! This is going to be our year!

Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
The wind: 5 out of 5 for being the wind but 0 out of 5 for stopping scone production