Friday 29 April 2022


I've seen a lot of changes at National Trust properties during the nine years of this project. One thing that hasn't changed is the criticism that the NT gets for the 'Disneyfication' or 'dumbing down' of history and heritage. It was there when I started this blog and it's still there now, mainly in the Daily Telegraph, but it's there, depressing the living daylights out of most NT members.

Ascott, near Leighton Buzzard, is to my mind what the Daily Telegraph wants the National Trust to be. It's a stunning estate - it's maintained beautifully, with not a leaf out of place. But there wasn't much to bring the place to life, or to explain its history, or to provide details of the people who have lived there over time. 

Ascott House

The reason for this is that it's still, in principle, a family home. Although Ascott is owned by the National Trust, the de Rothschild family still have use of it as a residence. You can look around the ground floor and peruse the collection of Ming porcelain and artworks. There were a couple of signs explaining the pictures and quite a few volunteer guides on hand, who were very pleasant and helpful. And for a lot of visitors, that's probably enough. For me, however, I love knowing about the people who built and lived in these places, and Ascott doesn't really offer that.  

So I did a bit of reading and discovered a few facts I can share:  
  • In 1873, Lionel de Rothschild (grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, the man who started the famous European banking dynasty) bought a farm at Ascott for his son, Leopold. The architects took the original farmhouse and turned it into a hunting lodge and then a fashionable country house that Leopold could use for entertaining guests. He also had a successful stud nearby. 
  • Leopold's sister Evelina was the wife of Ferdinand de Rothschild, the creator of Waddesdon Manor
  • In 1947 the house and some of its contents were given to the National Trust. 
  • Sir Evelyn de Rothschild and his family still use the house on occasions and it is only open to the public at certain times, so be sure to book before you visit. 
Ascott Estate

The Ascott Scone

I wasn't entirely sure if the tea-room at Ascott was National Trust owned/run - according to the rules of the National Trust Scone Odyssey, a scone is only mandatory if it's officially NT. But I'm taking no chances at at this late stage of the project, so I went in anyway. And to be honest, I'm still not 100% sure - in some ways it was a very NT experience and it other ways it felt a bit different. 

The scone itself was fine. I did at one point wonder if it was a tad under-baked but concluded that it was just very cakey, with a lot of sponginess about it. It had a crisp exterior though, which was very good.

Ascott Scone

So that leaves just 19 properties left for me to visit. Today's trip made me realise that I probably shouldn't leave my final mission to chance - I have to make sure that it's a visit to remember for all the right reasons. I'm therefore adding one special place back on to my list and intend to close proceedings there in August. But for now - stay tuned as we embark on the final 19 scone expeditions!

Scone Map

Ascott: 3 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5

Friday 15 April 2022

Brean Down

The most important piece of advice I can give anyone is simply this: never trust a bus timetable. There have been a few occasions during this National Trust Scone Odyssey when I have required the services of a bus and I can honestly say, hand on heart and without exception, that I have always been completely stunned when the bus actually turned up. And to be fair, they've turned up more often than they haven't. But I'm still always really surprised when they do.

And I will add to this, because there is one particular day of the year when you must NEVER trust a bus timetable and that is Good Friday. At least on Christmas Day you can be certain that there won't be a bus. But Good Friday? Just don't go there.

Anyway, today I went there, despite knowing the above. I checked the timetable for the bus service that goes to Brean Down from Weston-super-Mare and it clearly showed a service for public holidays. But there was no bus. Luckily, I knew the Brean Down Way provided an 8-mile walk from Brean to Weston. I'd been deliberating whether to attempt it, so the bus shortage made my mind up, while a taxi took me out there. 

Brean Down Fort View

The slight snag with doing an 8 mile walk after a visit to Brean Down is that Brean Down itself requires a bit of effort. A nice amble on the beach it is not. As I dragged myself up the steps to reach the top of the promontory, I found myself thinking "is this fun? I'm not sure this is fun", before I reached the summit and was treated to the amazing views that make a climb worthwhile. 

Let me tell you a little bit about Brean Down:

  • Brean Down is a promontory stretching 1.2 miles into the Bristol Channel
  • People have used Brean Down for thousands of years - a possible long barrow mound suggests Neolithic occupation, while remains of an Iron Age hill fort and Roman temple have also been found
  • In the 19th century, plans were drawn up to turn Brean Down into a harbour that could act as a transatlantic port. The project was beset with problems and it didn't materialise.
  • Brean Fort was built at the far end of Brean Down between 1865-1872 as part of a chain of forts designed to protect against the French.
  • The main building we see today (below) was the barracks for 50 men
  • The fort was refortified in 1941 during World War II 

For some reason it reminded me of the Alamo. This isn't so strange - they're both forts after all. But I've never actually been to the Alamo, so I'm not sure why I made that connection. Maybe the sun was getting to me.

The walk along the promontory to the fort had been quite tricky - the steep steps, then an uphill incline followed by a steep downhill section that I wouldn't want to do on wet ground. I thought sadly of the people with mobility issues who wouldn't ever be able to see Brean Down. On my return walk, I discovered that I'd taken the high road route and an alternative was available -  a mostly flatter gravel path that was being enthusiastically used by highly determined folk powering themselves up the hill in all terrain mobility trampers. Never underestimate the National Trust or its members. 

The Brean Down Scone

It must be said that even the Brean Down cafe makes you work a little harder than your average NT property. I helped myself to a fruit scone and had paid for it when the assistant explained that I would find the jam and cream in the fridge and then I needed to pick up my drink from the counter in the other room. I ran around, collecting the constituent parts of my cream tea, feeling like I was on the Crystal Maze. It wasn't unpleasant - just different.

Brean Down Scone

It was worth it though, because the Brean Down scone was a lovely one - very big and even. It was fresh, full of fruit and very tasty, so it gets full marks from me.

And, despite the exertion, I can also recommend the walk back to Weston-super-Mare. The Brean Down Way is mostly flat and very well designed and maintained - once you get through Brean you don't encounter any cars for a few miles until you get to Weston itself. I did have the unexpected problem of sun (unexpected because it was April). I decided to buy myself a hat to prevent my face looking like a beetroot but the hat turned out to be a kid's baseball cap, so I had to walk along with a little hat perched on my head, looking like one of the Mr Men. 

As my weary legs carried me up the seafront in Weston, I was able to gape in awe at Brean Down in the distance. It looked like a sleeping crocodile about to glide down the Bristol Channel and I was inordinately proud of having walked all the way from the tip of its nose. 

Brean Down from Weston

Brean Down: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Walking the Brean Down Way path to Weston-super-Mare: 5 out of 5