Saturday 24 September 2022


Over the nine years of this project, I have discovered a category of National Trust properties that I call 'Doesn't Look Like Much From The Outside But Inside It's Amazing'. Claydon in Buckinghamshire is firmly in that category.

Claydon House

To be honest, I don't even know where to start with it. I'll try and begin with some of the rooms before I move on to the history of the Verney family.

The North Hall

The house was built for Ralph, the second Earl Verney, in the 1750s-1760s by Luke Lightfoot. He was a stonemason and woodcarver who had impressed Ralph with his work and it's easy to see why: all of the elaborate wall carvings you see in the terrible picture below are wood carvings by Lightfoot.

Unfortunately, Lightfoot had his limitations. The planned house was actually three times the size of what we see today - there was originally also a rotunda and a third wing. But he made mistakes in how the house was built - a respected architectural expert at the time referred to him as "an ignorant knave" - which probably resulted in the demolition of the rotunda and the other wing after only 20 years. (The demolition of the rotunda also explains why the house doesn't have a front entrance.)

During construction, it was also discovered that Lightfoot had been defrauding the Earl, and he was dismissed from the project before it was completed. (In a later court case, it was established that Lightfoot had been paid £30,000 but had only delivered £7,000 of work or goods.)

North Hall Claydon

The Saloon

The sacking of Lightfoot means that there is a mixture of styles in the house. The North Hall is fully Rococo and then you walk into the Saloon, which is Palladian. It's another show-stopper of a room, however, with a huge expanse of space covered in elaborately designed fittings.

You can probably guess what's coming next: the second Earl ended up in financial ruin and in 1784 work on the house stopped. The furniture was sold to cover his debts.

Saloon Claydon

The Chinese Room

I had done no real research on Claydon before I visited. If I had, I might have seen the guidebook descriptions of the Chinese Room as "the glory of Claydon" and "one of the most extraordinary rooms in any English country house". 

But I hadn't seen any of that, so I unsuspectingly wandered into the upstairs room and was completely dumbfounded by it. The alcove is a show-stopping sight, with its intricate wood carvings. The rest of the room is also covered in elaborate decoration. I've never seen anything like it. 

Chinese Room Claydon

Florence Nightingale Bedroom

After the jaw-dropping ostentation of the Chinese Room, you find yourself in rooms that are much simpler in style but come with huge amounts of fascinating history.

In 1858, Sir Harry Verney married Parthenope Nightingale, the older sister of Florence. (Both women were named after their birthplaces - Parthenope being the Ancient Greek name for Naples.) 

This meant that Florence spent a lot of time at Claydon from the 1860s through to 1895. There are various rooms that provide insight into her life, her former bedroom being one of them:

Florence Nightingale bedroom

There's a portrait of Florence in her room that really didn't match the image I had of her in my mind, but I liked it all the more for that: 

Florence Nightingale portrait

The Claydon Museum

At this point in my visit, I was sure that Claydon couldn't possibly have any more rooms that would wow me. But Claydon wasn't done and I walked into the final flourish; The Museum. It was created by Sir Harry Verney in 1893 to showcase his artefacts from around the world. I failed to get any good photos of his gamelan, a set of gongs and other instruments from Java. But I did get this picture of the case dedicated to Florence - it's a replica of the type of Turkish lamp that she would have used as a nurse in the Crimea when she became famous as the Lady with the Lamp.

Florence Nightingale Lamp Claydon

Until now, I have always avoided doing 'room by room' descriptions on this blog but it really is the best way to describe the Claydon experience. To be clear, there were other rooms too - I've only shared the most awe-inspiring ones.

Anyway. Before I get to the scone, let me tell you a bit more about the Verney family:
  • There have been Verneys in Buckinghamshire since the 1200s
  • In around 1463, the manor of Middle Claydon was bought by one Sir Ralph Verney who had been Lord Mayor of London
  • The house was leased to a Roger Giffard, who built a house on the site of today's building as well as the chancel of All Saints church that stands next to it
  • In 1620, Sir Edmund Verney decided he wanted Claydon back - he bought the Giffards out of their tenancy and became the first Verney to actually live there
  • Sir Edmund was a very interesting man: he had served both Charles I and his older brother, who died prematurely. When Charles acceded to the throne, Edmund was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
  • He was staunchly loyal to the King during the Civil War, even though he didn't agree with him. There's a lovely paragraph in the guidebook that explains his position: "I have eaten his Bread, and served him for nearly thirty Years, and will not do so base a Thing as to forsake him; and chuse rather to lose my Life (which I am sure I shall do) to preserve and defend those Things which are against my Conscience to preserve and defend."
  • Edmund was right about one thing: he did lose his life. His son Ralph had sided with the Parliamentarian cause and begged his father not to get involved but Edmund ended up as the King's Standard Bearer and died at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. 
  • It all gets a bit grisly in the guidebook after that: the enemy troops who killed him couldn't get the Standard from Edmund, so they hacked his hand off. That's the only bit of him that lies in his tomb in the church, as the rest of his corpse was never recovered.
  • Ralph was not rewarded for siding with Cromwell. He refused to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, and had to go into exile. Claydon was sequestered.
  • Ralph's wife, Lady Mary, came back to Claydon and found it in a terrible state. The house was returned to the Verneys and things improved under Charles II, with Ralph becoming the first baronet.
  • His son John was very successful as 2nd baronet and became Viscount Fermanagh in 1703
  • John's grandson, also Ralph, ended up as the second Earl in 1752 and it was he that built Claydon as we see it today
  • Claydon is located near Stowe, another NT property, which was owned by Sir Ralph's political opponent at the time. Sir Ralph upped his spending on Claydon to compete with the splendour of Stowe. Bad move, Ralph. 
  • But the house wasn't Ralph's only financial mistake. He was patron to Edmund Burke, the philosopher and economist, who wrote that Ralph "suspects nothing, fears nothing, he takes no precautions, he imagines all mankind to be his friend". And Burke would know - he and his cousin William owed Ralph £71,000 between them and they never repaid it. 
  • Ralph died a broken man. His niece, Mary, became Baroness Fermanagh. She took on the job of sorting out Claydon, demolishing the rotunda and other wing. 
  • Mary died in 1810. She was the last in the ancient line of Verneys, and the title died with her too. She left the house to a half-sister who had no children, so she passed it to her cousin, Harry Calvert, who changed his name to Verney.
  • He married Parthenope Nightingale after the death of his first wife 
  • My favourite fact of the whole day: Sir Harry was an MP and was known affectionately in Parliament as "the Member for Florence Nightingale" - I can't imagine there were many occasions in the 19th century when a man was known for being the brother-in-law of a woman more famous than him
  • The sixth baronet, Sir Edmund Verney, still farms the estate and lived with his family at Claydon until quite recently

The Claydon Scone

I wasn't 100% sure that I actually needed to include Claydon in this project. The house is owned by the National Trust but the rest of the estate, including the Phoenix Kitchen cafeteria, is still owned by the family. The Rules of the National Trust Scone Blog state that only scones baked by the National Trust are mandatory. But at this late stage of the project, I'm taking absolutely no chances of missing one.

I was the first customer in the cafeteria today, so the assistant offered to bring my scone over to my table. It turned into the opening titles of Grange Hill, except that instead of a cartoon sausage, it was a ginormous scone that suddenly appeared over my shoulder.

Claydon Scone

It is definitely the biggest scone I have encountered in my nine years on this quest. And although that was great, it also brought problems, because the jam and the cream barely stretched to cover half the scone. On the plus side, it was warm and very fresh.  

I'll finish by reminding you all that, although Claydon was brilliant, there is only one National Trust property that can win the Gold Award for 'Doesn't Look Like Much From The Outside But Inside It's Amazing' and that is Clouds Hill in Dorset. It's a tiny little hovel, basically, but it's where Lawrence of Arabia wrote his books. Both properties are highly recommended.

Claydon: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Number of times I said "Oh my God" or heard other visitors saying it as I walked around: at least 20

Sunday 11 September 2022

Castle Drogo

Which National Trust property has been the biggest surprise for you when you first set eyes on it in real life? There are loads of contenders - the quirkiness of A la Ronde or the romantic beauty of St Michael's Mount are two for starters.

For me, though, I'm going with Castle Drogo in Devon as my surprise package. Castle Drogo's claim to fame is that it was the last castle to be built in England and when you see it in photos it ticks all the castle boxes: big, solid, made of granite, has a castellated roof for firing arrows at pesky invaders. 

But when you finally see it in front of you, you realise it's a very modern take on a castle. It was built between 1910 and 1925, so the modern look shouldn't be a surprise. But it's like someone has taken a normal castle and then gone at it with a chainsaw to smooth out the usual edges and give it a square and boxy shape:

Castle Drogo

Admittedly, it looks less boxy when you get up close to it. But then it appears almost as if half the castle has sunk into the ground and you're only seeing the top section. It messes with your mind a lot, put it that way:

Castle Drogo

So, the question is: WHY? Let me try and explain:

Julius Drewe makes his fortune and retires at 33!

Julius Drewe was a grocer by trade. His mother was a member of the family who owned Peek, Frean & Company, inventors of the Bourbon and Garibaldi biscuits. Julius set up Home and Colonial Stores, which became phenomenally successful - by 1903, it had 500 stores. By then, however, Julius had retired, at the venerable age of 33. There is a family legend that he turned down the offer of a peerage for £100,000 on principle that honours shouldn't be bought. Instead, he decided to plough some of his money into something that he decided could be bought: an ancestral estate dating back to Norman times.

Julius finds his noble ancestor, Drogo de Teigne!

A genealogist had informed Julius that he was possibly connected to a Norman baron known as Drue or Drogo de Teigne. The village of Drewsteignton on the edge of Dartmoor was named after him and so that is where Julius decided to buy some land, build his castle and claim the ancestral heritage that was rightfully (probably) his.

Julius commissions Edwin Lutyens to design Castle Drogo!

The celebrated architect Edwin Lutyens completed over 400 projects during his career. He is most famous for the Cenotaph in London and Rashtrapati Bhavan (formerly Viceroy's House) in New Delhi, as well as a whole host of other houses, offices, war memorials and churches. In 1910, he was well into his stride, having already transformed a ruined fort into a holiday home on Lindisfarne. Julius commissioned him to build Castle Drogo with a large budget and work got underway.

Castle Drogo

Edwin Lutyens designs everything!

What is astonishing about Lutyens is that he designed everything, even the latches on cabinets in the kitchens (he loved kitchens apparently). How he found the time for such detail when he was simultaneously out in India trying to architect an entire city is beyond me.

Julius and Edwin ensure the castle is comfortable!

Like the outside, the interiors of Castle Drogo are strikingly old-modern. The walls are granite and look austere and cold but the castle always offered central heating and other modern conveniences.

Castle Drogo Interior

You can see how very liveable the whole building must have been:

Castle Drogo Drawing Room

Castle Drogo passes to the National Trust

Julius insisted that Castle Drogo had a flat roof and this caused leakage problems from the get-go. Eventually, it all just got too much for one family to manage; the guidebook tells how Anthony Drewe, grandson of Julius, wrote a letter to the National Trust to ask if they'd be interested in taking on the property. The letter contained just one sentence - "I write to enquire whether the National Trust would be interested in acquiring this house, together with the Teign Gorge stretching over to Fingle Bridge?" - and in 1974, the castle and 600 acres of land were given to the National Trust.

Stunt scones
I was pleased to see some 'stunt scones' doing their thing

The Castle Drogo Scone

It must be incredibly difficult to run the Food & Beverage operation at the National Trust. If you take just today as an example: I started out in Heddon Valley on the North Devon coast in the morning. It was a truly beautiful spot but the cafeteria was really basic - the woman had to put the kettle on to make me a cup of tea. There were no scones but it didn't really matter; they had flapjacks and brownies to keep the walkers happy.  

Castle Drogo, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the F&B spectrum. The visitor centre is big and visitor-centrey, with a large cafeteria serving all sorts of food and drinks. This prompted me to throw caution to the winds and wander round the castle first - I NEVER do this as I'm always too worried that all the scones will be eaten by a swarm of locusts who followed me into the car park.

Castle Drogo scone

Castle Drogo was the fourth and final stop on my mini Devon road trip: as well as Heddon Valley, I'd also been to Lundy, which had been lovely but no scones, and Lorna Doone Valley, which had delivered a scone but it hadn't quite been a five-star performer.

So I was overjoyed when the Castle Drogo scone turned out to be excellent. It was fresh and tasty and a good size. 

Only a few final scones to go!

Castle Drogo: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Oscar-worthy performance of the stunt scones: 5 out of 5

Lorna Doone Valley

I've now visited 237 National Trust properties in my quest to meet every NT scone in the land. If I sort the properties by how much time I spent researching the place in advance, then Lorna Doone Valley in Devon would be at the top by a long distance.

The reason for this is very simple: before I set off, I decided to read Lorna Doone, the novel. It is a very long book; 552 pages in fact.

Lorna Doone

But before I tell you about Lorna Doone the novel, I have to tell you that reading it didn't really prepare me for Lorna Doone the valley. It's very much a walking property, with lots of different routes that can take you in various directions. For example, you can walk 5 miles to the very lovely Watersmeet, or do an 8-mile loop to take in the medieval settlement of Badgworthy, which inspired the book.  

But I hadn't really appreciated any of this in advance and I hadn't left enough time to complete any of the walks. I'd already done a jaunt through the very lovely Heddon Valley earlier this morning and I was on my way to Castle Drogo, so time was a bit limited. 

Maybe a lot of people turn up clueless like me, because when I arrived a very nice NT guide was waiting in the car park to provide walking directions. He pointed up a distant hill and then, on seeing my worried face, changed his tack to something a bit easier. And so my leisurely walk took me through a field alongside the river:

Lorna Doone river

It's a really beautiful area. On my way back along the path, I took this picture below and it looks just like a painting.

If you haven't read the book and want a quick summary then I can oblige. Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor was published in 1869 but is set in the late 17th century. It focuses on John Ridd, a farmer's son, whose father is murdered by the Doone family, a bunch of villains who live in an enclave in the area. John is brought home from his boarding school after the killing and on the way he happens to witness the Doones kidnapping an aristocratic young child. The child grows up as Lorna Doone. 

Later, when they are both grown up, she meets John and they begin a secret relationship. John eventually liberates Lorna from the Doones but then her true parentage is revealed and she goes to London. The story is set against the Monmouth Rebellion, where James Scott (who was Duke of Monmouth and the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II) attempted to depose his uncle, James II, from the throne. This ended in the Bloody Assizes and the beheading of James Scott. Judge Jeffreys, who led the Bloody Assizes, is featured in the book. Anyway - a lot happens during those 552 pages before you get a very dramatic ending. 

The novel is a real love letter to the area and it's fantastic that the National Trust is protecting and preserving it. You don't need to read the book to appreciate the region but it definitely helps.

Lorna Doone Valley Scone

I had really loved Heddon Valley during my first visit of the day but it had not been able to provide me with any scones. Yesterday's trip to Lundy had been sconeless as well. I was therefore feeling very anxious about Lorna Doone Valley - had National Trust scones become an endangered species? Or had I just managed to leave all the sconeless places til last? Was this project about to fizzle out?

The cafeteria at Lorna Doone Valley is called The Buttery and it's in a lovely location by the River Badgworthy. I was extremely relieved and pleased when I saw a pile of scones on the counter. My scone was pleasant enough - it was a bit heavy and possibly a little underbaked but to be honest I was just glad to see it. 

Lorna Doone Valley Scone

I later did some research on the author of Lorna Doone, one Richard Doddridge Blackmore, to find out exactly where he had lived in Exmoor. I was quite shocked to discover that although he had spent some of his childhood in Lorna Doone country, from the age of 22 he had lived in Teddington, which is just down the road from my own home. I might have to go over and find his grave and thank him for his book. I'll keep you posted if I find it. 

Lorna Doone Valley: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Handiness of RD Blackmore's final resting place: 5 out of 5

Heddon Valley

I now have just SIX more National Trust properties to visit on this 10-year quest to try all the NT scones across the land. I could - and let's face it, I probably will - write a very long post about everything I have learned from this project.

But here's a quick preview of the main thing I have learned so far: if the scone is underwhelming but the property is great, you're fine. If the property is a little underwhelming but the scone is great, you're fine. You only really have a problem if the scone and property are both underwhelming. And do you want to know how many times that has happened in 10 years, readers? None. No times. It has never happened. To paraphrase the great Sandie Shaw, there's always something there to be happy about.

Heddon Valley in Devon is a great example of this. I unexpectedly loved Heddon Valley today. It went straight into my Top 20: a beautiful little spot perfectly set up for walking, with hills and cliffs and beaches all around.

Heddon Valley walk

The history of Heddon Valley is an interesting one. It was bought by the National Trust in 1965, having previously been part of a grand design by a solicitor called Benjamin Lake. He bought it as part of the Martinhoe Manor Estate in 1885 with plans to turn it into a fashionable holiday resort. He poured lots of time and money into it but it all went horribly wrong and he ended up in prison for embezzlement (you can read more about it here).

Hunters Inn, which is still there today, was built by Benjamin. It had originally been a thatched cottage serving ale to locals from the 18th century. Benj had it rebuilt to look like a Swiss chalet, as the terrible picture below tries to show:

Hunters Inn Heddon Valley

There are numerous walks that you can do in the area. The easiest one is a mile-long walk from the NT carpark down to Heddons Mouth, with its little beach. 

Heddons Mouth

Heddons Mouth also gives you the lovely experience of having the sea on one side and green countryside on the other (a bit like Penrose in Cornwall). I even recorded a little video for you! Get me! I'll be on the TikTok next!

But onto the scones. If you are a regular reader, you will know that it's Scone Blog protocol to always have the scone as soon as I arrive at a property, just in case they run out/have a power cut/get hit by bad weather and have to close early (all of which have happened to me). But today I got to Heddon Valley early, so I did the walk first. 

My walk had been so perfect that I didn't even think about scone availability. But as soon as I walked into the visitor centre, I realised the kitchen was a small operation and I might have a problem. (When I asked for tea, the lovely woman had to put the kettle on.) I was right: the only available sustenance was brownies or flapjacks. I don't know what I have against chocolate brownies - somehow they always feel to me like 15 Mars Bars and all their calories squashed together in one stodgy brick - so I went for the flapjack.

Was I sorry not to get a scone at Heddon Valley? Of course, but Heddon had already given me a lot to be happy about, plus I still had plenty of scone potential ahead, with both Lorna Doone Valley and Castle Drogo on my list for the day.

So my recommendation is to visit Heddon Valley if you can - it's a beautiful little place. 

Heddon Valley: 5 out of 5
Scone: 0 out of 5 - there weren't any
Getting to Heddon Valley very early and being the only person on the path: 5 out of 5

Saturday 10 September 2022


It takes a bit of commitment for a visitor to get to Lundy Island in Devon. A boat trip lasting just under two hours takes you from Ilfracombe harbour. You can then either get the boat back again a few hours later or you can stay in accommodation on the island. 

The large boat at the jetty is how you get to Lundy Island.
It stops running in October though and you need to get a helicopter instead. 

I had worked out before I set off that I probably didn't actually need to go to Lundy at all. It's owned by the National Trust but the island is run by the Landmark Trust, an organisation that rescues interesting buildings and makes them available for holiday rental. The rules of the National Trust Scone Blog state that I only need to visit properties where the scones are provided by the NT itself.

But before anyone says "National Trust Scone Blogger, you really don't make it easy for yourself", let me tell you that this fastidiousness is caused by one thing only: FEAR. I am so fearful that I will slump over the finish line on this project, only for someone to say "You haven't been to Lundy. I was there in July and they have a huge NT cafeteria serving 15 types of scones," that I am covering places that probably don't need to be covered, just to be on the safe side. 

So I went to Lundy and it was well worth it. Let me tell you a bit about it.

Lundy History

  • Lundy is just 3 miles long and half a mile wide.
  • The burial ground near the Old Light lighthouse contains four Christian memorial stones from the 5th-8th centuries.
  • The de Marisco family seems to have leased the island in 1150. In 1155, Henry II became king and tried to give Lundy to the Knights Templar but the de Mariscos refused to hand it over. They used it as a base for piracy.
  • In 1238, William de Marisco was implicated in a plot against Henry III. He was captured, found guilty of treason and hung, drawn and quartered.
  • To avoid further trouble, Henry III ordered the castle to be built and it was completed in 1244.
  • Lundy was then owned by a lot of people, including Sir Richard Grenville (of Buckland Abbey fame) and countless others. It's not clear why so many people decided to take Lundy on, only to dispose of it again - probably because it was so expensive to maintain.
  • William Hudson Heaven bought Lundy in 1836. He had - look away now, Restore Trusters - inherited sugar plantations in Jamaica and received compensation when slaves were emancipated. However, he ran out of money and set up the Lundy Granite Company. It thrived for a few years before the enterprise collapsed.
  • In 1968, the island was up for sale again. This time, wealthy philanthropist Jack Hayward of Wolverhampton Wanderers fame stepped in and gave £150,000 so it could be bought and given to the National Trust. 

Lundy Landmarks

Lundy has had many owners and each has contributed to the island's development in different ways. I highly recommend the guidebook for a full run-down. Some of the buildings you can see today include:
  • Castle
  • South Light lighthouse
  • St Helen's church
  • Millcombe House, built by William Hudson Heaven and known originally as The Villa
  • Old Light - the original lighthouse opened in 1820. Lundy is located in the Bristol Channel and was always a shipping hazard. Old Light wasn't successful - it got obscured by fog and workarounds had to be found:

Old Light Lundy

Lundy Scones

Lundy also has a shop and a pub but that's about it as far as sustenance goes. The Marisco Tavern never shuts apparently - it only serves alcohol during licensed hours but it's the only building to keep its lighting on even after the generators have stopped and everything else is dark.

The Marisco Tavern was originally the shop. It was built during the 1860s to serve the 300 men who worked in the quarry and it offered a "Refreshment Room" as well as supplies. (My Scottish Great Auntie Nessie always referred to a drink as a "wee refreshment" so she'd have approved of that.) Once the quarry had gone, it retained its dual purpose as pub and shop.

Marisco Tavern
The Marisco Tavern, if you need a refreshment.

I didn't see any scones on display today and I didn't have the heart to ask if they had any. Instead, I had a piece of Victoria sponge and it was fine.  

Lundy Wildlife

Scones weren't the only thing to elude me today. Lundy is famous for its wildlife, especially its puffins. I was extremely excited about seeing some puffins but I realised a few weeks ago that this wasn't going to happen. Puffins spend the winter out at sea, bobbing about and eating fish. They only come inland in March to mate and nest and have their young. In August they go back to sea again, like little mini sailors. I hadn't missed them by much. But I'd definitely missed them.

Everyone on the boat was hoping to see a dolphin - we didn't. The boat announcer told us to beware of the Lundy ponies, adding with some interesting certainty "because they bite". I didn't see them either. I did see a seal though, so that was very exciting.

In short, I highly recommend Lundy Island to you. It might not have any scones but it's a great place to spend a few hours or even a few days if you like very dark and quiet nights.

Lundy Island: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 - there weren't any
Someone playing the recorder very loudly - mind you, this was late in the afternoon. Maybe they just wanted us all to go home: 0 out of 5