Saturday 21 January 2023

Prior Park Revisited

It's funny how you always tend to remember the good bits of a day out. For example, I set off on my revisit to Prior Park Landscape Garden today remembering that it was easy to get there from Bath train station and that the centre of Bath itself is close by, with all the bonus loveliness of that.

What I had forgotten is that Prior Park is at the top of a steep hill. And when you get inside the park, you basically have to walk down the hill again before having to go all the way back up it again. And then when you leave, you have to walk down it again. In short: you basically spend a lot of time on a hill in Bath.

BUT! Don't let that put you off, because it's a lovely place and totally worth the Grand Old Duke of Yorking that you have to do. It was also very, very cold today so I was glad of the exercise, frankly.

I went back to Prior Park Landscape Garden today because they didn't have any scones the first time I visited in 2015 and I'm trying to give every property a fair go before I finally complete this project in February. The gardens were created by an exceptional man called Ralph Allen - you can read all about him in my first post about Prior Park so I won't repeat it here. 

Last week's revisit to Hindhead Commons and the Devil's Punch Bowl had been glorious - it was very cold but very sunny. Today I got the very cold bit:

Palladian Bridge

But it didn't matter. The Palladian Bridge seems to look lovely in all weathers. 

The Prior Park Scone

The main thing I remembered about the Prior Park scone from 2015 was that they didn't have any. What I hadn't remembered (but my original blog post helpfully reminded me) is that I'd taken solace that day in a huge lump of carrot cake. So I was hopeful of some sort of baked treat.  

The other thing I recalled was that the refreshments at Prior Park had been right at the bottom of the hill, about as far away from the entrance as you could get. I had steeled myself for this today, so I was overjoyed when the woman at reception told me they'd moved it and it was now just a few short metres away. 

I walked around the corner and found the promised Tea Shed:

Prior Park Tea Shed

It looked really lovely and inviting, despite the cold. However, I've been on this National Trust Scone Odyssey for a long time now and I can tell when scones are less likely to be on the menu. I prepared for the worst - and was delighted to be wrong. The Tea Shed offered a choice of fruit scone, plain scone or cheese scone. I plumped for fruit.

Prior Park scone

Clearing the frost off the table was a first for this project but it was worth it, because the scone was a triumph. It was very slightly warm and tasted delicious - I did waver very slightly on the score but in the end it had to be a 5 out of 5.

I have to tell you that the city of Bath has form for requiring revisits. My first visit to Bath Assembly Rooms in 2013 ended in scone failure, so the Scone Sidekick and I went back in 2014. On that occasion we had a Bath Bun as well as a scone. Today I decided to buy another Bath Bun for old time's sake - I knew the Assembly Rooms were closed but I thought every bakery in Bath would serve them. Turns out they don't. But Bath is always an excellent day out, so I recommend a visit if you've never been. 

Prior Park Landscape Garden: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Prettiness of work of Jack Frost: 5 out of 5

Sunday 15 January 2023

Hindhead Commons and the Devil's Punch Bowl Revisited

Let's begin this final year of the National Trust Scone Odyssey with a recap: so far, 243 National Trust properties have been visited. Only one place remains on the 'to visit' list. 

If you're wondering why I don't just go there now and get myself over the line, the final property is the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. And although I live under the Heathrow flight path and could probably get to Belfast quicker than I could get to Ipswich, I mentally need several months' notice if there's a plane involved.

But it's actually very fortunate that I ended up with a few weeks on pause. I started doing my 'scone return' - totting up all the scores over the past 10 years and working out which counties had performed the best etc - when I noticed an anomaly.

Basically, there are a small number of properties that have scored 0/5 for scones over the past decade. I hasten to add that in most cases this is because there never were any scones in the first place - there's no catering at the Beatles' Childhood Homes, for example, or at Carlyle's House in Chelsea. No scones were promised and none were expected, but we went there anyway. So we can discount those.

But there were a tiny number of properties that scored 0/5 for other reasons. One of those reasons was that the cafe didn't have any scones when we visited, even though they appeared to have the facilities to do so. And this is where the anomaly occurs, because Hughenden didn't have any scones when we first went there in 2013, BUT WE WENT BACK in 2014. Hughenden therefore scored 4.5/5 for its scone without any mention of the 0/5 on first asking.

Is that truly fair, I asked myself. Is that truly fair on poor old Chedworth Roman Villa, for example, who might have just been having an off day? 

So, because I'm a conscientious person, I have decided to revisit as many of the should-have-had-a-scone-but-didn't places as I can before the end of February.

Which is all a very long way of explaining why I found myself back at Hindhead Commons and the Devil's Punch Bowl in Surrey today.

Hindhead Commons View

I'm not going to repeat everything I shared on my first visit to Hindhead Commons and the Devil's Punch Bowl. In that first post, you'll find the history of how the place got its name, mixed in with the history of the A3, and some stuff about mist.

I did manage to find the gory stuff this time. There's a really good map that provides walking trails and I decided to change the habit of a lifetime and not pick the shortest one. This meant that I ended up covering a different part of the area and learning a few new factoids.

This celtic cross below, for example, stands on Gibbet Hill, which is the second highest hill in Surrey (after Leith Hill). As the name suggests, it was once the site of a gibbet where murderers were executed and then left to rot as a warning to others. 

Celtic Cross Devils Punch Bowl

The area used to be notorious for highwaymen but the most famous crime was the murder of a sailor by three men in 1786, which is commemorated by the Sailor's Stone:

Sailor's Stone

The men were hung on Gibbet Hill, having been tried by The Reverend James Fielding. He was the local magistrate, although he was also allegedly a highwayman according to the nearby sign, which is a bit baffling. 

The Hindhead Commons and Devil's Punch Bowl Scone

Unusually for me, I was very optimistic that I'd get a scone today. When I went to HCADPB in 2014, the cafeteria was quite big (which is always a good sign) and they did actually have some scones in the oven. I cannot for the life of me remember why I didn't just wait for one. But today I didn't have to wait at all, as they had loads of scones, along with lots of other food.

Devil's Punch Bowl Scone

My heart sank, though, when I cut into the scone. It was quite hard, it fell apart and I wasn't convinced that it was fresh. I was ready to give it a three and just be glad that it was an improvement on zero. 

But it turned out to be delicious. It had probably been baked for a bit longer than necessary, which meant it was slightly dry as well as a bit hard, but it was really tasty. I actually did wonder if it deserved a five but it was just a tad too crusty. 

It's somehow even nicer to find a scone in a place where you failed the first time, so I'll hopefully enjoy these extra few bonus trips.

I'll end with a quote from Hugh Grant. (Well, not Hugh Grant exactly, but the character he plays in Love Actually.) In the voiceover he says "Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport." Let me tell you now: you don't need to go to an airport. Just find a National Trust open space on a sunny day and watch all the people and dogs as they arrive by car, or by bike, or on foot. So much happiness. Especially when you get a scone. 

Hindhead Commons and the Devil's Punch Bowl: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Dependability of me always having the wrong footwear in January: 5 out of 5