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

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