Wednesday 14 June 2023

Cliveden Revisited

Eyes down, everyone - it's time for some more Scone Stats! Ever since I completed the National Trust Scone Quest back in March, I've been playing around with the data I'd gathered over my 10 years of scone eating - see my post on Which UK Counties Serve The Best Scones? for a taste of the important questions I've been able to answer.

Today I decided to crunch the numbers to solve a conundrum that has been plaguing me for ages, namely: are the most popular National Trust properties actually more likely to serve a lower quality scone? Are you more likely to find a great scone at a property that gets fewer visitors?

It's a shocking thought, I know. And it obviously doesn't stack up. Surely the bigger NT properties have more visitors, so they have better facilities and more staff, which means the scones should be better than the ones at smaller places?

But the evidence against the larger properties started unexpectedly accumulating back in 2014. I was only 10 months into this project when I went to Cliveden in Berkshire. It was (and is) a beautiful place, but I got into a Rumplestiltskin-esque rage about the miniscule scone that I was served (see original blog post about that first Cliveden scone experience.) 

The 2014 Cliveden scone. Get your microscopes out.

My rage against the Cliveden scone took on a new intensity, however, when I later discovered the National Trust annual report. In these annual reports, the NT includes the visitor numbers of properties with more than 50,000 visitors. The order of the properties changes every year (and dramatically so during COVID) but as far as I know, Cliveden has always been in the top five. In the 2021/2022 annual report, for example, Cliveden was the NT's second most popular property with almost 554,000 visitors. 

How? HOW? How could one of the biggest NT properties be serving up disappointing scones? It didn't make sense. 

So with 10 years of data in front of me, I decided to delve in and see if this was a wider issue or a one-off.

I have three pieces of analysis to share with you. Let's start  by looking at the top 5 NT properties that had the most visitors in 2021/2022 and what I scored them for their scone:

1. Attingham: 4 out of 5 (in 2015)
2. Cliveden: 3 out of 5 (in 2014)
3. Dunham Massey: 4.5 out of 5 (in 2015)
4. Clumber Park: 5 out of 5 (in 2017)
5. Calke Abbey: 4.5 out of 5 (in 2016)

Conclusion: The really popular properties could improve on their scones. Only one of the top 5 properties scored a 5. One (Cliveden) scored badly. But the other scores aren't dismal. And you have to take into consideration that all of the larger places were reviewed in the first four years of the quest.

Let's move on to analysis number two. Here I've worked out the average scone score for all of the properties that I visited that should have been able to provide a scone, divided into two groups:

  • Group 1 - properties with over 50,000 visitors that are listed in the report: average scone score 4.4
  • Group 2 - properties not listed in the report as they have fewer than 50,000 visitors: average scone score 3.7
Conclusion: The average scone score suggests that the most visited properties do actually provide better quality scones - the most visited properties had an average score of 4.4, compared with 3.7 in the properties with fewer visitors.

And finally, what percentage of the properties served a 5-star scone? Are visitors more likely to find a top class scone at the more popular places?

  • Percentage of properties with over 50,000 visitors that scored a 5 for their scones: 48%
  • Percentage of properties with fewer than 50,000 visitors that scored a 5 for their scones: 35%
Conclusion: Here we see compelling evidence that the more popular properties are more likely to serve a 5-star scone, with almost half of them doing so. In comparison, just over a third of less-visited properties were able to provide the top class scone that we all live for.

Overall verdict: the most popular National Trust properties tend to serve the best scones and Cliveden was just an outlier.

BUT! We also have to consider the timing of my visits. All of the top 5 scones were reviewed by me in the first four years of the quest. Had things changed in the years since?

On the 9th anniversary of my first visit to Cliveden, I decided to go back and find out if there had been any improvements.

Reader, the improvement was enormous. The Cliveden cafe is still one of the very nicest in the whole of the National Trust, with a really impressive array of cakes and a choice of scones. As ever, I stuck to the fruit scone and was delighted to see that it was about twice the size of the 2014 specimen.   

Cliveden scone
The 2023 Cliveden scone - a beauty

But to truly appreciate the difference, you need to see a side-by-side comparison, which I have provided below: 

I think you will agree that progress had been made.

Trusty research assistant providing adjudication on top scone quality

Cliveden itself is a stunning property. You can read about Cliveden's scandalous history in my first post so I won't repeat it here. The house is a hotel today so you can't wander in waving your NT membership card but the extensive grounds are enough of a reason to visit.  

I won't be starting a series of 'Where Are They Now And Have They Improved The Scones?' as I only ever had a handful of disappointments over the 10 years of my project, so it wouldn't make a very good series. But I'm glad I did the analysis - it means I can stop my annual rant against the Cliveden scone.


  1. The duck gave Calke 5 stars :) Cliveden was awful when I went!

  2. A perfect bit of analysis, much appreciated by this scone afficianado. I have a different scoring system but our methods are in step. Just nobody ever scores 10 on my scale. Ever. There's always room for improvement :-)