Friday, 22 July 2022

Hatfield Forest

When I finally come to write my magnum opus The History of National Trust Scones 1895-Present, I will define in some detail the seismic change - some would call it a revolution - that occurred during the years 2020-2022.

In the pre-COVID era, a National Trust scone that was not served on an actual ceramic plate caused emotional shockwaves. I well remember being served a cream tea on a paper plate in the cafeteria at Greenway and the absolute confusion that ensued. I don't think my MP actually ever raised it at Prime Minister's Questions but she should have done - that's how controversial it was. 

But by 2020, when I finally made it to Stackpole for a scone after months of lockdown, I could have sent the takeaway box that it came in off to the Vatican and asked them to canonise it. If the cafe staff had handed that scone to me balanced on an old copy of Hello magazine, I'd probably have eaten it. 

In short: COVID made takeaway scones acceptable.

Why am I telling you this? Well, if I had gone to Hatfield Forest in Essex in 2018, I would never have expected to find any scones. There's no cafeteria at Hatfield - just a serving counter. I would have been completely prepared to settle for a more traditionally portable baked item.


But then last week, someone sent me a photo of a scone being eaten at Hatfield Forest and I let my guard down. I recruited my niece Fay (the Craig Revel-Horwood of scones, as we saw at Lamb House and Croft Castle) and off we went.

I'll cut to the chase, readers: there were no scones. I couldn't see any when we arrived at the cafe/counter and so I asked if they were available. "We haven't got any yet," said the woman, at which point my heart leapt and I asked her when she expected them, quickly calculating how long I'd be willing to wait (2 hours probably my limit). "Tomorrow," she replied and so we settled for some rhubarb flapjack.

Hatfield Forest Scone
Ceci n'est pas une scone

Bravely soldiering on with flapjack

We then wandered off for a look around Hatfield Forest. A bit of history for you:
  • Hatfield Forest is the best surviving example of a royal hunting forest
  • It was named as such by Henry I around 1100
  • Henry introduced fallow deer to the forest from Europe
  • If you were caught poaching the royal deer, one of the punishments was to be sewn into a deerskin and hunted by dogs, which would probably put you off trying it
  • The forest was owned by Robert the Bruce from 1304-6 but Edward I wanted to be King of Scotland so he confiscated it
  • Hatfield Forest then passed through many aristocratic hands until it was given to Sir Richard Rich by Edward VI 
  • If you are a fan of Wolf Hall, you will recognise the name Richard Rich. He worked with Thomas Cromwell on the Dissolution of the Monasteries as well as on the Act of Supremacy, recognising Henry VIII as the Head of the Church in England
  • It was then purchased by Jacob Houblon before ending up with a timber merchant - luckily a passionate conservationist called Sir Edward North Buxton stepped in and bought it before giving it to the National Trust
  • Across the 900 acres today, around 3,500 species of living things can be found
But here's an interesting fact: the last time I went to a National Trust property where I expected to find a scone but failed to do so was in February 2017 (Chedworth Roman Villa)! In 5 years of scone missions, I have always found a scone when the tea room was open. That is really impressive by the National Trust. Admittedly, I recently had a couple of tea room closures in Cornwall but that's a different challenge.

Anyway! The National Trust recently opened another property called Crook Hall Gardens in Durham so I've had to add one to my list - I now have just 13 properties left to go! Onwards to scone glory!

Hatfield Forest: 4 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 - there weren't any
Realisation that out of 66 National Trust scone missions between 2017 and 2022, I always got a scone when I expected one: 5 out of 5

Other National Trust properties I have visited in Essex: Paycockes

Saturday, 16 July 2022

Dunstable Downs

I'm going to level with you here: until today, if you'd asked me to make a list of my least favourite words, then 'Dunstable' and 'down' would have been on that list. Why? Well, Dunstable and I fell out with each other some years ago (for relatively trivial work-related reasons that I won't go into), and down is not the cheeriest word in the English language.

As a result of this, I've probably been avoiding Dunstable Downs, or Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Estate to give the place its full title. But I got out of the car in Bedfordshire today and the view literally took my breath away - it was not what I was expecting at all. I was genuinely astonished by it.

Dunstable Downs

In fact, I was so taken aback by the spectacular views that I failed to take a picture of the bumps that cover the Neolithic burial grounds. Dunstable Downs has seven round 'barrows', which are believed to be the resting places of kings or chiefs. Over 90 skeletons from various periods have been found - in Saxon times about 30 bodies were buried with their hands tied behind their backs, which doesn't sound very hopeful. 

But if walking on 5000-year-old burial grounds isn't your thing, then extra entertainment is provided by the London Gliding Club, which is based at the foot of the downs. Gliders and hang gliders come in and out of view, while kite flying is also very popular.


The Dunstable Downs Scone

I had originally planned to visit Dunstable Downs in 2020. My friend Justine had agreed to bring her talented young baker daughter along so I could get her expert opinion on the scones. That was postponed, however, for yet more trivial work-related reasons. Young Evie takes after her mother, in that if you don't get in her diary early enough then you will struggle, as she is much in demand. So it was just me, Justine, and Evie's notes on her 2020 scone that made it to Dunstable Downs today. 

The lovely modern cafeteria in the visitor's centre at DD gives you the opportunity to 'eat the scone' and 'see the place' at the same time, which I always love: 

View at Dunstable Downs with scone

I was worried that the good weather may have caused a scone-buying frenzy and we'd be left empty-handed. But there were plenty of plain and fruit scones to be had. We did have a minor scare that there was no clotted cream but that turned out to be a false alarm, although the cream we did get was completely frozen and we had to thaw it out a bit.

National Trust scone at Dunstable Downs

My plain scone was absolutely first-rate - large, fresh, crumbly and tasty. The fruit scone was a bit smaller but also tasty, according to Justine:

Dunstable Downs scone

Our experience corroborated Evie's earlier review, which means that Dunstable Downs is consistent. Evie's detailed notes confirm that: 
  • Scone does not come with cream and jam as standard 
  • The outside of scone has a well-baked crust
  • For the size of the scone it could have more raisins
  • Very generous size
  • The inside of the scone was nice and sweet

I'm not going to worry too much about the fact that Evie's review is way better than any of my reviews. I see it as an investment - in about 30 years' time she might repeat this National Trust Scone Quest exercise and write blog posts that keep me entertained in my nursing home.

So I highly recommend Dunstable Downs - for scones, tea and spectacular views.

Dunstable Downs: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Added bonus of aircraft watching: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 25 June 2022

Plas yn Rhiw

My long-suffering friends SJ and Steph probably thought they had done their bit for the National Trust Scone Project by now. I'm sure they waved me off back in March following our jaunt to Aira Force in the Lake District thinking "please God, please just let her finish this project so we can talk about something else". 

But they could see that I was struggling a bit with the final fifteen NT properties on my list. Plas yn Rhiw was the one that was worrying me the most - it's in North Wales and quite remote, plus it looked relatively small. The thought of trying to get there and back in a day didn't really fill me with hope.

Plas yn Rhiw

And thank God I didn't try to get there and back in a day. Plas yn Rhiw is FANTASTIC, as is the local area. We decided to make a weekend of it - stay in a dog-friendly caravan park in Pwllheli, visit Plas yn Rhiw, have a little chunter along on the Ffestiniog and Welsh and Highland Railway in Porthmadog AND have a look at Portmeirion (neither of the latter two are National Trust but never mind).  

But let me tell you a bit about Plas yn Rhiw:
  • The house dates back to at least the 17th century, when a man called John Lewis owned it. He was descended from the King of Powys.
  • It remained in the family by marriage until 1874, when it was bought and occupied by tenants before it was abandoned.
  • Three sisters (Eileen, Lorna and Honora Keating) came to live at Plas yn Rhiw in 1939. They were from Nottingham but had spent holidays in the area and had been longing to save the house. When it came up for sale they bought it.
The Hall at Plas yn Rhiw
The Hall at Plas yn Rhiw - the wiggly post was a Clough Williams-Ellis addition
  • They lived in the house until Lorna died in 1981, but they had opened it up to the public before the place was taken on by the National Trust in 1952. 
  • The Keatings were friends with Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect who built Portmeirion, and he had some influence on the house.

The house is incredibly homely - I could move in there tomorrow. Outside, there's a beautiful garden that fits lots of colour and greenery into quite a small space. It's a wonderful place that leaves a really strong impression.

The volunteers were also lovely. One of the women had visited the house as a child and knew the sisters - it's quite sad to think that those connections won't always be with us, but also such a lovely privilege to meet people so connected to a place and feel that the past is still close by.

The Plas yn Rhiw Scone

There's one important feature at Plas yn Rhiw that doesn't appear in the photographs on the NT website: the sea. The house has a spectacular vantage point over Cardigan Bay and over a beach known locally as 'Hell's Mouth', which is probably the most misnamed place in the whole of the UK as it's stunningly beautiful. The name has something to do with shipwrecks, apparently.

Anyway, the tea room courtyard at Plas yn Rhiw overlooks the bay, which means it must surely have the nicest view of any National Trust tea room. I can't think of a better one:

Plas yn Rhiw tearoom

Steph has traditionally avoided eating any scones on our outings - you can see her enjoying a salad here at Hardcastle Crags - but today she shocked me by announcing that she was "on holiday" and therefore scones were permitted.

I'm not sure the scones had been freshly baked that day but they looked the part and were very tasty:

Plas yn Rhiw scone

I'm pleased to report that Steph loved hers. I'd always feared that maybe she didn't like scones at all and one day it would all come out in a dramatic Kat-Slater-in-EastEnders moment - "You ain't a scone fan!" "NO I HATE THEM!!!" - and we'd sadly have to fall out. But today proved that she has been bravely subjecting herself to torture for a few years by watching the rest of us eat ours.


We then pootled off to Porthmadog for a ride on the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway - that link will take you to my other project, which is to visit the 500 places on the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travel List. (I wouldn't rush down to Ladbrokes to bet on me finishing that project anytime soon.)

That leaves just 14 National Trust scones to go! I've decided to give myself a bit longer, as squashing them in takes a bit of enjoyment out of it. My new deadline is April 2023 - that'll make it a nice round (if slightly embarrassing) 10 years of scone adventures.

Plas yn Rhiw: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Unexpected view of the bay to accompany scone: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Pentire

I have been very successful so far on this National Trust Scone Odyssey. I have very rarely failed to find a scone. I had a few near misses earlier this year, what with bad weather forcing early cafe closures and good weather forcing other people to buy all the scones before I got there, but it has always worked out OK.

My luck ran out today though. I was planning to visit Pentire in Cornwall on Tuesday but noticed on the website that the tea kiosk was going to be closed. I probably tempted fate by enthusiastically praising my own cleverness for avoiding disaster, because I moved the visit to Wednesday...and it was still closed.

Pentire Cafe
You can't win 'em all

But the sky was blue and the sun was shining so I set off for a lovely walk towards Pentire Point. 

Pentire in Cornwall

It was only when I got home that I realised the war poem 'For the Fallen' had been composed by Laurence Binyon while he was sitting on the cliffs between Pentire Point and The Rumps. There's a plaque that I completely failed to see, which features the most famous verse: 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

The National Trust once again providing surprises where you least expect to find them. 

Be reassured that I did get a scone today - I had added Carnewas at Bedruthan to my itinerary as a bonus stop on my mini road trip and the scones were delicious, even if they weren't strictly National Trust. Plus I'd had a fantastic NT scone at Godolphin on Monday. So all is not lost as we head into the final straight of the scone quest!

Pentire: 5 out of 5
Scone: 0 out of 5, as there wasn't one
Inspiration for poets: 5 out of 5

Carnewas at Bedruthan

I had originally decided not to include Carnewas at Bedruthan in this project. Although the NT website mentions a tea room, I had heard that it wasn't actually NT-run. The Ancient Rules of the National Trust Scone Blog (written last month) dictate that any tenant-run cafeterias are not mandatory to the quest and so I'd ruled it out on the basis that I probably already had enough on my plate.

Bedruthan

However, Carnewas is near Padstow and I'd never been there, plus the 2022 National Trust Scone Tour of Cornwall (see also Godolphin and Penrose) took me very close by. It seemed rude not to call in, so I added it to my list and headed off. My enthusiasm for a bonus scone was tempered somewhat by the pouring rain but I figured I'd manage. 

The NT website had informed me that the steps down to Bedruthan beach are currently closed due to a rock fall. I won't lie - I was actually quite relieved when I saw them. It was windy and wet, plus it was also early, so there was no-one else around. I imagined myself being blown off the cliff and the Mystery of the Missing Scone Blogger making page 22 of the local paper, until I was found in the sea, wearing my flimsy coat and trainers, at which point all sympathy for me would have eroded.

Anyway, putting my mad imaginings aside, the views from the cliffs were spectacular. The sun came out and I wandered along the well-marked footpaths feeling very pleased that I had made the extra stop.

Carnewas at Bedruthan

The tea room was also worth the detour. They go big on breakfasts, so I felt a bit weird asking for a cream tea at 10.45am. They delivered though, and I got two excellent scones with loads of cream and jam (I also got two plates, so I assume you're only supposed to share the serving between two people). 

Bedruthan Scones

The scones were light and quite bready - they weren't Cornish splits but they were split-ish. They were perfection on a plate.

I then drove on to Padstow for a fish and chip lunch before heading to Pentire. The tea room at Pentire was closed, which I was sad about, but my arteries were probably overjoyed.

Carnewas at Bedruthan: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Sunshine on a rainy day: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Penrose

Someone asked me at the start of the year how I was planning to celebrate the completion of the National Trust Scone Quest. I was a bit confused: surely eating 200 scones is reward enough? But I never turn down an opportunity to treat myself and so I decided that my self-prize would be a trip to a National Trust holiday property.

It's possible that you didn't know about National Trust holiday accommodation. There's loads of it: the NT has about 470 holiday cottages, as well as bothies and camping grounds and even hotels, all around the UK. 

I love the thought of staying on a National Trust estate. In 2016, we did just that, when we went to Boscastle in Cornwall and stayed in an old pilchard cellar. They'd taken the pilchards out, thankfully. The building contained our holiday apartment as well as...big drum roll please...the Boscastle tea room. This was, and still is, extremely exciting to me. Some people dream of swimming with dolphins; I dream of living with National Trust scones. 

So I scouted around for a treat destination and up came a holiday apartment on the Penrose estate, again in Cornwall. The apartment was in the old stables. I checked and the Penrose tea room was also in the old stables. I figured it probably wouldn't have two old stables - and I was right! I could BE AT ONE WITH THE SCONES. Then I thought: why wait until I've finished the quest to reward myself? I could claim my reward early AND visit my final Cornwall properties!

Except it didn't quite work out. The tea room at Penrose isn't open at the moment. The website said something about it not being ready for Easter, but I had taken the optimistic view that maybe they just hadn't updated the website recently. But no. The doors were closed and the oven was off.

Penrose Stables
The Penrose Stables. No scones today. But a great holiday apartment.

I'm sure the closure had its benefits. The people that had stayed at Penrose before me had left a note in the visitors book saying "It's our third time here and it was so lovely and quiet this time without the tea room! But we missed the cake and sandwiches." Which probably sums it up. 

But! The motto of the National Trust Scone Blog is 'NEVER MIND', and I was lucky enough to be doing a mini road trip, which meant I had Godolphin and other spectacular successes to make up for a small set back.

After I had stared forlornly at the tea room for 5 minutes, willing someone to open the door and say "Oh hi! We decided that 4pm on a Tuesday afternoon was the perfect time to reopen - how fortunate that you happen to be passing! Come in!", I realised that I didn't know anything else about Penrose at all. I had got totally distracted by my Hotel Sconeifornia and I was now at a bit of a loss as to what to do next. There's a big house on the Penrose estate but it isn't open to the public. 

There were a few signposts to Loe Pool that pointed me along the path, so I set off. I soon found myself walking alongside a freshwater lake that is actually the largest natural body of water in Cornwall:

Loe Pool

What is highly unusual about Loe Pool is that when you reach the far end of it, it is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a very narrow strip of sand and shingle beach called Loe Bar. Below you can see Loe Pool on the left, then the strip of beach, then the Atlantic Ocean on the right:

Loe Bar Beach

It was about 5pm when I finally got down onto Loe Bar, so there was hardly anyone else there. It just blew my mind that I could stand on the Bar and face one way towards a lake and lush green estate leading up a hill, and then turn 180 degrees on the exact same spot and be facing the flatness of the wild Atlantic Ocean:

The view from Loe Bar facing the ocean

The view from Loe Bar, on the exact same spot, but facing Loe Pool and the Penrose estate

It's a beautiful spot, but back in the day Loe Bar was extremely dangerous for ships and sailors. In 1807, a 44 gun frigate called HMS Anson sank with over 100 fatalities. 

The Rogers family, who had bought the estate in 1771, had the "rights of wreck" up until 1881. This meant that any cargo belonged to them if a ship was wrecked in the area - this could (and did) include expensive wine among other things.

Before the Rogers family acquired the estate, it had belonged to the Penrose family. When their male line failed, the Rogers bought the place and built the stables and extended the house. By 1876 it was the 15th largest estate in Cornwall. 

In 1974, the estate, along with Loe Pool and 4 miles of foreshore, were given to the NT by John Peverell Rogers. He retained the house and it passed to his son Charles in 2012. When Charles died in 2018, he appeared to have left no heir but his son Jordan Adlard Rogers (who had always known that Charles was probably his father) came forward and, following a DNA test, has now inherited the place.

Penrose is absolutely worth a visit for the highly unusual Loe Bar experience - although maybe wait until the tea room is open again and you can post one to me??

Penrose: 5 out of 5
Scone: 0 out of 5 - the tea room is closed 
Loe Bar Beach: 5 out of 5 


Monday, 9 May 2022

Glendurgan Garden

There are some things in life that definitely look better in photos than they do in reality. Likewise, there are some things that look better in real life - most food, for example, doesn't photograph well unless you have professional lights and styling. Scones are obviously the exception - they always look great.

Anyway. Today I discovered that the extremely photogenic maze at Glendurgan Garden in Cornwall is ten times as impressive and astonishing in real life as it is in the photos. You have to go and see it for yourself - put it on your lists. 

The Glendurgan Maze

Let's start with the maze. I'm sure everything else at Glendurgan gets fed up of playing second fiddle to it, but it's the star attraction for good reason:

Glendurgan Garden

The maze was built in 1833 by Alfred Fox to entertain his friends. He modelled it on the maze at Sydney Gardens in Bath, although that was built on flat ground.

The guidebook says "it looks like a tea plantation in Assam" and that is absolutely true. It also feels like a tea plantation in Assam - if you're over 4' tall, you'll be able to see over the hedges as you walk around. I was thinking 'I can see exactly where I'm going - how hard can this be??' except it was hard. I would suddenly come to an unexpected dead-end, and it didn't matter whether I could see over the hedge or not - I still had to go back. It was a really interesting experience.

I was also completely shocked by the final paragraph about the maze in the guide book: "In 1991 the Maze was in a really poor condition and a decision was taken to restore it. The hedges were cut to ground level, the path surfaces were reinstated and the summer house added. Although a difficult decision at the time it has resulted in a maze in very good health." 

Can you EVEN IMAGINE being responsible for the decision to raze the Glendurgan maze to the ground? And then being the one to actually go in there with the chainsaw (OK - maybe they didn't use a chain saw)? There's a photograph of it in 1991 and it looks like a muddy field containing some very small rose bushes. National Trust gardeners have stronger nerves than me, that's for sure.

But there's more to Glendurgan than the maze. I'll start with some history:

  • The garden was started by Alfred Fox in the 1830s.
  • Alfred came from a wealthy Quaker family of ship agents - they were also keen gardeners.
  • He built a thatched cottage on the estate in 1826 - apparently one day he was having lunch when he was informed that the cottage had burnt down. Rather than being annoyed, he took the opportunity to build a bigger house. 
  • His grandson, Cuthbert, decided to give the garden to the National Trust in 1962.

The other attractions include:

  • The Holy Bank - there's a Victorian section of the garden containing appropriate plants, including a Judas tree, a Crown of Thorns and a Prickly Moses.
  • Areas dedicated to New Zealand and Bhutan, as well as the Jungle, which contains giant rhubarb and banana leaves.

Glendurgan

Durgan 

At the bottom of Glendurgan Garden is a small former fishing village called Durgan. It's tiny - it mainly consists of National Trust holiday properties. But it's a beautiful spot with a little beach for a quiet change of scene.

Durgan seashore

The Glendurgan Scone

I recently heard a rumour that the National Trust employs stunt scones. This was shocking news indeed. I assume that National Trust stunt scones are varnished or made out of papier-mâché or something so they can make drawing rooms look lived in, rather than throwing themselves out of windows or getting blown up.

When I saw the Glendurgan scone today, my first thought was "this scone should DEFINITELY apply to be a National Trust stunt scone". It was HUGE. It was also the perfect colour with a good rise on it. Sadly for the scone, it never made it to the auditions because I was hungry and needed to eat it. It also turned out to look slightly better than it tasted. It was nice but a bit dry.   


The Glendurgan Maze really does need to be experienced though, so put it on your lists next time you're in Cornwall!

Glendurgan Garden: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4 out of 5
Maze that looks easy but isn't: 5 out of 5