Sunday, 26 March 2023

Best National Trust Scones 2013-2023

The National Trust Scone Quest is complete! I found my final scone on March 1st 2023 at the Giant's Causeway, and very relieved I was to see it too.

This project has taken almost 10 years. Every August, I've celebrated the anniversary of its creation by producing the National Trust Scone Blog Birthday Honours List. These lists contain all of the National Trust properties that scored top marks when I visited, achieving 5 out of 5 for their scones.  

And so the time has come to produce ONE LIST TO RULE THEM ALL: the definitive list of all the 5-star National Trust scones that I encountered during my odyssey.

The final scores on the doors are as follows:

  • 244 National Trust properties visited!
  • 46 counties covered!
  • 99 scones scored a 5 out of 5 top rating!

The 99 first class scones in reverse order of when I visited:
  • Giant's Causeway - the final scone that completed the quest! I'll be honest: my overriding emotion on the day was relief that there was a scone at all. The fact that it was a 5-star beauty was a giant-sized bonus.
  • Divis & the Black Mountain - Divis didn't sell scones when I visited in 2019. I got a tip-off that "a mean cherry scone" was now on the menu, so I went back. My sources were correct: it was on the menu and it was mean (in a good way).
  • Greyfriars House & Garden - being a) British and b) not posh, I couldn't bring myself to ring a little bell for service first time I visited - which meant no scone. So I went back and the scone was ring-a-ding-a-ding-dong excellent.
  • Prior Park - I'd had to settle for carrot cake in 2015 when I first visited, but I went back and boy am I glad I did: a first class scone for the park built by the man who was Deputy Postmaster.
  • Crook Hall Gardens: the National Trust kept things interesting for me in my final year by opening new cafes - this one in Durham involved a long day-trip but it was worth it for a brilliant scone.
  • Castle Drogo: I spotted some stunt scones in the drawing room at Castle Drogo - always a sign that they take scones seriously. And they did: the ones in the cafe were excellent. 
  • Dunstable Downs - the town of Dunstable and I had fallen out many years ago, but stunning views and stunning scones means all is forgiven.
  • Carnewas at Bedruthan - it's not strictly an NT scone as it's a tenant-run cafe but it was excellent so I'm including it.
  • Godolphin - an absolute showstopper of a scone served in a former pigsty in a fantastic property. If Godolphin isn't on your list, add it immediately!
  • Brean Down - never trust a bus timetable on Good Friday but you can trust the Brean Down scones to be brilliant.
  • Aira Force and Ullswater - William Wordsworth wrote a poem about Aira Force and he'd have written one about the scone if he'd known about them. 
  • Claife Viewing Station - the scone was triangular, suggesting it was a tenant-run scone and not strictly NT. But it was so good it deserves to be included anyway.
  • Ormesby Hall - a scone needs to be good when you travel all the way from London to Middlesbrough and back in a day for it. And it was spectacular.
  • East Riddlesden Hall - another excellent scone that was snatched from the jaws of disaster when another cafe closed early, this time due to Storm Eunice.
  • Ilam, Dovedale and the White Peak - people ask if I'm jam first or cream first. I never divulge but I will tell you that when I visit a property, I'm scone first. None of this earning it lark. It paid off at Ilam as the tea room closed due to Storm Malik and we only just got our excellent scone.
  • Stackpole - after six months of lockdown, I made a bid for freedom in September 2020 and made it to Pembrokeshire for a fantastic scone. 
  • Wentworth Castle Gardens - little did I know when I set off for Barnsley in March that it would be my last National Trust scone for months. Lucky I ate two.
  • Lavenham Guildhall - it hasn't always had the happiest of histories but the scones made me very cheerful indeed. Absolute perfection.
  • Fell Foot - my attempt to eat three scones in one day in the Lake District got off to a promising start at Fell Foot. It subsequently won Scone of the Year 2019.
  • Cotehele - here's a top tip: it always bodes well when the property has a mill that produces flour for the scones. 
  • Buckland Abbey - previous owner Sir Francis Drake might have a bit of a questionable history but there was nothing questionable about the scones.
  • Antony: I loved Antony. I loved the name, I loved the house, I loved the scones, and I loved the fact that there's a street called Sconner Road nearby (check the photos).
  • Florence Court - located near a mountain where a legendary horse appears every July to talk to people (and have a scone I hope, as they're good).
  • The Argory - you can get there by canoe but however you get there, make sure you have one of their superb scones. 
  • Dudmaston - there was a wand workshop going on when I visited and the scones had indeed been touched by magic.
  • Kinver Edge and the Rock Houses - people lived in these caves until the 1960s and although rock buns may have been more apposite, the scones were super.
  • Arlington Court - see the house, visit the National Trust Carriage Museum, but definitely don't miss the excellent scones.
  • Dunster Castle - a very old estate with a working water mill, a leather room, and very good scones.
  • Watersmeet - the beautiful place that inspired me to keep going with the National Trust Scone Blog did not disappoint. Excellent scones.
  • Mottistone Gardens - Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't there but we did find some very superb scones.
  • Kinder, Edale, and the Dark Peak - the Pennypot Cafe is next door to Edale station. Kinder Scout is not. But we all know which part of the property is most important.
  • Erddig - donkeys, a thief housekeeper who stole £30,000, and fantastic scones can all be found at Erddig.
  • Oxburgh Hall - everybody loves a moat and everybody good scones. Oxburgh has both.
  • Croft Castle - Owain Glyndŵr may be buried under the floor but they don't bury the scone baking talent at this cosy castle.
  • Nunnington Hall - I went to try and solve a mysterious peacock murder case and found some very excellent scones.
  • The Workhouse - I was certainly tempted to say "please, sir, I want some more" but I restrained myself, although the scones were excellent.
  • Shugborough Estate - the ancestral home of society photographer Patrick Lichfield was a picture! Ha ha!
  • Chirk Castle - murder, scandal, adultery, violence, great's all going on at Chirk.
  • Longshaw Estate and Eastern Moors - I thought the mud might defeat me, but no - I finally found my Peak District scone and marvellous it was too.
  • Mount Stewart - was Castlereagh a great statesman or a despicable murderer? I don't know but I do know that the scones at Mount Stewart were fantastic.
  • Peckover House & Garden - Lonely Planet has just announced that a cream tea at Peckover is one of the top eating experiences in the world! I concur!
  • Clumber Park - it might have lost its house to the demolition men but Clumber offers beautiful gardens, a beautiful lake, and beautiful scones!
  • The Needles Old Battery - chalk rocks, guns, secret missile testing. And now - outstanding scones!
  • Wicken Fen - home to 9,000 species of wildlife, flora, fauna and a first-class species of scone! Bravo.
  • Berrington Hall - even Capability Brown couldn't improve the scones at Berrington Hall - they were berri-good!
  • Tyntesfield - maybe one day someone will describe Tyntesfield without saying "the man who built it made his money from Peruvian bird poo" but that day isn't today. The scones were a bird poo-free zone.
  • Sudbury Hall - a great house AND the Museum of Childhood starring Sooty and Sindy AND an outstanding scone! What more do you want from life.
  • Melford Hall - famed for its celebrity resident, the original Jemima Puddleduck! Her views on scones are not known.
  • Wallington - the former home of Charles Edward Trevelyan, the third most hated man in Ireland (after Oliver Cromwell and Thierry Henry), who was name-checked in The Fields of Athenry.
  • Belton House - the kids book and 80s TV show, Moondial, was set at Belton! And when I tweeted that I'd been there, the actor who played Tom responded! Fantastic.
  • Felbrigg Hall - poor old William Frederick 'Mad' Windham - all he wanted to do was dress up as a train guard and blow a whistle on the station platform at inopportune moments. Instead he ran up huge debts and lost Felbrigg. Amazing scone. 
  • Hidcote - a beautiful garden built by "a dull little man" according to James Lees-Milne but we loved it AND we loved the scones!
  • Plas Newydd - a fantastic scone on Anglesey! We only really went there to see the Victorian dude who dressed like Noddy Holder 50 years before Nodders was born!
  • Dyrham Park - superb scones AND free 17th century hot chocolate (the recipe is from the 17th century, not the actual hot chocolate)!
  • Trengwainton Garden - the 5th NT scone we'd eaten in 48 hours during our Tour of Cornwall and it was FAB!
  • Trerice - a quiet little manor house near the not-so-quiet town of Newquay, with AMAZING scones!
  • Trelissick - the house may be relatively new to the NT but they've certainly got to grips with the scones!
  • Boscastle - a little Cornish fishing village that was almost washed away in 2004 - unusual scones but absolutely top-rate!
  • Acorn Bank - the third top-class scone on the Spring Tour to the Lake District!
  • Sizergh Castle - amazing scone AND a copy of Wham!'s Greatest Hits!
  • Wordsworth House - I was moved to compose a poem about the Wordsworth House scone - I expect a call about being Poet Laureate any day!
  • Saltram - everything went wrong on our first trip of 2016, apart from the scone!
  • Fountains Abbey - it was in the video for Maid of Orleans by OMD! And it had fantastic scones!
  • Lanhydrock - our first foray into Cornwall and we were not disappointed! Fantastic scone!
  • Biddulph Grange Garden - they had a singing tree and a golden water buffalo but nothing could upstage the scones!
  • Nostell Priory - one of the best properties EVER with THREE types of scone!
  • Coughton Court - 7 of the 13 Gunpowder Plotters were Throckmortons! Somehow they kept hold of Coughton and are still there today! 
  • Tredegar House - fantastic scones AND they keep a Dalek in the stables (Doctor Who is filmed there)! 
  • Anglesey Abbey - they have a working flour mill! You can buy bags of flour that you transform into scones that won't be as good as the ones here!
  • Montacute House - they filmed Wolf Hall here! If only Anne Boleyn had been able to bake scones like these, it could all have turned out differently!
  • Goddards - brilliant scones at the house once owned by Noel Terry, of Chocolate Orange fame! There used to be a Terry's Chocolate Apple as well! 
  • Beningbrough Hall - spectacular works of art (and a few pictures on loan from the National Portrait Gallery as well, boom, boom!)
  • Sissinghurst Castle - did you see the scones, Orlando? They were great - and fantastic gardens too, in the former home of Vita Sackville-West!
  • South Foreland Lighthouse - excellent sconeage in this 'shining' example of a National Trust property HA HA! 
  • The White Cliffs of Dover - I really was inspired to ransack the Vera Lynn back catalogue and sing "we'll meet again" to the WCoD scone - it was that good. 
  • Speke Hall - it has the River Mersey, it has a priest hole, it has a baker on Twitter, it has fantastic scones, I LOVED it!
  • Studland Beach - famous for the UK's most popular naturist beach, for inspiring Noddy's Toytown, and now for very good scones!
  • A la Ronde - a round house full of trinkets AND fantastic scones, what more do you want from life? 
  • Upton House and Gardens - a lot of pictures, an outdoor swimming pool, and truly excellent scones!
  • Treasurer's House, York - they had a Christmas pudding scone with brandy butter that I literally still dream about!
  • Hinton Ampner - lots of sheep and fantastic scones!
  • Uppark - burned to the ground a few years ago while it was open to visitors, but now restored and serving very excellent scones!
  • Stowe - it costs £30,000 a year to attend Stowe school - I'd rather spend that on scones, personally!
  • Charlecote Park - William Shakespeare was once caught stealing a scone from Charlecote Park. Did I say scone? I meant deer.
  • Bateman's - "Well I'm the king of the sconers/the tea-room VIP", as Rudyard Kipling would have written if he'd had scones at Batemans!
  • Claremont Landscape Garden - more of a park than a garden but who's counting - the scones were fantastic!
  • Standen - tests proved that the Standen scone was genetically closer to a cloud than a baked foodstuff!
  • Nymans - another place that burned down (before the National Trust was involved), now serving amazing scones!
  • Waddesdon Manor - they have a mechanical elephant that flaps its ears at Waddesdon but as an attraction it's no match for the top-class scones!
  • Scotney Castle - the scones were EPIC. Scotney also had a Banana and Walnut Scone of the Month and Richard Gere, who filmed Yanks there!
  • Dunwich Heath - they had 20 TYPES OF SCONE at the Sconeathon we attended! Sticky Toffee, Chocolate Orange, Apple & Cinnamon, Malteser...!
  • Morden Hall Park - big, warm, and glazed. 'Morden enough' to warrant a five out of five (ha ha ha! Sorry.)
  • Sutton House - Sir Ralph Sadleir of Wolf Hall fame built Sutton House - go along and see them bring out the sconies!
  • Quarry Bank Mill - amazing scones in one of the most fascinating NT properties ever - you can even buy a tea towel made in the cotton mill!
  • Flatford Bridge Cottage - we helped bake the scones at Flatford but we gave them 5 because they were mince pie scones and they were ruddy delicious! 
  • Winkworth Arboretum - a very understated place - not a fridge magnet to be had - but serving fantastic scones!
  • Houghton Mill - the Scone Blogger was very hungover but she soldiered on and tried the scone made from home-milled flour, which was DELICIOUS!
  • Brownsea Island - we didn't see any red squirrels, which shows that they don't have very good taste as there was a Sconeathon on the day we visited!
  • Bodiam Castle - our very first 5 out of 5, setting the benchmark for all!  

There's also a National Trust Book of Scones, which is available in NT shops or on the internet.

As ever, I send my ever-lasting affection and thanks to all of the fantastic Sconepals that have sent in photos and shown ongoing support and enthusiasm for this project. 

Keep sharing your National Trust scone sightings, either on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. I love them!

Friday, 17 March 2023

Giant's Causeway

And so we come to the final National Trust scone of this project. After almost 10 years, 243 NT properties, thousands of miles, and more scones, jam and cream than I can even contemplate, I completed my quest by going to the only NT cafe that I hadn't already covered on this blog.

I left the Giant's Causeway til last for three reasons. Firstly, I wanted to be sure of getting a scone on my final mission. I've only actually ever had a few scone no-shows, but I couldn't risk it happening at the grand finale. Before the pandemic, the Giant's Causeway was attracting over 700,000 visitors a year and it has a big, modern visitor centre and cafeteria - I figured this would give me the best possible chance of success.

Secondly, I'd started this project with my husband, Pete (aka the Scone Sidekick). We'd visited a lot of NT properties together before I lost him to cancer in 2018. But we'd also been to the Giant's Causeway in 2006, long before we'd joined the National Trust. So although I knew he couldn't be physically present for this last mission, I knew he'd been there and seen it and loved it.

And then, finally, I chose the Giant's Causeway as it's the only National Trust property that looks like it's MADE out of scones:

Giant's Causeway

I might as well break it to you now, though, that the Giant's Causeway is not made of scones. Here's some background:

The story of Finn McCool and the Giant's Causeway
My interest in the Giant's Causeway started at primary school. Our head teacher used to tell us the story of how Finn McCool, the Irish giant, had built the causeway so he could challenge the Scottish giant, Benandonner, to a fight. One day Finn saw Benandonner coming over the stones and was shocked at how big he was. He rushed home to his wife, Oonagh, who came up with a plan: Finn dressed up as a baby and climbed into the child's cot. When Benandonner knocked on the door, Oonagh told him Finn was out but he was welcome to wait. Benandonner saw the size of the baby and took fright, wondering how big Finn must be. He rushed back home across the causeway, pulling it up as he went so Finn couldn't follow him.

As with all good stories, there are numerous spin-offs. The 'camel' below was pointed out by our guide. Finn used it when he needed to get around in a hurry, apparently:

Giants Causeway Camel

The story of Finn McCool and the Giant's Causeway became properly world-famous when tourists started visiting the area. However, Finn McCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill to use his proper Irish name) was a mythical hero whose many other adventures were documented in the 12th century.

It was actually formed by lava flows 60 million years ago
Much as I'd love to stick with the scone or giant theories, the columns at the Giant's Causeway are actually made of basalt, which is a fine-grained rock formed by the rapid cooling of lava. 60 million years ago, lava spilled over what is now County Antrim as a result of tectonic plates moving around. The lava was cooled by the sea and the air, which caused it to split and form hexagonal columns.  
Giants Causeway Columns

The Giant's Causeway is (almost) unique 
There are other rock columns around the world - Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa in Scotland for example (which is also named after Finn McCool), or Los Organos in the Canary Islands. But our guide explained that whereas many of these other columns are topped with a layer of rock, at the Giants Causeway that layer of rock was knocked off during the Ice Age. This means that the tops of the columns are exposed and you can walk on them, which makes them special.    

Giant's Causeway stones

It's been a tourist destination since the 18th century
The Royal Society in London started taking an interest in the Giant's Causeway in 1688 and its origins were much debated during the Age of Enlightenment (1620s-1780s). An artist called Susanna Drury painted two famous pictures of the Causeway in 1739-40 and those paintings were scrutinised across Europe. The Vulcanists believed that the stones came from the earth, while the Neptunists thought they came from the sea. The area also attracted writers, artists and other tourists as well as scientists. The author Thackeray paid to join a boat trip and see the rocks from the sea, writing: "I paid ten shillings for mine, and ten minutes before would cheerfully have paid five full pounds to be allowed to quit it."

The Giant's Causeway Scone

I must have either been very optimistic or deranged by stress on this trip, because I broke my usual rule of 'scone first'. I've always been paranoid that a plague of scone-loving locusts will descend on the tea room while I'm walking around a property. But today I waited until after we'd done our tour, and by the time I got to the cafe my stress levels were through the roof.

The relief of finding a scone - and there was a choice of plain, fruit or cheese - was enormous. They only had whipped cream rather than clotted, but this is a scone blog and not a cream tea blog so it didn't really matter.

Strangely, one thing I wasn't worried about at all was the quality of the scone. I had decided that as long as I got a scone, I could cope with it not being excellent. But it was excellent. It was very fresh and fluffy with a good amount of fruit. In a world first, I even went back the following day - and the second scone was excellent as well. Consistency abounds at the Giant's Causeway.

Giant's Causeway scone

With the quest complete, we got back in the car and headed off to nearby Mussenden Temple and Portstewart Strand - both NT properties without scones that I hadn't been to before. I hadn't really given much thought to what would happen at the end of the project. I'd hoped I might get a round of applause from the brilliant people on Twitter that had been following the project - and I did, which was lovely. 

A nice man from the Press Association had been keeping tabs on my progress in recent months and I did an interview with them that night. I know enough about the Press Association to know that these things often come to nothing, so I was delighted in the morning when they texted me a link to an article that had appeared in the Independent. Then I started to get texts from friends saying they'd seen it on the BBC. And then everything went absolutely crazy: I was invited on Five Live Drive, Radio 4 The World Tonight, and Radio Ulster amongst others. I was also interviewed by the Telegraph. The following day it was everywhere. Over the next week I was on BBC Breakfast, This Morning with Holly and Phil, and the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2. Even the Washington Post covered it.

The huge amount of media coverage delivered a completely unexpected bonus: it was like Pete came back for a week. Seeing his picture on TV and in the papers felt completely right - he had also put a lot of miles into this project and now here he was at the end getting the attention he deserved. It was so totally unexpected and I literally could not have asked for anything nicer.

Giant's Causeway
Pete at the Giant's Causeway in 2006

So what's next? I'll definitely continue to add to this blog. I might go north of the border and try out some National Trust of Scotland scones. There are also lots of other National Trust properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that might not serve scones but deserve a mention. So you haven't heard the last of me.

Finally, I need to say THANK YOU. To all of the Sconepals on social media that have shared photos, encouragement and amusement. To all of the scone fans that I got to meet in person - especially Natalie, Abby, Helen, Corinne, Simon and the marvellous Ole. To the National Trust employees that I got to meet in person along the way (there weren't many as I kept a low profile), especially Jemma, Russell, Sarah, Sarah, Rob, Clive, Karla, Devon. To everyone that has read this blog. Most of all, my thanks go to my brilliant friends and family who have given up days, weekends, even weeks to join me on scone missions - Thelma, Fay, Pam, SJ, Steph, Hilary, John, Sarah, Lara, Kathy, Justin, Olivia, Amy, Lisa, Amalia, John, Justine, Tracey, Tim, my brilliant mum, and, of course, Pete the original Scone Sidekick. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.

Giant's Causeway: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Consistency of scone quality: 5 out of 5

Friday, 3 March 2023

Divis and the Black Mountain Revisited

On March 1st 2023, after almost 10 years, I finally completed this National Trust Scone Odyssey. My final scone was at the Giant's Causeway, which was a very fitting place to end, for many reasons.

But today, two days after the grand finale, we made a return visit to another National Trust property: Divis and the Black Mountain. This unplanned stop, on the way to Belfast airport, turned out to be the perfect epilogue to the project. 

There are five main things that this quest has given me over the past decade - and Divis encapsulated them all in one place:

1. The National Trust Scone Community. One of the best things to come out of this project has been the online community of National Trust scone fans that has gathered to support the quest. I had set up a Twitter account (@nt_scones) when I created the blog back in 2013 and over the years it attracted a few thousand followers. Taking a steer from Blue Peter and Smash Hits magazine, I even sent out badges to thank them for their encouragement at one point. Wearing an I AM A NATIONAL TRUST SCONEPAL badge won't get you free entry anywhere but I like to think people wear them with a certain understated pride.

Anyway. In 2019, I decided to try and meet some of these NT scone fans. I'd had a mad idea about doing Desert Island National Trust Properties as a kind of podcast. I soon discovered that sound engineering wasn't really my thing so the idea ended up in the bin. But one of the people I met was Abby Semple-Skipper. She lived in London at the time and we met up at Ham House. Shortly afterwards, she relocated to her native Belfast (I'd like to think these two things were not connected). 

During our conversation in London she had thanked me for the NT scone community. I was taken aback by this and thought she was probably just being polite, but she persisted: she appreciated the positive, gentle, unaggressive outlook of the Twitter community that had built up around the project. 

So I was overjoyed when Abby agreed to meet us at Divis today. Having the National Trust scone community represented at the end of the project was perfect - a reminder of how supportive and important this lovely group of people has been. 

Divis Cafe
With Abby at Divis. We penned her in the corner so she couldn't get away.
As far as I know she hasn't moved house again to avoid us. 

2. Visiting Places I Wouldn't Otherwise Have Seen. I've covered 244 National Trust properties in 46 counties during this project. How many of those places would I have visited if I hadn't started the quest? 

Let's take Divis as the example. I can say with 100% certainty that I would not have gone to Divis and the Black Mountain if I had not been a National Trust member. And if we look at Northern Ireland as a whole: before this trip, I had already been to Ulster twice for this project - once in 2017, when my sister and I spent a couple of days near Strangford Lough outside Belfast. We went to Castle WardRowallane and Mount Stewart. My second visit was in 2019 when I covered CromCarrick-a-RedeSpringhillFlorence CourtThe ArgoryWhite Park BayCushendun and Castle Coole as part of my 26-scones-in-31-days-of-August rampage. How many of those would I have seen? The answer is one: the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Would I have seen Enniskillen on a beautiful August morning without this project? No. Is my life better for having seen it? Yes. 

A poor photo of Enniskillen

3. Time with Family and Friends. I have had some fantastic times with friends and family thanks to this project. So many examples spring to mind: I went to Horsey Windpump with my schoolfriends and their children, combining it with a weekend in Great Yarmouth that will never be forgotten. Plas yn Rhiw in North Wales had caused me some concern last year, as it was so far away and looked very small - my friends SJ and Steph drove miles to come with me and it turned out to be brilliant (SJ and Steph have covered a lot of miles with me). My mum, sister and her partner came to Ilam Park where my mum's hat blew probably had to be there for that but it was very funny. My sister-in-law and niece came to Lamb House in Rye where they demonstrated that I might be the scone expert in the family but when it comes to sniffing out a champagne bar at 200 paces, they have no equal.

And of course my late husband Pete and I had covered a lot of properties together. When he was sick in hospital I even made a Powerpoint presentation of pictures of NT places we'd seen and tested him to see how many he could remember. It might not sound like much but at the end of it he said "I really enjoyed that" and I could have cried. Snowshill Manor will always have a special place in my heart, as it was last new property we visited together and he loved it.

This trip to Divis was another great example of how the National Trust and the scone quest have given us trips that we'll never forget. My mum, my sister and Tim came to Northern Ireland with me for the final scone mission at the Giant's Causeway. We had a great few days together, staying in Portrush and visiting other NT sites as well as the Bushmills Whiskey Distillery (not NT but it'd be rude not to go there as it's so close).  

4. Occasional Interaction with National Trust Chefs and Property Managers. I hadn't actually planned to visit Divis on this trip. When I went there in August 2019 they only had a small Ranger's Station that served limited refreshments. I did call in for a cup of tea on the off-chance that I might find a scone but they weren't serving anything at the time and a scone looked highly unlikely. My previous post gives you the history of the place, so I won't cover it again here. 

But during this final trip, a lovely woman called Jenny messaged me on Twitter. She suggested I might want to drop in at Divis again if I had time: "We do a mean cherry scone now, freshly baked." My ever-supportive travel companions agreed to a detour on the way back to the airport and off we went. 

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've met National Trust chefs and property managers in person as part of this project. This is mainly because I've kept a low profile, probably unnecessarily. But all of those occasions have been brilliant and I'll never forget them: Rob invited me to his amazing Sconeathon at Dunwich Heath in 2014. Jemma arranged for me to bake Mince Pie Scones with Russell the chef at Flatford in 2013. I also got to meet the NT's Development Chef, Clive Goudercourt, back in 2016. And Karla and Devon at Treasurer's House in York chatted to me about the Christmas Pudding Scone in 2019.

Divis once again reminded me that the very best days tend to happen when people point you in the right direction. Massive thanks to Jenny for getting in touch. 

5. Finding a Five-Star Scone. But, just as with the other 243 National Trust properties on this list, the most important thing about our visit to Divis has to be the scone. Abby had done a quick recce on arrival and informed me that they weren't any - on seeing my stricken face, she quickly admitted she was joking. There was a choice of fruit scones or cherry scones, and I'm happy to report that both varieties were excellent and scored 5 stars. 

I am going to confess to you, though, that I did not take the photograph below. I'm ashamed to admit that for the very first time in 10 years, I forgot to follow the first rule of scone club: take the photo before you eat. Thankfully, I can refer you to 4) above - Jenny and her team recreated the scene for me and I can promise that this is a faithful reconstruction: 

This project has definitely given me scones - hundreds of them, in fact - but it's also given me a lot of other things. And there's so much more - I just hope this blog post has given you a small sense of what small projects can offer.

Divis & the Black Mountain: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Rescue Services of National Trust Staff Following Photo Fail: 5 out of 5

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

Friday, 30 December 2022

National Trust Highlights of 2022

You have probably gathered by now that I am all about the scones. Anyone who has ever accompanied me to a National Trust property will have turned to me at some stage and said "Shall we have a look around first? Before we have a scone?", at which point they will have seen the look on my face and answered their own question with "OK, we'll have the scone first."

BUT! I visited 30 National Trust properties in 2022 and you don't visit 30 National Trust places without having additional adventures beyond the scone.

So, having already announced my National Trust Scone of the Year, I decided to highlight some of the other lovely things that I found on my NT travels this year.

Non-NT Bonus Attraction of the Year - Winner

It takes a lot of sacrifice and self-discipline to be a National Trust scone blogger. You have to be completely focused and not allow yourself to get distracted. But this year, I did permit myself to go off the NT track to achieve a life's ambition: while I was in Keighley visiting East Riddlesden Hall, I stayed overnight in Haworth, home of the Brontë family. Due to Storm Eunice, I finally reached the museum in the Brontë Parsonage very late in the day but they were still open and let me walk around for ages. The bonus to the bonus was that I then spent a night in Wuthering Heights country with a storm battering at the windows. Highly, highly recommended.


Bronte Museum

Non-NT Bonus Attraction of the Year - Runner Up

I love my 19th century literature but you should never turn down the opportunity to meet a 1980s television icon. The Albert Dock didn't disappoint. I went there after my trip to the Beatles' Childhood Homes and it looked almost exactly the same as it did in the days of Richard & Judy, minus the weather map. It was so good.

Albert Dock

National Trust Useful Advice of the Year

The National Trust has given me quite a lot of good advice this year: Don't feed the wild ponies on Lundy Island. Don't allow hateful, homophobic liars to go unchallenged. All very useful. But this, spotted on the wall at Knightshayes in Devon, was my favourite. "Keep Thy Tongue & Keep Thy Friends" - the best advice you'll get this year, or any year. If anyone knows someone on the NT Merchandise team, let them know that I'm in the market for this on a mug, tea-towel and baseball cap.

National Trust Frieze Knightshayes

National Trust Hero of the Year

The easiest award of the year, which is shared by two excellent people. First up: a man who made Twitter brilliant in 2022. In April, Huw Davies set off on a National Trust odyssey that blew my mind - he attempted to visit every single NT property in one year by bike. He talked about his project at the NT AGM in November - you can hear what he had to say here - or you can scroll through his Twitter feed, NTByBike. Amazing work.

But Twitter can also be an absolute hellhole, which is why my joint National Trust Hero of the Year is Celia Richardson, the NT Director of Communications. If she ever gets invited on Who Do You Think You Are, I fully expect her to discover a family tree that includes Viking warriors, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, jazz-hand waggling tap dancers, and stand-up comedians. A total hero.

Scone Companion of the Year

And finally, we come to my Scone Companion of the Year. I had a lot of help in 2022. My family came to the rescue for Sandilands near Mablethorpe. My friend Justine came to Dunstable Downs, while Kathy helped out loads, especially with our trip to East Soar in Devon. Sarah-Jane and Steph stepped in several times, especially for the far-flung properties like Plas yn Rhiw, when I would often lose hope that I would ever finish. I thank them all for their support.

But there's only one man who can win National Trust Scone Companion of 2022, and that is Ole the dog. Ole is like a celebrity to me. His happy little face cheered me up so much back in the tough times of 2020, when his devoted family shared photos of him celebrating VE Day or doing a bit of DIY (see my summary of 2020). I am so grateful to Corinne and Simon for coming to meet me at Dinefwr in November and bringing Ole along - it was the perfect end to the year.

Below is a photo of me excitedly holding Ole's lead with Corinne and Simon. As you can see, Ole took it all in his stride:
National Trust Scone Blogger

And that's it for 2022! Stay tuned for my final visit to the Giant's Causeway in February, after which this National Trust Scone Quest will be complete! In the meantime, a very, very Happy New Year to you all! 

Tuesday, 27 December 2022

National Trust Scone of the Year 2022

It's back! National Trust Scone of the Year is back, back, BACK! I didn't choose a scone of 2020, as I'd only visited a few properties and couldn't face it after ten terrible months. And then I only managed one single scone in the whole of 2021, so any awards that year would have been rubbish.

But I made up for it in 2022. I visited 30 - yes THIRTY! - new National Trust places and found a scone at most of them. I now have only one - yes ONE! - National Trust scone to go and then this project will be complete.

And so, without further ado, here are my top five National Trust scones of 2022, in reverse order:

5. Castle Drogo

At number 5 for 2022: it's Castle Drogo in Devon. It was the last stop on a mini road trip and the clock was showing 3pm by the time I arrived. I'll tell you now that 3pm is basically the witching hour in scone world, as you never know what you're going to get: you might find a scone, or you might be faced with a pile of crumbs and some heartfelt apologies from cafe staff who look like they've fought off a plague of locusts. Anyway: Castle Drogo is a proper tourist attraction with a big cafeteria and the scone was lovely. 

4. Godolphin

I absolutely LOVED Godolphin in Cornwall. There are many, many reasons for this - you can read all about them in the blog post - but to summarise: the scone was top-draw and the cafe is called The Piggery as it used to be a pig sty. 

3. East Riddlesden Hall

I was so desperate to finish this project in 2022 that I went to East Riddlesden in Yorkshire during Storm Eunice. This gave me the added bonus of spending a very atmospheric night in Brontë country listening to the wind absolutely tearing at the windows. It also meant that I probably purchased East Riddlesden's first scone of their entire year, which was a bit of a risk. But it turned out to be delicious.  

2. Ormesby Hall

Ormesby Hall near Middlesbrough gets second place on my list because of its excellent scone. But I loved the place - from its train sets to the down-to-earth brilliance of its former owner, it had so much to offer. It was completely worth the 500-mile round trip - it was one of the longest I've attempted in a single day (only Crook Hall Gardens in Durham, another excellent scone also covered this year, was further).

1. Ilam Park

But my National Trust Scone of the Year for 2022 has to be Ilam Park, Dovedale and the White Peak in Derbyshire. My first outing of the year is usually a complete catastrophe so I'm very pleased that this final year proved to be the exception. It was a fantastic scone that got a unanimous 5 out of 5 from the panel. Well done to Ilam!

Ilam joins an illustrious group of previous winners of this coveted title:

That's almost it for 2022. More importantly, that's also almost it for this entire project. I only have one more scone to go - the Giant's Causeway in Co Antrim will be my 250th National Trust property and will mark the end of this 10 year odyssey. I'm really looking forward to that trip but I'm also really sad that it's almost at an end. 

As usual, my heartfelt thanks go to everyone that has supported this quest this year. I am beyond grateful to everyone that has read the blog posts or been part of the National Trust Scone community on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. Thank you all!