Friday, 14 April 2017

Bodnant Garden

I went to Cardiff a few years ago for a meeting. I got chatting to the receptionist about the FA Cup, which was being played the following day at the Millenium Stadium, as Wembley was being rebuilt. I apologised, saying that it must be a total hassle for the people of Cardiff, as the stadium is right in the city centre. "OH NO!" she said (you need to adopt a Welsh accent to get the full effect of this story) "We don't mind at all. We love it. Everyone should come and have a good time." 

And that sums up the Welsh for me. If things had been reversed and Twickenham was hosting an Eistedfodd, we'd all be moaning about it for weeks: "The A316 is going to be a total NIGHTMARE! And it'll be IMPOSSIBLE to get on or off a train at Richmond station that day! Luckily I don't live anywhere near Richmond or require any train services. Why can't they just hold it in Newport?"

What has this got to do with Bodnant Garden near Llandudno, I hear you ask? The answer is that they have a huge laburnum arch that bursts into beautiful bloom every year. And the Bodnant team go ALL OUT to encourage people to come and see it. They have 'Laburnum Archers' guiding visitors around, they stay open until 8pm - they even have Wag Wednesdays so dogs don't miss out. Apparently 50,000 people visit Bodnant in 3 short laburnumy weeks to see it. The staff don't get worked up that so many visitors might traumatise the laburnum, they don't worry that articles will appear in the Daily Mail screaming 'HAS THE NATIONAL TRUST LOST THE PLOT?' They just say 'it's marvellous - everyone should come and enjoy it'. I love them for it. 

Now I've shared all of that, you might be asking why I went to Bodnant Garden in April when the laburnum is not in bloom. The answer is: I'm not sure. This was the laburnum arch today:

Bodnant laburnam arch in April

And this is what it will look like in a few weeks' time:

To paraphrase Sir Alex Ferguson: Mother Nature. Bloody hell.

ANYWAY. The good news for me is that the laburnum arch is just one of many highlights of Bodnant. In fact, Bodnant Garden was not what I was expecting at all. 

My route began as I expected, with prettily ordered flower beds and a house you're not allowed into (it still belongs to the McLaren family, the gardening-mad descendants of Henry Pochin, the industrialist that bought Bodnant in 1874).

Bodnant tulips

Then you come to the five terraces, which continue the orderly theme, albeit with the backdrop of wild Snowdonia.

This is the Canal Terrace, with its long pond. The building on the left is the Pin Mill. It originated in Gloucestershire, where it was used as a pin mill and a tannery before it fell into disrepair. Henry McLaren bought it and had it moved brick-by-brick to Bodnant.

But then you descend into a whole different landscape. The dells and water gardens are amazing - you can follow little paths hither and thither:

There's also an old mill:

And a waterfall bridge: well as a boathouse and and a little church-like building called The Poem, where Henry Pochin and his wife Agnes are buried along with their children, including the four that died in infancy. 

I also learned about champion trees today. I had absolutely no idea that the concept of champion trees even existed, or that there that is a database of champion trees. A champion tree is basically the tallest or widest of its kind in the British Isles, and Bodnant has several champions.

I know nothing about trees but I do love to bump into a sequoia, or Californian Redwood, on my scone travels - I explain why I love them in my post about Sunnycroft

The sequoia at Bodnant is 49 metres high and the tallest in Britain. It was planted in 1886 though, which was bad news for the Scone Sidekick who is currently attempting to grow a sequoia from a seed:

The sequoia at Bodnant - planted 1886, now 49 metres high

The Sidekick's sequoia - planted 2015, not 49 metres high
Anyway. Let's move on to the all-important scone. The scone at Bodnant was very good - it was a little bit soft for my liking, but it was tasty and I ate every crumb.

Bodnant Garden scone

The one good thing about me missing the laburnum's big moment is that I'm giving you a few weeks' notice to go and see it for yourselves. If you can get there in May, I highly recommend it - Bodnant Garden is lovely anyway but with the laburnum as well, it's a fantastic place.

Bodnant Garden: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Sidekick's dreams of one day seeing his sequoia towering above him: squashed to 0 out of 5.

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Needles Old Battery

The Isle of Wight has been calling me for years, metaphorically speaking. I remember at primary school there were always kids coming back from holidays wielding little glass objects in the shape of boots or swans filled with amazing coloured sand that they'd got from the IoW. Although, now I come to think of it, I never owned a glass swan filled with coloured sand, which probably means I didn't have any friends. 

Anyway. If you look at the map you could be forgiven for thinking that the NT owns the Isle of Wight. They have several properties there and they're all lovely and everything but only one does scones. And so we found ourselves at The Needles Old Battery

Five things we saw today:

1. The Needles!
The Needles are a row of three chalk rocks sticking up out of the sea, just off the west coast of the Isle of Wight. The Needles Lighthouse stands at the end of the row. It was built in 1859 and is still working today.

There used to be four chalk rocks. One apparently looked like a needle, hence the name. That pillar (known as Lot's Wife) collapsed during a storm in 1764, leaving the non-needle-like Needles. They look more like jaggedy shark fins to me, but I appreciate that jaggedy shark fins doesn't have the same ring to it.

The Needles

This is apparently how The Needles used to look when the actual Needle-like rock was still there.

2. The Old Battery!
The Old Battery was built in the 1860s. It was part of a chain of forts that was constructed to protect against a French invasion. The forts were hugely expensive and France never got round to invading, so they're known as 'Palmerston's follies', after the Prime Minister who ordered them.

I apologise for the lack of photos of the Old Battery. I was too busy taking 600 pictures of the Jagged Shark Fins/Needles from every possible angle but here's a snap of the tunnels:

3. The New Battery!
Not content with an Old Battery that hadn't exactly earned its keep, the British government decided to build the New Battery in the 1890s to house larger guns. The site saw no major action in World War I but anti-aircraft guns were fired from the Battery in World War II.

But what is very exciting indeed is that from 1954 to 1972 the New Battery was used as a secret missile test site called Highdown. 60 ft rockets, called Black Knight and Black Arrow, were built up the road in East Cowes and tested at Highdown. They were then taken to Woomera near Adelaide in Australia to be launched into space. 

I was expecting the New Battery to be like something out of Thunderbirds, and it probably was a bit James Bondian back in the 1950s and 1960s when the control rooms and laboratories were filled with boffins. 

It's not quite like that today - the British rocket program ended very suddenly in 1971 and the site was dismantled - but the replicas of the rockets and of this satellite called Prospero (the only British satellite ever launched, which still passes overhead twice a day and will do so for another 200+ years) did lend a bit of rocket science excitement.

4. Alum Bay!
I also got to see my coloured sand, albeit from afar. This is a rubbish picture, but you can just about see the different colours in the cliff. You used to be able to go and shovel up your own sand, but that was stopped because of erosion. 

Alum Bay

5. Scones!
I was a tad worried about this scone mission, to tell you the truth. Our last outing, to Chedworth Roman Villa, had resulted in no scones at all (nice fruit cake though) and the Isle of Wight involves a ferry and a bit of effort.  

But I need not have worried, scone fans, because The Old Battery delivered the goods. The tearoom is smashing - it's set out in 1940s style with lovely teapots and teacups. It reminded me of the similarly lovely tea room at South Foreland Lighthouse

The Needles Old Battery scone

The scone was fresh, light, and tasty with lovely jam and cream. A unanimous five out of five from me and the Scone Sidekick.

So there you have it - you can add 'Cold War missile testing site' to the list of things that the NT looks after. I'll have to go to Dolaucothi Gold Mines next to get the full set of quirky places.

The Needles Old Battery: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Coloured sand-scooping opportunities: 0 out of 5

Friday, 24 February 2017

Chedworth Roman Villa

Did you know that there are over 450 Roman villa remains in the UK? I did not know this. I very stupidly thought that about 20 Romans came over to Britain; a few of them stayed in London and built a couple of things there, a few went north to sort out Hadrian's Wall, and a few went to Bath. 

But I was wrong, as usual. A quick look on Wikipedia shows that even in my home county of Northamptonshire there are several villages that I thought were entirely featureless that actually have the remains of a Roman villa in them. Amazing.

Thanks to a lovely tour guide called Julian, I learned a lot more at Chedworth Roman Villa near Cheltenham today. We hadn't planned to join a tour, but one was starting as we arrived so we tagged along expecting to wander off at some point. But an hour later, I was still hanging on Julian's every word as he pointed things out that we would never have noticed without him. So Chedworth Tip One: join the tour.

Chedworth Roman Villa Mosaic

1. Who discovered Chedworth?
  • The villa was discovered in 1864 by a man called James Farrer 
  • His nephew owned the estate, and one day a gamekeeper found some tesserae (little cubes that were used to make Roman mosaics), which he showed to James
  • Jimbo wasted no time - he was a keen antiquarian and he soon had a band of men digging the place up
  • In one summer they uncovered pretty much everything that we see today
  • He built a museum in the middle of the excavated site on the spoils from the clearance - I was really disappointed by this, as I thought someone had accidentally built a house here and then discovered it was bang in the middle of a Roman villa. But no.

Chedworth Museum

2. When was it built?
  • Some simple structures were built on the site in the 2nd century AD
  • From the 330s to the 380s, the villa was extended and had its heyday - the west range and north wing housed the main reception rooms, while the south wing was a service area with a kitchen and a toilet
  • But then in the early 5th century, Britain ceased to be part of the Roman Empire - the collapse of the Roman system brought the decline of luxurious villas like the one at Chedworth
  • The once beautiful, elegant rooms would have been used for keeping animals until eventually the buildings started to collapse and rot away

3. Who lived there?
  • The short answer: nobody knows
  • However, it would have been someone of consequence - it was a big, luxurious villa that would probably have been owned by someone involved in the administration of nearby Cirencester
  • Hairpins and children's bracelets have been found, suggesting that a family lived there

4. What is there to see?
  • The outline of parts of the villa is visible - the Victorians used what stones were left to reconstruct the general footprint
  • The nymphaeum, or shrine to the nymphs, is situated in the top corner of the villa - Julian's pictures came in handy at this point:
Nymphaeum at Chedworth
Good old Julian showing us what the shrine
would have looked like in the 4th century
  • But the real show-stopper is the mosaic work in the west range - the pictures below really don't do it justice:
Chedworth mosaic in dining room
The huge mosaic in the dining room with its scantily clad ladies -
Julian got a lot of interest in those

The west bath house

  • We also got to see the pilae that would have been used to create the hypocaust system for heating the rooms - they're in their puffa jackets to protect them from the elements at the moment:
Pilae for the hypocaust

5. What didn't we see?
  • Snails. Apparently the Romans liked eating snails and brought some of their favoured variety with them. A few plucky gastropods made a run for it and escaped the cooking pot, taking up residence in the vicinity AND THEY'RE STILL THERE TODAY! Not the same ones obviously, but their descendants continue to squelch their way around the villa 1700 years later. 
  • More mosaics. Amazingly, some of the mosaics were covered over again post-excavation, as they'd be destroyed if left open to the elements. So you walk round on grass verges knowing that there are stunning patterns beneath your feet.
  • Scones.

I was very disappointed by the lack of scones but let's be clear; this was scone mission #153. My rough guess is that of 153 properties visited, only five have failed to deliver scones when I would have expected some to have been available. That's not too bad.

Anyway. I had dragged the Sidekick some distance and we were both hungry, so he had carrot cake and I had fruit cake. And they were both DELICIOUS.

Chedworth Roman Villa Cake
I was so disappointed that I couldn't even be bothered to turn it the right way up
for the photo. Then I tried it and it was absolutely lovely.

I've been pretty lucky with this Scone Odyssey so far. Every time a scone fails to materialise or impress, the property turns out to be brilliant - see also Penrhyn Castle and Coleton Fishacre. With 100 properties left to go, long may that continue.

Finally - a word about guided tours at the NT. I rarely join them and I really don't know why, because they are always useful. Red House, Acorn Bank, Quebec House - all of these properties were brought to life by an NT tour guide. So take my advice, readers: IT'S NOT A CHORE, SO DO THE TOUR. (You can have that for free, National Trust marketing team.)

Chedworth Roman Villa if you do the tour*: 5 out of 5
Scones: 0 out of 5 - there weren't any
Fruit cake: 5 out of 5

* I don't know what it would be like if you didn't follow a tour guide, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be as good.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Wicken Fen

I was extremely excited about going to Wicken Fen near Cambridge today, mainly because it has a windmill. I suspect that anyone born in the UK in the 1970s loves a windmill, thanks to legendary TV show Camberwick Green and its triangular-haired hero, Windy Miller. 

Wicken Fen wind pump

But two problems cropped up very early on:

1. The 'windmill' at Wicken is actually a wind pump - more on this later

2. Wicken Fen is renowned and revered for being home to 9,000 species of fauna, flora and wildlife, but you'll struggle to spot 8,999 of them if you visit on a sleet-ridden day in February (we saw a robin). That's a heinous exaggeration, before anyone complains, but to get the best out of Wicken you probably need take your binoculars on a spring or summer or autumn day, which I will do when I return.

Wicken Fen

Before we set off for Wicken, I knew what The Fens were, but I didn't know what they were, if that makes sense. Luckily they have a really good visitor centre and a very helpful guide book that explains it all, even if the guide book does contain about 20 words that I have never heard before in my life - "lode" anyone? "Carr"?

As you can tell, the guide book had its work cut out and this is what it taught me:
  • The Fens were created as a result of peat bogs, laid millennia ago, in the lowlands of East Anglia - because the of peat bogs, the area was part land, part water
  • Humans originally settled on the land areas - nearby Ely being one - and lived off the fish, the fuel (peat and sedge), and the building materials that were available in abundance
  • Efforts to drain the fens to make them usable for agriculture have been going on for years - the Romans tried to do it and so did just about everybody else since then
  • It was the Victorians that saved Wicken Fen from being drained - local naturalists had bought up parcels of the fen to protect the wildlife, and the National Trust stepped in as early as 1899 to take on the role of protector
  • The wind pump is the only one left - there used to be 1000s of them in the area, pumping water out of the turf pits so that the peat could be dug. Amazingly, it's still in working order.
*proudly* This plant is called sedge and it saved Wicken Fen -
it was too valuable to lose to drainage in the 19th century
and then, as the sedge market collapsed, the Victorians recognised
the value of the insects and wildlife that it attracted. Well done, sedge.
I read later that there are boat trips you can do on the fen from Easter to October - read about them here, as they sound fantastic and you should try and go on one.

But while the Victorians might have come to Wicken looking for a long-winged conehead cricket, or a marsh dagger moth, my sights were firmly set on finding a tasty scone. 

I was accompanied to Wicken by my trainee sconeologist mum and sister. There was only one fruit scone left on the counter when we arrived in the tea room and we all looked at it, them presumably wondering how we were going to cut it into three and me wondering how I was going to break the bad news to them.

However, the lovely assistant checked the oven and said more scones would be available in 5 minutes' time, so a fist fight was averted.

The delivery of three hot scones to our table meant that Wicken Fen walks away with the award for Freshest National Trust Scone EVER. It was tasty as anything and it looked fantastic - a big chunk of a golden scone befitting a cold and gloomy day. I've always said that it's hard to ruin a fresh scone but even when I tried really hard to find something wrong with it, I couldn't. A triumph. 

Wicken Fen scone

So there you have it - if you head to Wicken Fen on a nice day, you could see everything from a water vole or an otter to a hairy dragon-fly AND you'll get a fantastic scone.

WICKEN FEN: 3 out of 5 in winter but I'll be BAAAAACK
SCONE: 5 out of 5
Wind pump making that "pum-eerrk-er-pah-dum" noise that Windy Miller's windmill made (oh, just watch it here from 0.20 seconds: out of 5 as it wasn't making any noise

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Berrington Hall

I've always had an inexplicable dislike of Capability Brown, the man responsible for designing so many estates now owned by the National Trust. 

He got his name because he would visit a place and tell the owner that it had "capabilities". They would then pay him a substantial amount of money and he would move some hills or install a lake to brighten the place up.

Today, at Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, I realised where that instinctive dislike comes from. For A Level English, I had to study Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. The characters go and visit a stately home belonging to Mr Rushworth, whose head is full of "improvements" and his desire to hire Humphry Repton to give the place a makeover. 

(Apparently, Austen had relatives whose home was remodelled by Humphry Repton. In Mansfield Park, she even quotes the rate that he charged them; five guineas a day.)

But the point is that Mansfield Park's prim little heroine, Fanny Price, is aghast at all of this improvements talk. And so I've always assumed that Jane Austen didn't approve of improvements either, and she's usually right about everything. Ergo, without realising it, I decided in 1990 that 'improvers' were bad and this dislike resurfaced, like Godzilla, 25 years later when I finally came across any.

You might well be wondering why I took against Capability Brown when it was actually Humphry Repton that she mentions. I am wondering the same thing. But Repton is often regarded as Brown's successor, so there you are. Let's not split hairs.

Berrington Hall

ANYWAY. What has all of this got to do with Berrington? The answer is that Thomas Harley commissioned Capability B to design the grounds and CB's son-in-law, Henry Holland, to design the house.

Here's a bit of history:

The Harleys
  • Berrington was bought by Thomas Harley in 1776
  • Thomas had made his money through marriage and by winning the contract to provide clothing and wages to the British army in America - according to the guidebook "in 1777 alone he supplied over 40,000 pairs of mittens"
  • He moved to Herefordshire to set himself up as a country gent, commissioning Capability Brown to landscape the grounds, and Henry Holland to build the house
  • Holland delivered a house in the French Neo-classical style - it's quite a plain house without a lot of external decoration
  • Harley had also planned a plain interior, until his daughter married George Rodney, son of Admiral Rodney who was a famous seaman of his age
  • The Admiral was beset by financial problems and in a letter to his son, he tells him to visit the (very wealthy) Thomas Harley "and if your heart is touched by either of his Daughters, indulge the Flame"
  • Luckily, George's heart was indeed touched and he did indeed indulge the flame, marrying Anne Harley
  • The Rodneys moved in to Berrington, with Thomas eventually bequeathing it to his grandson, the 3rd Lord Rodney
  • It then passed sideways through the family until the 7th Lord Rodney, who ran up gambling debts and had to sell the contents and eventually the estate in 1901

Berrington Drawing Room

The Cawleys
  • Frederick Cawley was also a rich man - he owned the patent for a black dye, which became very lucrative in 1901 when Queen Victoria died and the world went into mourning in black crepe
  • He bought Berrington as a country retreat and installed electricity and other mod cons, while also replacing ugly Victorian fixtures
  • The Cawleys lost three of their four sons in the First World War
  • Robert Cawley, the surviving son, lost one of his sons in World War II, when Berrington had been requisitioned as a convalescent hospital
  • It was handed to the National Trust in 1954

Berrington stairway hall

But of course there is one area where I am always happy to see improvements, and that is the area of SCONES. I didn't have high hopes for the Berrington scone - it looked a bit ordinary and underwhelming (a bit like Fanny Price). But it was absolutely delicious - fresh and tasty. First 5 out of 5 of the year! Hurray!

Berrington scone
I just noticed Capability Brown photobombing my scone picture -
he had to get his face in somehow. 

I'll end by sharing this link. It lists all of the properties connected to Capability Brown. There are 240 of them!!! I'm surprised there was anything left for Repton to improve for his 5 guineas a day.

Berrington Hall: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Ubiquitousness of Capability Brown: 5 out of 5

Friday, 27 January 2017


If an estate agent said to you "this is a property with great potential", you'd instantly smell a rat and think "OK, it's a dump". But when I tell you that Croome near Worcester has great potential, I really mean it.

Croome Court
This photo of Croome is brought to you courtesy of a lovely woman
called Alison. I took my photos from the back of a little golf
buggy-thing and...well, let's just say you can tell.

Here are your ten must-know things about Croome:

1. The NT acquired the park in 1996 and the house in 2007
This basically means that there's very little in the house - all of the effort so far has been on new plumbing, electrics, and structural stuff. I have to admit that we didn't see all of it - the Sidekick's mobility is a bit limited at the moment - but after I'd seen four or five empty rooms I started to lose track of where I was. The park has been restored to its past glory, however, and there's a lot to see (see 8. below).

2. It contains probably the most bizarre fitting ever seen in an NT house
The Master Bedroom was decorated by a property developer in the 1990s. The guidebook says that the NT "has decided to leave it as it was during this period for now", going on to correctly compare it to "something out of Footballers' Wives". 

The stripey wallpaper certainly grabs the attention, but not as much as the ruddy great modern bath that the property developer stuck in the middle of the bathroom, for reasons that were presumably clear to him or her at the time. It was too heavy for the floor though, which bowed underneath it and had to be strengthened while the plumbing was taken out. So don't bother bringing a towel.

Croome bath

3. Croome was Capability Brown's first commission
There's a huge irony in me saying that Croome has 'potential'. Lancelot Brown, who designed Croome, got his famous nickname of Capability because that's what he used to tell his rich clients when he visited their estates - 'your gaff has capabilities', or words to that effect.

Anyway, Capability was commissioned by the 6th Earl of Coventry as an architect to redesign the house that he had inherited in 1751. CB designed the outside of the building and was the clerk of works for the interior. But it was in the grounds that he developed his signature style as a landscape gardener, doing away with all the formality of previous eras and focusing on trees and serpentine lakes. 

4. It was also Robert Adam's first commission for room design
The 6th Earl was clearly a bit of a talent spotter, because he also employed the little-known Robert Adam, or Bob the Roman as he was later referred to because of his love of classical architecture. Bob started off designing the interior of the new church but impressed the 6th Earl so much that he moved onto the Long Gallery and other rooms.

5. The contents were sold off in 1948
The descendants of the 6th Earl stayed true to his vision and kept Croome pretty much as he had built it. However, the 10th Earl was killed during the retreat to Dunkirk in 1940 and the place and its contents were put up for sale. Croome became a school and the UK headquarters for the Hare Krishna movement, before the property developers tried to turn it into a golf course.

6. The Tapestry Room is in New York
There's a very bare and sad-looking room in the house with some posters explaining that it was once the Tapestry Room, but that all the contents were sold to cover the 9th Earl's gambling debts. It was only when I got home and read the guide book properly that I realised the WHOLE ROOM is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York - the ceiling, the tapestries, the floor, even the skirting boards. The picture makes you realise how fabulous Croome would have looked.

7. A fifth of the contents are back
This is a terrible photo, but the team at Croome is bringing back various pieces that once belonged to the estate. Below is a really stunning cabinet built to show off the porcelain that was once the Earl's pride and joy - I really don't find porcelain very interesting at all, but I loved the way it was set out. Much better than sticking it all on a table (and less prone to gathering dust presumably).

Croome porcelain

8. There's a lot to see in the grounds
There are numerous 'eye-catchers' or follies in the park at Croome - there's a grotto, Pirton Castle (which looks like a real castle but was actually built as a ruin), Dunstall Castle, a Panorama Tower, Dry Arch Bridge, Temple Greenhouse...loads of little buildings worth investigating. Due to mobility issues and - OK, yes, I admit it - the cold, we didn't see any of them. But it's another good reason to go back.

9. The volunteer room guides are great
There are some properties where the volunteers are just brilliant - Nostell Priory, Packwood, Melford Hall, Seaton Delaval. Croome is one of them. They were friendly and informative, which made a really big difference when there was less to see. 

They also seemed genuinely excited by what's going on at the property, and they're going to need it - there's a huge task ahead and they'll need plenty of energy.

10. They have mighty scones
This was scone mission #150 and our first outing since October, so I was dreading a scone fail scenario. But I needn't have worried - a pile of mighty scones was the first thing I saw in the tea-room. They were very tasty, although (and I hate to say this) possibly a tad under-done? I'm not saying it in Paul Hollywood "it's-under-baked"-while-wiping-hands-triumphantly-of-potentially-lethal-baked-item-almost-ingested-style, but hesitantly because I'm not 100% sure. You'd think I'd be able to tell by now. 

Croome scone

Anyway. I can't wait to see Croome again in a couple of years' time, when they've had a chance to complete more of their renovations and restorations, and I can do a full tour of the 'eye-catchers'.

Croome: 3 out of 5 now but with capabilities
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Bath worthy of John Terry: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Best National Trust Scones of 2016

I usually love the whole 'Review of the Year' thing that you get endlessly in December, but I just can't face it this time round. It'd be like watching your house burn down and then volunteering to relive the whole experience on DVD. 

BUT! If Donald Trump or Nigel Farage or the Grim Reaper think that they will stop me reviewing the National Trust scones of 2016, they can think again. 

This year we visited 48 properties that we hadn't been to before and 17 of them won the coveted Scone d'Or for their five star scones. 

But which one wins my Scone of the Year? Let's count down:

14. Saltram
Never let it be said that the Scone Blogger eases herself into things where NT scones are concerned. No sirree. My first trip of the year took me all the way to Devon, where I discovered that most of the house was shut. The scone was absolutely top-rate though. 

13. Sizergh Castle
My tour of the Lake District in March took me to Sizergh Castle, which has been owned by the Strickland family for 800 years. What's even more amazing is that the Stricklands seem to have constantly been on the wrong side of things - Catholic, Royalist, Jacobite - but somehow they retained control of their castle. I can report that they are very much on the right side of things when it comes to their scones.

12. Hidcote
I usually avoid NT gardens at all costs because I always walk around them thinking "I COULD DO THIS AT MY HOUSE!" while forgetting that I do not like mud. But I'm glad I went to Hidcote - it's a stunning place and the scone was top drawer.

11. Melford Hall
Melford must be one of the only NT properties that has a celebrity living there - Chartwell has Jock the cat, but Melford has the original Jemima Puddleduck. Beatrix Potter was related to the Parker family and gave them the duck that inspired her book. And the scone was fantastic.

10. Belton House
If you spent the 1980s watching TV between 4pm and 6pm, then you may remember Moondial. In fact, the TV show and the original Moondial book were both set at Belton House - below you can see the Scone Sidekick admiring the 'moondial' (it's actually a sundial), although he didn't watch TV between 4pm-6pm in the 1980s, so he had no clue what he was looking at. He loved the scones though.

9. Wallington
If the words 'by a lonely prison wall, I heard a young girl caaaaaa-ling' mean anything to you, then Wallington will probably stir some interesting emotions. It was owned by the Trevelyan family and Charles Edward Trevelyan is name-checked in the song The Fields of Athenry. It's a fascinating place and the scone was superb.

8. Tyntesfield
I probably shouldn't keep going on about this, but Tyntesfield was built using the profits from bird poo - the Gibbs family who owned the place had made their money from guano imported from Peru and sold as fertiliser in the Victorian era. Amazing. The scone was (hopefully) a bird poo free area and it was magnificent. 

7. Dyrham Park
I thoroughly approve of the signs that I noticed at the NT this year saying "we need to replace our roof at a cost of £3m - that's 750,000 cream teas". Obviously I've got an excuse to eat scones, but it's good that everyone else has one too. The scaffolding is down at Dyrham now but the scones are excellent, so definitely keep eating. 

If I had to pick my favourite person who ever owned an NT property, it would be Henry Cyril Paget. If you imagine Freddie Mercury and Noddy Holder rolled into one, but in 1900, then you've got Henry Cyril. He inherited Plas Newydd on Anglesey but ended up bankrupt. You must go there. The scone was excellent too.

Acorn Bank in the Lake District used to be a haven for pilgrims in the 13th century, so it seemed a fitting place for me to visit on my scone odyssey. It was a lovely sunny morning and the scone was first rate.

4. Wordsworth House
I wandered lonely as a Scone Blogger to Wordsworth House in Cockermouth for a very delicious scone with the best jam of the year. That's three Lake District scones in the top rankings for 2016 - good work, the Lake District. 

Sudbury in Derbyshire has two attractions; the hall itself and the National Trust Museum of Childhood, with its rather depressed-looking Sooty and the Sindy bathroom that transported me straight back to 1982. Make that three attractions; the Sudbury scone was an absolute triumph.

Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk has everything that I love in an NT property - a fascinating history, some shocking scandal, and an outstanding scone. Probably the best single visit I made to the NT this year - I can't recommend it enough. 

1. Cornwall
I know, I know, I know. It's a bit cheaty to say that FOUR scones get to be Scone of the Year, but it makes sense if you think about it: a) they would have ranked in places 1-4 and this way other properties get a mention, b) I really couldn't choose between them, and c) I ate them all within a 48 hour tour of the region so they kind of form one giant cream tea?

And that's why Cornwall deserves a shout-out. My hit rate for a 5-star scone is around 35%. For me to go to Cornwall, visit 5 properties with scones and award 4 of them an unquestionable gold star is quite an achievement. Well done, Cornwall.

Let's name those four outstanding scones.
  • Boscastle - a little Cornish fishing village that was almost washed away by floods in 2004, Boscastle became one of my favourite places in all the world this year. We stayed in fantastic NT accommodation above the tea-room and the scones were unusual (more like a Cornish split) but absolutely top-rate:

  • Trerice - I spent a bit of time in Newquay in my teenage years and I had no idea that there was a quiet little Elizabethan manor house nearby serving AMAZING scones

  • Trelissickthe house may be relatively new to the NT but they've certainly got to grips with baking scones. Delicious.
  • Trengwainton Garden - The 5th scone we'd eaten in 48 hours on our Tour of Cornwall and it was FAB:

      So there you have it. We've now completed 149 of the 260+ NT properties that have tea rooms, so there's still a long way to go.

      Look out for a new book that will be appearing in NT bookshops in April - it's called Scones of the National Trust and it features some amazing scone recipes as well as some excerpts from this very blog.

      Thanks again for all of your comments, likes, tweets, and emails - they really help to keep me motivated. I *will* complete this odyssey!

      Happy New Year, everyone!