Saturday, 13 September 2014

Hinton Ampner

The approach to Hinton Ampner in Hampshire is a bit like Planet of the Sheep - there are absolutely loads of them stood along the driveway watching you go past, with their impassive yet knowing eyes. Hinton is famous for its ghostly history but I'd take my chances with the ghosts any day. 

Anyway. Hinton Ampner is a lovely place, once you get past the sheep:


Hinton Ampner

I hope they don't mind me saying this though, but it doesn't really have The M25 Factoid that most National Trust properties have. By that I mean; when I say to the scone sidekick "let's go to X", his first question is always "where is it?" followed by "what's there?". He hates the M25, so if the answer to the first question involves driving one measly junction of it, the answer to the second question better be good. And Hinton Ampner doesn't really have anything to make you think "I MUST see this".




It's a truly beautiful property though, with pretty and homely gardens, and we were both really pleased that we made the trip. The history in brief:

  • Ralph Dutton handed the property over to the National Trust in 1985
  • His ancestors had lived on the estate for 500 years
  • The first house had been built in the 1500s and was said to be haunted
  • It was demolished in 1793 and a Georgian house was constructed instead
  • Ralph's grandfather renovated the house in a style that Ralph detested
  • In 1935, Ralph inherited Hinton and restored it to its Georgian glory
  • He filled it with historic furnishings to fit the Georgian theme
  • But the house caught fire in 1960 and Ralph had to start again
  • This means that the house you see today is actually the newest house in the care of the National Trust - it was built in the 1960s, which is after the Beatles' childhood homes and everything! And there's The Factoid! Hurray!

You had to ask permission to take photos in the house and I just couldn't be bothered, so I didn't take any. I'm sure the rules were something simple like 'don't use a flash' or 'don't climb on the sofa to get an aerial shot' so why they couldn't just put that on a sign somewhere I don't know.

Anyway. Let's move on to the scones because I did get a photo of those. The scones at Hinton were melt-on-the-tongs, which is why they look a bit dented in the picture below. A stale scone doesn't crumble when you pick it up though, so I was very hopeful. And I wasn't disappointed: the plain scone was lovely, while the fruit scone was a complete triumph. Even the scone sidekick declared it a 5 out of 5 and he's normally harassing me to give a 2.

Hinton Ampner National Trust scones

I'm going to finish with another observation on the Hinton Ampner sheep. I said earlier that it was all a bit Planet of the Sheep as they stood at the side of the drive staring, but I actually don't think we have anything to worry about - they're too lazy to take over the planet and enslave us all. Look at them:


Hinton Ampner sheep


Hinton Ampner: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Get-up-and-go of the sheep: 0 out of 5

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Runnymede

The Magna Carta is one of the things that my school didn't quite get round to covering during the 14 years of my education, along with other potentially quite useful stuff, like how to type or how to work out my mortgage repayments.

So I headed off to Runnymede today ready to be educated. This is the memorial to the Magna Carta:


Magna Carta memorial

Please note that the children and man in the picture were not vandalising the monument, as I obviously would have objected if that had been the case and not just stood there taking photos of their backs. They were doing rubbings of the text: 


Magna Carta memorial text

In case you too went to a school that didn't bother with Magna Carta, here's what I learned:

  • King John came to the throne in 1199
  • A lot went wrong and he ended up defeated in battle and losing his lands on the Continent
  • The Barons of England got fed-up with bankrolling his losses but there was no obvious contender to the throne that they could bring forward to replace him 
  • Instead, they tried to call him to account and force reform by creating a Charter of Liberties
  • King John was forced to put his seal on the Magna Carta at Runnymede on 12 June 1215
  • However, he had no intention of honouring it and tried to annul it
  • The furious Barons offered the throne to Louis, son of the King of France
  • John died in 1216, however, and his son, Henry III, succeeded to the throne when he was only 9 years old
  • Henry's minority council decided to resurrect the Charter
  • Support for Louis and his claim to the throne dwindled and he went home
  • The Magna Carta was reissued with modifications and entered the statute book in 1297, becoming the first constitutional document in the world
  • The Magna Carta has since become the basis for the development of international democracy
  • Clause 39 provides the basis for law and individual rights with the text; "No free man shall be taken, imprisoned, outlawed, banished or in any way destroyed, nor will we proceed against or prosecute him, except by lawful judgement of his equals and by the law of the land."

The importance of Magna Carta seems to be recognised everywhere but here in the UK. There's a copy of it in Salisbury Cathedral - if you ever go to Mompesson House then you can pop in and see it. It's always surrounded by people and 90% of them are from overseas.

Runnymede is also the site of the Kennedy Memorial, which was opened in 1965 by the Queen, Jackie Kennedy, and other members of JFK's family. A few years ago I went to Arlington in Virginia where John F Kennedy is buried and the Runnymede memorial had the same atmosphere of stillness. It's quite something.

I hate to admit this but having just seen the birthplace of democracy and the sombre memorial to a man brutally cut down in his prime while pursuing freedom, it didn't really seem quite right to go and stuff my face with a scone.  

Luckily, I had already done it - I started my visit with a quick stop in the tearoom, which was recently taken over by the National Trust. It has particularly friendly and helpful staff and they're very generous with their scones. They were a bit dry though and for the second week running the cream was more flaky than clotted. Maybe that's what happens in September - thousands of children are rounded up and forced back into school, 8,000 spiders decide to try and get into your house, and Rodda's cream turns flaky. C'est la vie I suppose.


Runnymede scones

Anyway, Runnymede is well worth a visit. The Barons chose a beautiful spot for the sealing of the Charter and the memorials are nicely done.

Runnymede: 4 out of 5
Scones: 3.5 out of 5

Monday, 1 September 2014

Flatford Revisited

You may be wondering why I returned to Flatford Bridge Cottage today, when I have approximately 500 National Trust properties still to see.

If you've been to Flatford, you'll know why. It's a stunningly beautiful little place. John Constable based many of his greatest paintings on Flatford and his scenes are still recognisable today, thanks to the National Trust who look after the buildings and countryside in Constable Country.

It gets my vote as the most idyllic spot in Britain. I would gladly and willingly pay the National Trust £58 a year for the upkeep of Constable Country alone. In fact, I'd probably pay them ten times that amount, but don't tell them.

Anyway, I covered the general story of John Constable and Flatford in my first post about Flatford and its scones in November 2013. But here are a few pictures from today's visit:


Flatford Bridge Cottage
A rare sighting of the Scone Sidekick at Flatford Bridge Cottage

Flatford Bridge Cottage
Flatford Bridge Cottage, River Stour and apple-laden tree

Flatford Haywain
Flatford - scene of the The Haywain (see below)

The Haywain
The Haywain, by John Constable

There was one moment of heartbreak for me today. Last time I came to Flatford I helped bake the scones. I remember being amazed at how the outside of the scone was so crisp, while the inside was soft and fluffy. 

Well, it turns out that this wasn't down to me. The fruit scone today was exactly the same. I've eaten around 60 National Trust scones since I last visited Flatford and I haven't come across any other scones that achieve crisp vs fluffy perfection.

Flatford is on my World Scone Heritage List because it is brilliant at scones but also because they have a Scone of the Month. I arrived at the tea counter ten minutes after it opened - today being 1st September - and was HONOURED to be the very first person to buy an Apple & Blackberry scone. I'd seen about a billion blackberries in the hedgerows round Flatford and the tree next to the tearoom was about to keel over under the weight of all the apples, so it made perfect sense. It was delicious:

Flatford scone of the month
Flatford scone of the month - Apple & Blackberry

I'm going to end by giving you another helpful tip (the first tip being GO TO FLATFORD): I recommend staying overnight. I had noticed on my first visit that the granary once owned by John Constable's father is now a B&B called, cleverly, The Granary. It claims to offer "3* accommodation at 2* prices in a 10* location" and I wouldn't argue with that. Here it is:

The Granary Flatford
The Granary at Flatford
We had a lovely evening wandering around the area and the best night's sleep I've had in ages, because apart from the odd quack there wasn't a sound.

Suffolk sunset
Sunset near Flatford
So you haven't been to Flatford/Constable Country, go as soon as you can. If you've already been, go back. It is without doubt one of my favourite places in the world.