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! 

      Sunday, 18 December 2016

      National Trust Sconepal Scone of the Year Awards 2016

      I was going to hire the O2 for this year's National Trust Sconepals' SconePoll Winners' Party, but it would be far too small to accommodate all of us NT scone fans.

      In summary, it has been a very good year for scones at the National Trust - next week I will publish my annual review of the 48 properties that I visited in 2016. 

      But THIS is the countdown that really matters - these are the best NT scones of 2016 as voted for by the public. Every week, Sconepals from around the country share their photos of scone glory, and this is their chance to vote for their favourite.

      Without further ado, let's start with the runners up for 2016:

      2. Rufford Old Hall
      3. Dunwich Heath
      4. Flatford
      =5. Belton House
            Claremont Gardens
            Little Moreton Hall
            Lyme Park
            Quarry Bank

      The other properties that got a mention:

      • Anglesey Abbey
      • Beningborough
      • Bodnant Garden
      • Chedworth Roman Villa
      • Claremont Gardens
      • Clumber Park
      • Croft Castle
      • Croome Park
      • Devils Punch Bowl
      • White Cliffs of Dover
      • Dunham Massey
      • Erddig
      • Felbrigg Hall
      • Fountains Abbey
      • Gibside
      • Goddards
      • Greenway
      • Houghton Mill
      • Mompesson House
      • Plas Newydd
      • Scotney Castle
      • Sizergh Castle
      • Souter Lighthouse
      • Stackpole Quay
      • Standen
      • Stowe
      • Wakehurst
      And finally, the winner of the Sconepals' Choice for 2016 is:

      Speke Hall!

      Yes, for the second year running, Speke Hall wins the Sconepals' Scone of the Year. And I'm not going to argue with that; I went there in May 2015 and I absolutely loved it - read about Speke Hall's top-scoring scones.

      If you're wondering why some of the properties above are marked in gold (alright, orange), these are properties to whom I also awarded 5 stars. On this basis, I think we can conclude that our tastes are aligned - the ones in green I haven't visited yet, so hopefully I'll love them as well.

      A MASSIVE thank you to everyone that voted - I've had a few ups and downs on this blog this year and you totally keep me going with your pictures and support. 

      Finally, a big well done to all of the properties that got a mention - keep up the good work! And tune in next week to find out who has won the Scone Blogger's Top Scone of 2016! It's going to be close!

      Saturday, 22 October 2016


      I have now been to 149 National Trust properties. I've seen houses built from the profits of cotton, sugar, coal, banking, shipping, guns, and marriage but Tyntesfield (pronounced Tintsfield) near Bristol is the first place I have visited that was funded by bird poo.

      Yes, you read that correctly. Bird poo. In 1842, the Gibbs family started importing guano (that's dried bird poo to you and me) from Peru of all places. It was sold as fertiliser and it revolutionised Victorian agriculture, making William Gibbs wealthy enough to create this place: 


      • The house at Tyntesfield had originally been Georgian
      • William Gibbs bought the place in 1844 as a country residence for his wife and seven children
      • In 1863, William commissioned architect John Norton to enlarge and remodel it in High Victorian Gothic style
      • His son, Antony, created the farm at Tyntesfield and modernised the place with electricity when he inherited it in 1887
      • Antony's son, George, inherited in 1907 - he later became 1st Baron Wraxall 
      • The Gibbs firm had left the guano trade in 1861 and diversified into other products
      • However, the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression impacted on business and income gradually declined
      • George's son, Richard, inherited in 1949 - he never married and lived alone in the house while he ran the estate until he died in 2001 
      • In 2002, the National Trust acquired the house and the core of the estate

      The house is undoubtedly beautiful, but the real show stopper at Tyntesfield is the chapel. It was the first part of the building that we saw and I was stunned by it- it's basically half a cathedral:

      Tyntesfield chapel

      The chapel is based on La Sainte Chapelle, a medieval royal chapel on the Île de la Cité in Paris. It had not been part of the original plan for Tyntesfield and was added a decade later, in 1875, by architect Arthur Blomfield. He managed to build it on sloping ground so that the family could access it from the first floor of the house. 

      William was very religious. He was a Tractarian; in 1833, the Reverend John Keble had created the Oxford Movement, which called for a reform of the Church of England and a return to its Catholic roots. Supporters of the Oxford Movement were called Tractarians and they included William Gladstone as well as William and his wife, Blanche.

      I'm now going to make myself sound like a right philistine by admitting that I was really disappointed not to see the chapel in its entirety. There's an art installation in there at the moment - it think it features people from different faiths praying - and it's enormous, covering up the whole altar. It's only there for two months, so we were just a bit unlucky with our timing, but it was really disappointing.

      Art installation Tyntesfield chapel

      And I hate myself for saying that, because I'm generally all for art installations at the NT - read about my love for the Singing Tree at Biddulph. I'm just not sure I'd have covered up one of the most important parts of the property - even the guide book says that the altar is the focal point of the chapel, so why obstruct it?  

      Anyway. The same artist also has other pieces on display in the house itself. I have zero shame in saying that I thought they were horrible - a huge cast of a dead cow's head and two dead lambs would make most people feel uncomfortable. And they're supposed to do that - the website explains that they "will trigger us to consider mankind's complex relationship with breeding" - and I have no issue with that at all, but don't expect me to go home thinking it was lovely.

      Emotional Archaeology Tyntesfield

      More Emotional Archaeology Tyntesfield

      The art isn't the only thing at Tyntesfield that is challenging - the tea room is one of the most stressful places I have been to in a long time. I hasten to add that we were there at 1pm on a Saturday when they were having a Hallowe'en event, so I'm not complaining. I think the main issue is the building itself - there are limitations on what they can do with it and space isn't used very effectively.

      But kudos to the mainly young staff - they were efficient and friendly and unflappable. The scone looked fantastic and it was fresh and tasty - a definite 5 out of 5.

      Tyntesfield scone

      I'm going to end with Marketing Idea for the National Trust Number 3,231. For the first time, I was struck by how all of the NT properties fit together - so William Gibbs was commissioning work at Tyntesfield in 1863, the exact same year that William Armstrong was buying land near Newcastle to build Cragside. A book explaining the chain of events and similarities/differences would be great. Or maybe just a big jigsaw. I'd buy it anyway.

      Tyntesfield: 4 out of 5
      Scones: 5 out of 5
      Calmness and serenity: 0 out of 5

      Saturday, 15 October 2016

      Sudbury Hall

      I don't know what I was expecting from Sudbury Hall and the National Trust Museum of Childhood in Derbyshire. I think I was expecting it to be the National Trust Museum of MY childhood, which would basically be the set of Saturday Superstore with Enid Blyton as the presenter and a cartoon sausage on a fork appearing out of nowhere every few minutes.

      Sudbury Hall and the Museum of Childhood are in the same building, but they are separate entities so you can visit one or the other as you prefer.

      Sudbury Hall
      Can you just pretend the car is not there - it's cheaper than Photoshop 
      We started off in the Museum. It begins with a really good replica of a chimney that little kids can actually climb into to see what life might have been like for them 170 years ago - quite handy if your offspring ever need reminding that a broken iPad is not the worst thing that ever happened to any child ever. 

      Then there are loads of toys from olden times - I loved these cat skittles:

      Cat nine-pins Steiff

      And there were a few faces that I recognised from my own childhood days, although I don't remember Sooty looking this depressed:

      Sooty at Sudbury
      Poor old Sooty - maybe that rat stole his jumper
      HOWEVER. I knew - I just knew - that there would be SOMETHING unexpected in that museum that would stop me dead in my tracks and throw me back to my younger days. 

      And here it is. It wasn't Grange Hill, or Claire and Friends singing 'It's 'Orrible Being In Love When You're 8 and Half' in Search for a Superstar, - it was this orange Sindy bathroom suite, which I hadn't seen for at least 35 years. I can't recall which of my friends it belonged to, but I remembered every single bit of it, from the little white taps to the brown bath mat. I take my hat off to whoever got Sindy's hair into this Betty Draper do though - I remember her barnet just sticking up in the air and being impossible. 

      Sindy Bathroom Sudbury
      Proust had his madeleines to remind him of the past -
      it's a little fringed brown bath mat that does it for me
      ANYWAY. Once we'd looked round the museum we went next door to the actual house itself. This is a rear view of it:

      Sudbury Hall rear view

      A bit of history for you:

      • The Vernons arrived in Britain with the Norman Conquest
      • There are many branches of the Vernon clan, including the slightly mad lot at Hanbury Hall
      • However, the Sudbury branch inherited the Sudbury estate in 1513, when John Vernon married a local heiress
      • John left his property to his two sons - John Jnr inherited Sudbury and Henry got an estate in Staffordshire
      • The brothers appear to have been great pals, until Henry married a woman called Dorothy - John did not approve
      • John was a bachelor in his forties when Henry died in 1592, but he wanted to stop Dorothy getting her hands on all of the family estates - so he married a woman called Mary, the widow of his cousin, who handily already had a son called Edward Vernon
      • John died in 1600 without an heir of this own, and so Dorothy and Mary went into battle for the property
      • It was all sorted out in time-honoured fashion - Mary's son, Edward, and Dorothy's daughter, Margaret, were married off to each other (it's not known what they thought of this) and they were given a house at Sudbury
      • However, the house we see today was actually built by their grandson, George, after he inherited in 1660
      • The house was handed over to the National Trust by the 10th Lord Vernon in 1967, although he built himself a house on the estate and his family still live there apparently

      The house has a Long Gallery, which was quite unusual for its time:

      Long Gallery Sudbury Hall

      In the Long Gallery there are a number of portraits, including these two. The first is Nell Gwyn, mistress of Charles II. The second is Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II. Do you get the feeling that he had a thing for shepherdesses whose clothes kept falling off?

      Nell Gwynn Sudbury

      Barbara Villiers at Sudbury

      Anyway, let's move on to more important matters. It took us a while to get to Sudbury today and we were both REALLY looking forward to our scones. I spotted a pile of them sitting on the counter as I walked past the tea room window - I think I may have broken into an actual sprint at that point. 

      We were rewarded though, because the Sudbury Hall scone was fantastic. It looked perfect, it felt a tiny bit warm, and it was light and delicious. It even looked happy to see me. Definitely one of the best NT scones ever.

      Sudbury scone
      Maybe it's me, but I'm sure this scone was smiling for the camera

      Sudbury Hall: 4 out of 5
      Scones: 5 out of 5
      Ability of 1980s children to be wildly jealous of anyone with an orange doll's toilet and a rubbish mirror: 5 out of 5