Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Guest post: Emma becomes a National Trust scone baker

My name is Emma and I am a National Trust volunteer. I also love scones.

I have been a volunteer at Lanhydrock in Cornwall for 7 years. I work every other Sunday to fit in with my full time job. I volunteer in the shop, which suits me because I am surrounded by cookery books and jam. Both of which are useful when you love a good scone.

Quite often I have a good old chin-wag with my customers about my favourite bakes and I'm pretty good at recommending a National Trust jam or curd to go in it. One of my favourite recommendations is a citrus scone with the National Trust passion fruit curd and clotted cream. My tummy is rumbling just thinking about it.

Last year, I discovered NT Scones on Twitter. Shortly after, the National Trust Book of Scones was launched. This simply fuelled my passion for all things scone related. I am currently working my way through the book (present favourite is chocolate and hazelnut served with Nutella and clotted cream) and I will tell anyone who will listen about it.

One day, back in March, I attended a preseason meeting with the rest of the retail team. The catering manager popped along to say hello and give a bit of insight into what the catering team were getting up to. This devolved into a rather lengthy (and possibly over enthusiastic on my part) conversation about my love of NT Scones and The National Trust Book of Scones. I think I may have scared her a little - I am rather passionate about the subject.

A few days later I received an email; would I like to do some job shadowing in the kitchen and do some baking? It was arranged. Emma the Scone Lady gets to bake the scones for Lanhydrock!

On the day arranged I eagerly turned up to the kitchens to bake and met Lisa who would be supervising me for the day. Donning my white coat and hat, I had a brief tour of the kitchen and then I was set to work.

First on the list were the scones. 48 fruit scones were needed for afternoon tea in the restaurant. For anyone who hasn't been in a restaurant kitchen, it's just like baking at home but on a much larger scale. I am perfectly happy baking a dozen scones at my home for my friends or to take into work, but suddenly I was making 48 for the National Trust where scones are literally part of a visitor's experience. Assured by my mentor I was doing fine, the scones were put in the oven. 

All I could think about was what would happen if the scones didn't turn out right. 
There would be no scones for afternoon tea and it would be all my fault. 
No one would come to Lanhydrock ever again because they would tell the whole of the Internet that there were no scones. 

Ok, maybe I can be a little over dramatic but I was feeling the pressure! 23 minutes later the buzzer went on the the oven. The scones were perfect. There were set to cool and a couple hours later they went into the restaurant for service. I was so relieved I felt like I had won the Great British Bake Off.

Now, I know this a blog post about scones but I would like to bring your attention to shortbread. Shortbread, the tearoom treat I always ignore for being boring. Never again. I can assure you that the most fiddly bake in the tearoom is the shortbread. Have you ever stopped to think about how the National Trust logo of the oak leaves gets onto it? The biscuit circles are cut out and then a round stencil with the oak leaves cut out in the middle is pressed hard onto it. Then by hand, very carefully, the biscuit it prized from the stencil. It's a skill I would like to see Mary Berry herself try. Too hard and the biscuit gets squished. Not hard enough and the leaves don't come out. Now, I don't know if Lisa was being nice to me, or whether I am some sort of shortbread whisperer, but out of 48 shortbread only 2 didn't come out right. Several weeks later and I am still feeling some proud of myself.

After 6 hours, I had baked 48 fruit scones, 2 trays of gluten free chocolate brownies, 48 shortbread and 5 carrot cakes. All of which were edible. If you ever wondered where the recipes come from, they are in The National Trust Cookbook (available from National Trust shops).

Finally, I'd just like to say a massive thank you to all National Trust catering staff. You work incredibly hard to provide some of the tastiest creations around and thank you for taking me in as one of your own for the day.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Workhouse

I was very excited when I found out that the National Trust owns a workhouse. I was very excited because it gave me the opportunity to go there and say "please, sir, can I have a scone?" and then laugh uproariously at my own great joke. 

The Workhouse

But I probably don't need to tell you that the workhouse was no laughing matter. I read a joyless tome called The Workhouse before I went, which explains that the national workhouse system was set up in the 1830s to stop poor people from seeking state support for themselves or their children - you'd basically have to be utterly desperate to go anywhere near the place.

So I turned up in Southwell today expecting to find a huge Scooby Doo-esque house with lightning bolts and creaking doors and general misery. But it's not like that at all - it's clean and bright and free of rats and general misery, which makes it quite hard to imagine what it must have been like for the poor souls that ended up stuck in there grinding bones or breaking rocks.

I've tried to condense everything I learned from the book into 6 key facts:

1. Who used the workhouse?
In the TV series Who Do You Think You Are, nearly every celebrity ends up in an archive at some point reading out a census form: "Frederick Jones...the work...house...the workhouse!? He ended up in the workhouse?!" followed by sobs.

But according to the book, only between 0.5-2% of the population of England & Wales was in a workhouse in 1898. That's still a lot of people - anything between 165,000-660,000 - but it was a smaller percentage of the population than I expected.

2. Why were workhouses built?
  • In the days pre-Elizabeth I, people who were down on their luck had to turn to their families or the monasteries for shelter and food
  • The closure of the monasteries led to the Poor Law of 1601, which made each parish responsible for taking care of its own poor people
  • A lot of this care took the form of 'out-relief' - giving fuel and clothes to poor people in their own homes (often nothing more than a hovel)
  • But parishes couldn't cope as times got tougher - industrialisation and the joblessness and urbanisation that went with it led to a big increase in the cost of caring for the poor 
  • The government looked into the options and were impressed by the work of a Reverend Beecher who had written a pamphlet with the charming title of 'The Anti-Pauper System'
  • He based his theories on a small workhouse he had built in Southwell - he had seen good results, and so expanded it to a large institution funded by a number of parishes (the workhouse we can now visit today)
  • The New Poor Law of 1834 took his ideas and put them into practice across the country
3. How did they work?
  • Each workhouse had a master and a matron and a school teacher - the master reported to a group of local Guardians, who were usually District councillors or similar
  • The inmates were divided into categories: able-bodied men and able-bodied women (also known as the 'undeserving poor'), old and infirm men and old and infirm women (the 'blameless' poor), boys aged 7-15 and girls aged 7-15, and children under 7. 
4. What happened to the 'undeserving poor'?
  • The workhouse was designed to stop the able-bodied looking for support, but if they did need to enter its walls they were forced to work - either breaking rocks or grinding bones
The work yard for the able-bodied (aka 'undeserving') poor
  • Another task was picking oakum - basically old ropes that were tarred and knotted and had to be unpicked:

5. What about the children?

This is the surprising thing about workhouses - they were basically orphanages (as Oliver Twist attests). In 1889, of 192,000 people in the workhouse, a whopping 54,000 were children and 33,000 of those were orphans.

I was amazed to read that the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley (of "Doctor Livingstone, I presume?" fame) had been a workhouse orphan. He wrote an incredibly sad account of his time there, which included a sadistic teacher who seems to have treated his charges very cruelly indeed, even beating one of the boys to death. One day the young Stanley retaliated and "determined to die before submitting again" he apparently scaled the workhouse walls and made his escape.  

6. What happened to the old and infirm?
The aged and infirm were supposed to be treated well in the workhouse (as they were the 'deserving' poor) but the book catalogues a long list of cases where elderly people were subjected to cruelty and neglect. 

infirm bedroom
Bedroom for old and infirm men
The guidebook at The Workhouse paints a less depressing picture than the book by Norman Longmate did - the guidebook points out that children got an education that they wouldn't have got otherwise and so on - but I'm sticking with the book.

In fact, one of the depressingly recognisable things in my workhouse reading was the Guardians turning up for their annual visit and enjoying a big sumptuous lunch on expenses, while the inmates were denied any such thing (it didn't mention the Guardians getting their moats cleaned or having a duck house built at taxpayer's expense, so clearly our elected officials have got a bit more brass-necked over the years). Anyway - I felt a bit self-conscious tucking into a scone in a place where destitute people had once made do with the barest of rations, but I soldiered on.

The Workhouse scone had me worried at first glance, as it looked a little bit flat. But it turned out to be delicious - a really, really tasty fresh scone that I enjoyed immensely. 

Workhouse Scone

I'll leave you with a passage from the book, written by an MP in the East End who was also a Guardian at the Poplar workhouse:

"On one visit I inspected the supper of oatmeal porridge...served up with pieces of black stuff floating around. On examination we discovered it to rat and mice manure. I called for the chief officer, who immediately argued against me, saying the porridge was good and wholesome. 'Very good, madam', said I, taking up a basinful and spoon, 'here you are, eat one mouthful and I will acknowledge I am wrong'. 'Oh dear no,' said the fine lady, 'the food is not for me, and is good and wholesome for those who want it'. I stamped and shouted until both doctor and master arrived, both of whom pleaded it was a mistake, and promptly served both cocoa and bread and margarine."

The Workhouse: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Realism of rat-themed light show in cellar: 5 out of 5 

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Shugborough Estate

I'd been hearing great things about Shugborough near Stafford. However, the tipping point for me actually beetling up there as fast as I could wasn't the scones or the impressive mansion. It was this photo:

I will explain it to you, just in case your eyes are going wibbly with the whole AMAZINGNESS of it - it's basically Lord Lichfield (aka Patrick Lichfield, fashion and society photographer) with his weather-defying bouffant hair, aviator sunglasses, jaunty scarf, and leather jacket, on a motorbike. And Britt Ekland.

There is a connection, just in case you think I have finally taken leave of my senses: Lord Lichfield's family owned the Shugborough Estate until it was given to the National Trust after his grandfather died in 1960. Our debonair friend above actually had apartments in the house until his own death in 2005.

Shugborough mansion

In fact, Pat's apartments were the highlight of my visit today, so without further ado let me tell you about Shugborough:

1. Patrick Lichfield's apartments
Top tip: make sure you go and get a timed ticket for Patrick's rooms as early as you can. I had been tipped off by one of my tribe of National Trust scone fans, Natalie Randall, that I would need to look lively, and she was right - I was nearly thwarted by a COACH PARTY. I ask you.

Anyway. You can't take pictures in the family apartments but you can see where he lived and worked (including a kitchen that is straight outta 1986). The walls are covered in pictures - of Princess Margaret and her friends on holiday (she is lying on a chaise longue while they all stand around her - I'm going to try that with my own friends at the soonest opportunity), Princess Anne on a motorbike, Patrick himself, other royals, Mick Jagger, Patrick himself etc. It's fascinating that he was just at home in front of the camera.

2. The mansion
The Shugborough Estate was bought by the Anson family in 1625 (Patrick Lichfield's surname was actually Anson) but it wasn't always so grand. Two brothers really established the estate we see today; 
  • George Anson (aka Admiral Lord Anson) was a hugely courageous and successful sailor - he was the second British person to circumnavigate the globe (after Francis Drake) on a treacherous journey that took almost four years and ended in 1744. He had 961 men when he set off but his crew was decimated by scurvy and dysentery and all sorts of other disasters. He made a huge amount of money from attacking Spanish ships, however, and it was that money that was used to extend Shugborough.
  • Thomas Anson, brother of George, was the elder son and heir of Shugborough. He spent George's money building and landscaping Shugborough to create an estate fit for a successful family.
Library Shugborough
The Library was one of the rooms built by Thomas Anson - you'll
just have to pretend you can't see the tool box or the table.
  • Thomas was eventally succeeded by his great-nephew in 1789, who worked with the architect Samuel Wyatt to make further improvements to Shugborough
  • But then along came his son, another Thomas, who was made Earl of Lichfield in 1831. He frittered away the family fortune (there's always one), ended up in financial ruin, and had to sell off a lot of Shugborough's furniture, artworks, and books.
  • Subsequent earls tried to manage the debts and keep the estate going, but it was offered to the National Trust in 1960. Staffordshire County Council maintained it for many years until the NT took control in 2016.

4. Highlights of the gardens
Thomas Anson also installed a number of buildings and monuments within the gardens. The Chinese House was probably my favourite - it was built to house Admiral Anson's collection of artefacts that he brought back from China. 

I also liked The Ruins - especially the sign explaining that the Ruins were almost ruined when the National Trust took over and had to be rescued.

It's also customary on this blog that there is always a feature of the estate that I don't actually see and today it was Hadrian's Arch - I did mean to walk up there but somehow the day ran away with me:

Hadrians Arch Shugborough

5. The Cat Monument
The cat momument was slightly disappointing, if I'm truly honest. It's not known if the monument celebrates a cat that circumnavigated the globe with Admiral Anson, or a different cat who just stayed at home. If one cat really did survive four years on a boat, when hundreds of sailors didn't, it deserved more than just a monument.

Cat monument Shugborough

And that's just part of what Shugborough has to offer - it's a big, varied estate that could keep you entertained for hours. I would go as far as to say that it's one of the best National Trust properties that I've ever been to.

But did they deliver on the all-important scone front? Shugborough had been getting RAVE reviews from my fellow scone aficionados - a honey scone that had been on offer last weekend had sent everyone WILD (well, two people). 

So I'm very pleased to report that the Shugborough fruit scone was indeed absolutely superb. Fresh, fluffy on the inside, crisp on the outside, and served with Rodda's that didn't need a pick-axe. Perfect. 

Shugborough scone

BUT! In the words of be-wellied Irish comic Jimmy Kricket, THERE WAS MORE: Lemon & Cranberry scones were also available (next to a copy of the Book of Scones - they know the way to a girl's heart at Shuggers). There was nothing else for it - I had to risk looking like a glutton and try one. It was delicious - light, very lemony, and fresh. They know how to bake scones at Shugborough.

Shugborough lemon scone
I am aware that Patrick Lichfield would NOT approve of this horrendous photo
but I was so keen to start eating that all composition went out of the window
I will close with a mention of Patrick Lichfield's autobiography. I am only on page two but it already promises to be a ripping yarn. Sample line: "Officially he was the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, Viscount Lyon and Baron Glamis, Tannadyce, Sidlaw and Strathdichtie, Baron Bowes, of Streatlam Castle, County Durham and Lunedale, County York. We called him Big Grandpa."

By the way - the book is called 'Not The Whole Truth'. It says a lot about me that when one of the volunteer guides mentioned the book's title today I conspiratorially asked "do you think he made a lot of it up then?" to which he replied, patiently and courteously while probably inwardly asking himself why they let people like me in to stately homes, "I think more likely he left a lot out?" 

Anyway - I'll update late with any fascinating factoids. Stand by!

Shugborough: a resounding 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Derring-do of Admiral Anson's cat that sailed around Cape Horn and went to China while mine lies on the spare bed all day: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle near Wrexham was built by Roger Mortimer in 1295. To prepare for my visit I read a book about Roger Mortimer, but unfortunately for me the book turned out to be about a different Roger Mortimer. It didn't really matter, however, because a) the book was quite good and b) the Rog in the book was the nephew of the Chirk Rog and they got into all sorts of bother together, so it wasn't a totally wasted read.

Chirk Castle

In fact, neither of the Roger Mortimers was what you'd call 'nice' - here's a quick summary of Chirk's various owners and associated types:

1. Roger Mortimer of Chirk
  • Roger was a Marcher Lord - that is, one of the noblemen appointed by Edward I to protect the border with Wales, which was a pretty lively place at the time
  • When Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Madoc, Lord of North Powys, died, he left two small boys as heirs - they were put under Roger's guardianship
  • However, both boys were killed - they were pulled from the River Dee in 1281. Was Roger involved? Well, their deaths certainly worked in the king's favour and Roger was granted their lands, so my money is on yes.
  • Roger also helped to kill Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the first and last Prince of Wales, in 1282 in an ambush 
  • In the 1320s, Uncle Roger joined his nephew and other noblemen in a revolt against Edward II because of the king's relationship with Hugh Despenser the Younger. This didn't end well...
2. Roger Mortimer, the nephew
  • ...because the revolt failed and the two Rogers were imprisoned in the Tower of London
  • Nephew Roger escaped and made it to France where he eventually joined forces with Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II
  • Isabella had had enough of her husband and Hugh Despenser and had returned to her homeland 
  • Once she got her son, the future Edward III, to France as well then it was game on for her to raise an army with Roger (who she was now in a relationship with) and invade to overthrow her husband
  • They succeeded in their mission - Edward II was deposed in 1327 and Hugh Despenser met a predictably grisly end
  • However, his grisly end, being hung, drawn and quartered, was out-grisled by the reputed death of Edward II, who was apparently murdered at Berkeley Castle through the use of a red hot poker...I'll spare you the detail as this is a family publication
  • Roger the nephew then basically ruled England with Isabella until Edward III came of age - by all accounts the power went to Roger's head and he turned into a ruthless, paranoid despot
  • Ed came of age and did exactly what presumably everyone except Roger expected him to do - he had Roger executed.

3. Subsequent owners
Chirk then passed through many hands, back and forth as the turbulent times changed people's fortunes. The Fitzalans, Sir William Stanley, Robert Dudley, the Crown all owned Chirk at some point, until it was sold to a Thomas Myddleton in 1595.

The Myddletons were very good at two things; 1) making money and 2) staying on the right side of the political fence. Thanks to this, they managed to hang on to Chirk until it was passed to the National Trust in 1981. Guy Myddleton moved out in 2004, although he still has rooms in the castle.

4. Chirk Castle itself
Chirk Castle is great, because it offers a bit of everything:
  • The West Range is the only medieval part to survive and the various rooms look very medieval indeed - you can really imagine how cold castle life must have been
  • The North Range is very unusual - The Cromwell Hall looks ancient but it was actually created in the 1840s by Augustus Pugin, the Gothic Revival enthusiast better known for designing the tower that we all mistakenly call Big Ben
Cromwell Hall at Chirk Castle
  • You then walk through to the Grand Staircase designed by Joseph Turner in the 1770s - it's neoclassical in style so it looks much newer than the Cromwell Hall even though it pre-dates it
The only problem I had today was that I arrived on foot, so missed the ticket office and didn't get a guide book until afterwards. It was only on my way home that I realised I may have missed a few rooms - not sure where I went wrong or if they were just closed. 

The gardens were also lovely:

Chirk Castle rear

5. The Chirk Scone
But I know you're all wanting me to move on from grisly deaths and adulterous affairs and get on with the all-important Chirk scone. It had been three months since my last scone mission (to the Longshaw Estate) and I desperately needed a corker to get myself back on track with this National Trust Scone Odyssey. Chirk was mission number 164 and I still have around 80 properties to go - send positive thoughts.

The Chirk scone was like the castle itself - hefty. And that's always a slight concern to me, as I've had a couple of dry scones where I've eaten half, looked down at my plate, and realised with something approaching horror that I still have half to go. 

But fear not, readers, as the Chirk scone was excellent - it was fresh as anything with a slighly crunchy exterior and fluffiness within. Top marks. 

Chirk Castle Scone

The tea room at Chirk should also get a mention in dispatches - it's in the actual castle and so you can sit outside in the courtyard with your scone and reminisce about Chirk Roger galloping home having successfully murdered a few people. 

Chirk tearoom

I will end by advising caution if you do decide to read The Greatest Traitor - The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer Ruler of England 1327-1330. Avoid Chapter 12 before bedtime, or at all if you are very squeamish. It goes into great detail about Edward II's death by red hot poker - great, great detail, in fact; detail that you didn't think possible. It's a good read though and always good to know a bit of background before you visit the NT! Even if it's not about the right person.

Chirk Castle: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Utter derangedness of medieval Roger Mortimers: 5 out of 5

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Longshaw, Burbage and the Eastern Moors

Where do I even start with today's humiliations on my scone mission to the Longshaw Estate in the Peak District? If you're a regular reader, you'll know that the first scone mission of the year usually involves some sort of disaster and today I worked out why: footwear. Specifically, my choice of footwear for January scone missions.

Longshaw Peak District

I left London in what I considered to be a pair of sturdy, almost construction worker-type, boots. Two and a half hours later the boots seemed to have turned into ballet shoes, or that's how it felt as I tried to negotiate two miles of muddy rocks.

Muddy Longshaw

The alarm bells started when I got to Grindleford train station and asked a woman if I was on the right path. I knew it was a 1.5 mile walk but I was still expecting her to say "yes, it's not far". She didn't. She said "hmmm" and thought about it for 5 minutes.

I eventually thanked her and strode purposefully off, passing a group of what looked like elderly walkers getting kitted up. I then made my first mistake: I failed to notice the incline of the hill and tried to maintain my purposeful stride. It nearly killed me. Determined not to let the elderly walkers pass me, I got to the top and could hardly breathe. 

But it's not the hills you need to worry about with octogenarian walkers. It's the mud. Having got to the top of the hill I then had to negotiate a mile of really difficult terrain. Within minutes the elderly walkers had passed me, each one springing past like a mountain goat while I slid about the place like a new-born foal. I tried to keep up with them, so I could follow in their footsteps and take advantage of their insider knowledge, but did they wait for me? No they didn't.

I finally emerged, bedraggled and weary, to a a sign telling me it was another half a mile to the Visitor Centre. At this point the terrain became more National Trust - eg much flatter and only a bit muddy. On I trudged.


I was starting to despair that I would ever find the Visitor Centre or a warming cup of tea or any sort of scone. But just as I was wondering whether I should give up, there it was. The scone itself looked nice enough but when I picked it up, I realised it was warm and my heart soared. And for good reason; it was an excellent, excellent scone. Light, fluffy, fresh and tasty. Totally worth the mud. 

Longshaw scone

If you're reading this thinking "what a city-dwelling imbecile" then you are, of course, completely right. I have a friend who doesn't like the National Trust much, as he thinks that it gives urbanites like me a false sense of what the countryside is. I always argue that he's wrong but today I realised he's probably right.

BUT. Imbecile urbanite or not, I do appreciate the Peak District. It was the first National Park in the UK (there are 15 of them today) and it offers so much; fresh air, exercise, and the opportunity to spend time in the beauty of the natural world. I highly recommend it (and its scones).

Longshaw Estate: 4 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
Continued failure to dress appropriately for January scone missions: 0 out of 5

Saturday, 23 December 2017

National Trust Sconepal Awards: Scone of the Year 2017

Last week I announced my Top National Trust Scones of 2017 - an impressive range of sconeage that I encountered across the land this year (including my first foray into Northern Ireland - hurray).

But today it's the all-important one; the Sconepals have voted and I'm pleased to share the list of YOUR favourite National Trust scones of 2017.

A total of 66 separate properties got at least one vote this year, which is great to see. However, there can only be one winner.

So here goes with the countdown, in reverse order:

In joint fourth place:
Scotney Castle!

In third place:

And in second, runner-up place for 2017:

Anglesey Abbey!

But in first place, for the third year running, the winner of Sconepals' Choice is:

Speke Hall!

Congratulations to all the team at Speke for another year of scone success. I had a fantastic time there - read about the Speke Hall scone.

Well done to all of the National Trust baking teams across the land - you do a fantastic job keeping the ovens warm and the scones baking.

Finally, I just want to say a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone that voted and to everyone that has sent in pictures this year. Keep your scone snaps coming in 2018 - I love to see where you've been (and what you've eaten). 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody! See you in 2018 - with a fair wind this could be the year that I finish the National Trust Scone Odyssey!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Best National Trust Scones of 2017

I got off to a blistering pace when I started this project to have a scone at every National Trust property; a staggering 52 properties visited in 2014, followed by 43 in 2015, and another 48 in 2016! Astonishing.

But 2017 has been a tricky old year. We only managed 13 NT visits in the past 12 months, which has me wondering if I will ever complete this National Trust Scone Odyssey. However, on the bright side, 6 of this year's properties provided top class scones, which means my hit rate has gone up. 

So although I am sad to only have a 'Top 6 NT Scones of 2017' instead of my usual Top 10 or Top 18, I am going to share it anyway. For, as the great Scarlett O'Hara almost said, "After all, tomorrow is another day for National Trust scone quests".

So bring on the countdown for 2017!

6. Berrington Hall
There is no doubt that many National Trust properties were built on the proceeds of other people's misery. Berrington's previous owners range from Thomas Harley, who had the contract to provide supplies to the British army in America ("in 1777 alone he supplied over 40,000 pairs of mittens") to Frederick Cawley, who owned the patent to a black dye that became very lucrative in 1901 when Queen Victoria died. But the scone wasn't miserable at all - it was extremely tasty.

5. Mount Stewart
Mount Stewart, near Belfast, was once owned by Viscount Castlereagh - he was a fairly divisive character, to put it mildly, but you can read the full blog post to hear about this life and eventual suicide. The scone was delicious.

4. Clumber Park
I'm trying not to develop a theme of misery here, but Clumber Park does have its own sorry story - it was once the site of a magnificent house that was dismantled and sold off to pay a tax bill. But today it's a lovely park, with a walled garden, and 130 varieties of rhubarb. There was no rhubarb in the scone but it was fresh and lovely.

3. Peckover House and Garden
Peckover doesn't have any misery attached to it, as long as you weren't a robber trying to gain unlawful access when it was a bank - you'd have got stuck in one of their man-traps, which are still on display. Peckover scones always get enthusiastic reviews from my fellow NT scone aficionados and mine was spectacular.

2. Wicken Fen
Poor old Wicken Fen. We visited on a freezing February day when there wasn't much to see and everyone was cold and not very enthusiastic. And then we entered the cafe to find the scones were just coming out of the oven. They were divine. Everybody cheered up.

1. The Needles Old Battery
The Needles Old Battery has been a missile testing site and a defence post in its time, but it gets its name from the jaggedy rock fin things that stick out of the sea. As of today, it can also lay claim to being the winner of the National Trust Scone Blogger's Scone of the Year. The scone can only be accessed by ferry, as it's on the Isle of Wight, but it is absolutely worth it; it was fresh and light and served in a lovely 1940s style tea room. Sublime.

So that's all folks for 2017. Let's hope that 2018 brings another bumper crop of 5-star scones, although right now I'd take a few 4s as well. Maybe even a few 3.5s. Anyway.

It only remains for me to wish all you fabulous Sconepals a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for your continued support and KEEP SCONEING.