Saturday, 21 February 2015

Wimpole Estate

I had a disastrous visit to the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire last year. It wasn't the scones that were at fault, or the cute little piglets, or even the massive, massive sows that were almost the size of my car and quite possibly the scariest thing I have ever seen (and I'm not even joking).

It was disastrous because we got there too late and there was too much to do. We strolled round the farm, then noticed the time and crammed scones into our mouths before practically running to the house. My scone companion sister said the now legendary words "the house can't be that big, we'll be fine" just as we turned the corner to see this: 

Wimpole Hall

I think you will agree that it is actually quite a big house. By 4pm it was also actually quite a shut house. And although I love and adore scones to a point that is veering on the unhealthy, even I will admit that a blog post saying "I ate some scones" would be a bit dull. 

And so today we went back to Wimpole. I was going to make everyone get up at 5am to make sure we got there in time but I thought this might be too extreme, even for me.

So, having now seen it all, here are my top 5 features of Wimpole:

1. The farm!
If you made a list of National Trust properties most suited to children, Wimpole would be in the top five I reckon, thanks to the very wonderful farm. There's a piggery, some cows, some Shetland ponies, and even a Shire horse to keep everyone entertained and slightly on edge:

Two friendly-ish pigs
Some cows - after years of watching Adam on Countryfile I should know the breed,
but I don't. I have failed you, Adam.

Wimpole sows
Two scarily huge sows trying to batter each other through a metal fence

2. Wimpole Hall!
Wimpole Hall is a very large and interesting house, with a chapel, a very impressive library, and an indoor pool built in 1792. I was fascinated by the pool - I've never seen one like it before, but apparently they were quite common at the time, although they were usually located away from the house.  

The Wimpole Hall we see today has had many owners. Sir Thomas Chicheley began work on it in 1640, but was forced to sell in 1686 to Sir John Cutler. It passed by marriage to the Earls of Radnor, who sold it in 1710 to the Duke of Newcastle. It then passed by marriage again to the Harleys, before one of them fell on hard times and sold it to the Earl of Hardwicke in 1740. The 5th Earl of Hardwicke had to sell Wimpole to cover his debts (bit of a pattern emerging here). It was bought by the 2nd Lord Robartes in 1894 who actually lived at another property now owned by the Trust; Lanhydrock in Cornwall. 

Wimpole was left to slowly deteriorate, until it was let to a Captain George Bambridge and his wife, Elsie, in 1936. She had money - she was the only surviving child of Rudyard Kipling, which links her to another NT property, Bateman's, and so they bought Wimpole. George died in 1943, leaving Elsie to spend 30 years doing it up on her own - it tells you everything that the War Office didn't requisition Wimpole, as it had no electricity or running water.

Elsie sounds like a character. Apparently she hated people coming near the house - there's a story in the guidebook about how she once saw a couple having a picnic in the grounds, so she made a note of their number plate and then went round and had lunch in their garden the following week. It's probably not true, but the fact that it might be says a lot about her. 

3. Gina the Wimpole cat
I do love a National Trust cat. Gina lives in the Wimpole shop where she has her own shelf. I'm not sure what type of merchandise has been ousted to make way for her, nor do I know how she actually gets onto her shelf (the sign says that she is 14) but she seemed happy enough, if a bit camera-shy. Maybe the spirit of Elsie Bambridge lives on in Gina.

Gina the cat at Wimpole

4. Sconus Tardisus
The restaurant at Wimpole is one of those really well organised efforts - and it has to be, because it's very popular. I had my usual moment of panic when I couldn't see any scones, but Wimpole didn't let me down; the sultana scone was lovely. It definitely belongs in the species of Sconus Tardisus - it didn't look that big but it certainly didn't leave me hungry.

Wimpole National Trust Scone

5. Scone of the Month
My love for any National Trust property that does a Scone of the Month knows no bounds. I think it's such a great idea. Wimpole's Scone of the Month for February was a white chocolate and cherry affair and it was absolutely delicious - it was cleverly put together so that you could really taste the chocolate and the cherry but it wasn't in any way sickly. I loved it.

White Chocolate and Cherry Scone Wimpole

So let's recap. Big house - check. A piggery - check. Tasty scone - check. Scone of the Month - check. Cat doing its own thing - check. You really can't fault Wimpole - if you haven't been, go immediately.

Wimpole: 5 out of 5
Scone: 4.5 out of 5
Gina the cat on a shelf: 5 out of 5

2 comments:

  1. Well! Ickworth and now Wimpole have had great NTScone reviews so my local NT properties can hold their heads up high :-)
    Have you reviewed Anglesey Abbey?

    PS they are White Park cows

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  2. I absolutely love Wimpole (I live in California now but my parents are in Cambridge) and recently enjoyed an extremely tasty scone there. Not sure it was a 5 out of 5 but it was an incredibly busy Bank Holiday Saturday and I was relieved the restaurant was coping with the crowds. Very excited to have found your blog!

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