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.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

50 National Trust Scone Recipes - Tried and Tested!

Two things happened in 2017: firstly, the illness that beset the Scone Blogger's household last year continued, which meant that a measly 13 scone missions were completed; Clumber ParkBodnant GardenThe Needles Old BatteryWicken Fen, Castle Ward, Mount Stewart, Rowallane Garden, Chedworth Roman Villa, Greyfriars House, Snowshill Manor, Berrington Hall, Croome, and Peckover.

The second thing that happened was the publication of the National Trust Book of Scones, featuring recipes from NT properties across the land. It still amazes me to this day, as has all the support from the Sconepals that have joined this mission either by reading the blog or buying the book or sending in pictures of scones they have spotted on their travels. You're all marvellous people.

So I combined the two things: being a bit housebound gave me the chance to create a mini mission and bake all 50 scones from the book. You'll have to excuse the photography, as it's not my strong point, but here are 49 of the 50 scones (the beetroot one eluded me):

1. The Ginger and Treacle Scone
2. The Earl Grey Scone
3. The Singing Hinnies
4. The Walnut and Maple Scone
5. The Apple and Salted Caramel Scone
6. The Chocolate Orange Scone
7. The Wet Nelly Scone
8. The Rhubard and Stem Ginger Scone
9. The Ulster Scone 
10. The Raspberry and White Chocolate Scone
11. The Cherry and Almond Scone
12. The Triple Chocolate Scone
13. The Honey, Sunflower Seed, and Ginger Scone
14. The Chocolate and Hazlenut Scone
15. The Chocolate and Marshmallow Scone
16. The Lemon and Coconut Scone
17. The Cherry and Vanilla Scone
18. The Apple and Cinnamon Scone
19. The Zesty Lemon Scone
20. The Orange and Cranberry Scone
21. The Stollen Scone
22. The Lemon and Cranberry Scone
23. The Apple and Raisin Scone
24. The Peach, Poppyseed and Vanilla Scone
25. The Blackberry and Apple Scone
26. The Fig, Orange and Walnut Scone
27. The Hot Cross Scone
28. The Apricot Scone
29. The Blueberry and Lemon Scone
30. The Mulled Wine Scone
31. The Welsh Cheese and Herb Scone
32. The Hazelnut and Stilton Scone
33. The Walnut, Goat's Cheese, and Pear Scone
34. The Ploughman's Scone
35. The Pumpkin Pie Scone
36. The  Bacon, Cheese, and Spring Onion Breakfast Scone
37. The Leek and Onion Scone
38. The Carrot and Coriander Scone
39. The Shropshire Blue and Fig Scone
40. The Honey Scone
41. The Christmas Pudding Scone
42. The Stilton and Cranberry Scone
43. The Wholemeal Fruit Scone
44. The Horseradish Scone
45. The Roasted Shallot, Gruyere, and Thyme Scone
46. The Red Pepper, Onion, and Cheese Scone
47. The Cheese Scone
48. The Plain Scone
49. The Fruit Scone
50. The Beetroot Scone 

Tweet or Instagram me your pictures and keep sconeing!

The Book of Scones - The Final Countdown!

MY MINI-MISSION IS COMPLETE! I have baked all 50 of the scone recipes from the National Trust Book of Scones - well, to be very honest, I couldn't find any beetroot so I've actually baked 49 of the 50. I'll have to come back to the beetroot. 

So here are the final 9 scones:

The Christmas Pudding Scone
The Christmas Pudding Scone has a very, very special place in my heart. Regular readers will remember my 400-mile round trip to Treasurers House near York Minster in 2014 when I was convinced that the Christmas Pudding scone could not live up to expectations and then it did. I will never forget the brandy butter it was served with, either. Mine (below) were not as good but they still tasted amazing. Highly, highly recommended:

Christmas Pudding Scone

The Stilton & Cranberry Scone
Here's another Christmassy number. It contains cheddar as well as Stilton but if I have learned anything from this scone baking project, it is that cheese makes scones lighter. I really didn't expect this.

Stilton and Cranberry Scone

The Wholemeal Fruit Scone
These seemed a little bit more virtuous than some of the other recipes (eg the Triple Chocolate scone) but they were very tasty:

Wholemeal Fruit Scone

The Horseradish Scone
Scones as canapes - who knew. These may be small but they pack a tasty punch:

Horseradish scones

The Roasted Shallot, Gruyere, and Thyme Scone
I have a new-found respect for the contestants on Great British Bake Off, having completed this project. In 49 attempts, I don't think I achieved a single uniform batch of scones, until these ones came out. And they were delicious. 

Roasted Shallot, Gruyere, and Thyme Scone

The Red Pepper, Onion, and Cheese Scone
Another tasty savoury option for you!

Red pepper, onion and cheese scone

The Cheese Scone
I made a number of discoveries during this project and one of them is that cheese can actually make a scone much lighter. Previous cheese scones that I have encountered have been stodgy and greasy, but these ones were utterly delicious.

Cheese scones

The Plain Scone
I won't lie to you - I very nearly binned the rather lumpy one at the back of the baking sheet. But I didn't, as that would be cheating, and the whole purpose of this project is to show that anyone can bake scones.

Plain scones

The Fruit Scone
I left the fruit scone until last. It's the queen of the scone world and I wanted to get as much experience behind me before I attempted them. They were absolutely delicious and they actually looked very good too. 

Fruit scones

The Beetroot Scone
I couldn't find any beetroot, so this one will have to wait.

Here are the previous 40 bakes:
Scone bakes 36-40 - includes the Bacon, Cheese, and Spring Onioni Breakfast Scone!
Scone bakes 31-35 - includes the autumn-on-a-plate Pumpkin Pie Scone!
Scone bakes 26-30 - includes the amazing Fig, Orange and Walnut Scone!
Scone bakes 21-25 - includes the astounding Stollen Scone!
Scone bakes 16-20 - includes the zesty Lemon and Coconut Scone!
Scone bakes 11-15 - includes the Triple Chocolate Scone - say no more!
Scone bakes 6-10 - includes the world-famous Chocolate Orange Scone!
Scone bakes 1-5 - includes the very surprising Earl Grey Scone!

So there you have it - 49 scone recipes tried and tested to give you some inspiration. I highly recommend that you try them - you can find all 50 recipes in the National Trust Book of Scones.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Book of Scones - Tried and Tested - Part Eight

We're nearly there, viewers! My project to bake all 50 recipes from the National Trust Book of Scones is nearing its conclusion. Below you will find recipes 36-40, proving that even a non-skilled baker like me is capable of baking deliciousness.

The Bacon, Cheese and Spring Onion Breakfast Scone
I don't know why the utterly amazing wonderfulness of this one surprised me - I mean, it has bacon and cheese in it? That's a pretty nailed-on indication that it was going to be good. You have to try it.

The Leek and Onion Scone
A very fresh-tasting scone - would be great with soup.

The Carrot and Coriander Scone
Full of flavour - again, a great accompaniment to soup.

The Shropshire Blue and Fig Scone
Utterly delicious - cheese gives scones a lightness that you don't expect, while the fig lends a lot of sweetness. 

The Honey Scone
A bit of a departure in its shape but don't let that put you off - the subtle honey flavour ensures that this isn't too sweet. 

I'm going to do the final ten scones in one go - OK, maybe over a couple of days - so look out for the final bake, as it includes the classics (Plain, Fruit, Cheese) as well as the Christmas Pudding scone.

See the previous scone bakes:
Scone bakes 31-35 - includes the autumn-on-a-plate Pumpkin Pie Scone!
Scone bakes 26-30 - includes the amazing Fig, Orange and Walnut Scone!
Scone bakes 21-25 - includes the astounding Stollen Scone!
Scone bakes 16-20 - includes the zesty Lemon and Coconut Scone!
Scone bakes 11-15 - includes the Triple Chocolate Scone - say no more!
Scone bakes 6-10 - includes the world-famous Chocolate Orange Scone!
Scone bakes 1-5 - includes the very surprising Earl Grey Scone!