Over five years ago, Sarah Clelland took out a joint National Trust membership with her husband after feeling inspired while visiting the home of Winston Churchill – Chartwell in Kent.
Months went by without a further visit and Sarah realised that she wasn’t making the most of her membership.
Rather than admitting defeat, of making a breakable-promise to ‘just visit more properties’, Sarah decided to do something radical…
With the common and much-loved theme of visiting the tea-shop for a cheeky scone when visiting National Trust properties, Sarah decided to write about her experiences and review the scones she was tasting. She continues to publish the findings on her blog called National Trust Scones.
She has since published a book which is now sold in National Trust properties and sold on Amazon with 50 of her best scone recipes.
We caught up with Sarah to ask her for the inside scoop on the best places to visit as well to find out more about her inspiring story:
What made you want to start writing about the best scones at National Trust properties around the UK?
My husband and I went to Chartwell one day (home of Winston Churchill) and decided we’d join up and get access to all 500+ National Trust places rather than pay £12 each for one visit.
This was great, except we then did nothing with our membership for months. I’ve always liked writing, and I always remember stuff when I write it down, so I decided to start the blog to encourage me to start visiting more places. I decided to have a scone at each place as the common thread and so the National Trust Scones blog was born.
Has this journey enabled you to experience National Trust in a way you didn’t expect?
100% yes. If you asked me right now to tell you something about any of the 170+ properties I’ve been to, I could definitely remember at least one thing about all of them.
I’d never be able to do that if I didn’t have the blog. It’s also made me slightly more chilled out – I’m not by nature a ‘happy-go-lucky’ person but I realised very quickly that most National Trust properties are run by volunteers to some extent and if the woman in the shop takes 10 minutes to work the till, does it really matter?
Certainly not enough for me to moan about it on the blog and make myself look like a misery-guts. So I’m very rarely critical. I have my moments but generally I try to keep it upbeat.
How many National Trust properties have you visited so far and how many are left?
I’ve done around 175 and I think I have 70 to go – there are more but I’m sticking to the ones that have scones. If I did all 500+ properties, I’d never finish the project.
Is there a best time of year to visit a National Trust property?
It really depends on the property – gardens are obviously better in summer or spring, although some are amazing in autumn.
I walked around Stourhead (Mere, Wiltshire), which is a house with a lovely estate, in the pouring rain and I still loved it.
Have there been any stand-out places to visit as favourites for:
- Stourhead (Mere, Wiltshire) is great for its walks.
- Scotney Castle (Tunbridge Wells, Kent) is very unusual with the old castle next to the more recent one.
- I loved Bodnant Garden (Colwyn Bay, Wales) as well.
- Shugborough (Stafford, Staffordshire) is also excellent.
- Moseley Old Hall (Wolverhampton, Staffordshire) where Charles II hid under the floorboards.
- Flatford Bridge Cottage (East Bergholt, Suffolk), where John Constable grew up.
- Blickling (Aylsham, Norfolk) where Anne Boleyn was probably born.
- Avebury (Marlborough, Wiltshire) with its standing stones dating from 2,600 BC.
- Hadrian’s Wall (Hexham, Northumberland).
I could go on and on.
• A La Ronde (Exmouth, Devon) is very unusual (it’s an 8-sided house).
• Wimpole (Cambridgeshire) is great for kids as it has a farm.
• I loved Goddards (York, North Yorkshire) for being in the actual dining room of the house.
• I loved South Foreland Lighthouse (Dover, Kent) for its quirkiness.
• Nymans (near Haywards Heath, West Sussex).
• Speke Hall (Speke, Liverpool).
I could go on and on!
Most properties are great for customer service, as they’re full of guides that really want to share their knowledge. But three that spring to mind for their knowledgeable volunteer guides were:
- Nostell Priory (Wakefield, West Yorkshire).
- Packwood (Lapworth, Warwickshire).
- Seaton Delaval (Seaton Sluice, Northumberland).
There are 65 properties that I scored 5 out of 5 and were awarded the Scone d’Or – I won’t list them all here but you can find them on the blog.
Probably my all-time favourite was the Christmas Pudding Scone with brandy butter at Treasurers House in York. I still dream about it.
Has anything surprised you about visiting so many National Trust properties, if so what?
Every property has something to offer.
Every single one.
It might have a really unusual claim to fame – like the Richard Gere film Yanks being filmed at Scotney Castle (Tunbridge Wells) – or a crazy family history.
Sometimes it’s the smaller and lesser known ones that turn out to be really memorable.
- Clouds Hill (near Wareham, Dorset), where Lawrence of Arabia wrote, is a tiny but very striking little place.
- Cherryburn (Stocksfield, Northumberland) near Newcastle, is a small farmhouse that was home to Thomas Bewick – I had never heard of him but I came away really informed about his work in art and printing.
What is your best advice for people wanting to visit NT properties?
Don’t let anyone put you off! I see so many people saying “I joined the National Trust today – I’m so OLD” and it always makes me laugh because a huge proportion of the people you see at the Trust are young families.
How often do you visit NT properties?
Whenever I can – sometimes I’ll do a road trip and visit several in a week; other times I stick to day trips at the weekend.
What criteria do you use to judge a scone?
Freshness is the number one – if a scone is fresh (by that I mean baked within the last couple of hours) then it has a good chance of being delicious. Then texture – not too dry – and taste.
It has to be tasty and not too sweet or salty.
Do you make scones yourself?
I often bake scones – I baked all 50 recipes in the Book of Scones and often go back to that for recipes. The chocolate ones are amazing, but the Apple and Cinnamon is probably my favourite.
Read more from Sarah Celland on her blog, National Trust Scones.