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Britain’s Sarah Merker completes mission to eat scones at 244 National Trust sites



LONDON – Few things are more quintessentially British than afternoon tea.

The center stage of the delicious treat is usually a stack of warm, fluffy scones – round, doughy, baked desserts – topped with thick dollops of clotted cream and smothered in sweet strawberry jam. Not to be confused, dear reader, with American biscuits which are often savory, flaky rather than crumbly and drowned in gravy.

Frequently featured on shows such as ‘Great British Bake Off’ or nibbled with tea sipped with high pinkies on ‘Downton Abbey’, scones are a sentimental part of British life.

A British woman was so passionate about scones and British heritage sites that she combined his love of both, spending 10 years on a personal mission to visit 244 sites recognized by the National Trust, a century-old conservation charity, and enjoying a scone at each location.

Sarah Merker, 49, delighted Brits and made national headlines on Wednesday when she completed what she called her decade-long ‘odyssey’ and bit into her final scone – in the middle of a an ocean floor facing the Giant’s Causeway, a historic site in Northern Ireland.

“It was absolutely amazing,” the London-based global marketing manager told The Washington Post in an interview on Saturday about her long journey and the attention it received. “I never, ever get tired of scones.”

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Merker’s journey began for a practical reason – she and her husband had joined the charity National Trust as annual members in 2013, and Merker set out to visit each site with catering facilities for s ensure that his membership would not go unused, like his gym membership. .

However, over the years her mission has also taken on emotional significance – her husband Peter died of cancer in 2018, and as the couple had enjoyed visiting National Trust sites together, Merker also saw the trip end as a way to honor him. .

Along the way, she’s written a personal blog detailing what she’s learned – as well as rating the scones she’s tasted out of five. The blog was even turned into a book, highlighting scone recipes by National Trust chefs across the country – and eventually got its national media coverage.

‘People equate the National Trust with the scone – it’s quaint and a bit old-fashioned,’ she joked, calling her trip a ‘double whammy for Britishness’.

The National Trust, a conservation charity founded in 1895, works to preserve natural heritage sites such as beaches, castles, stately homes and acres of rolling countryside.

It is a sentimental part of the British national psyche and associated with volunteers, stately homes and teacups. Independent of government, it looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and 500 historic properties, gardens and nature reserves – last year it received 20 million visitors.

Despite being championed by royals and celebrities, the charity has faced political criticism in recent years after right-wing Tory lawmakers accused it of being ‘unpatriotic’ and “awakened” when it took steps to publicly acknowledge links to slavery and colonialism at its historic sites.

“We are touched that visiting our places meant so much to Sarah and her husband and that the humble scone has such a special place in his memories of their time together,” a National Trust spokeswoman told the Post in an email. mail.

“We know that for many visitors, a trip to the cafe for a treat is their favorite part of their visit,” she said, adding that “it allows us to raise vital funds to do the work we do. taking care of the places they love”.

The trust says scones are its biggest-selling dish, with more than 3 million copies sold each year and many ingredients sourced from their sharecroppers.

So which scone was Merker’s favorite?

Well, it would be a slightly unusual seasonal “Christmas pudding scone” topped with brandy butter that she tasted in Yorkshire, northern England, at the National Trust’s 1897 Treasurer’s House site. “It was just amazing,” she said. “Most Memorable.”

She’s less vocal about her bad scone experiences, acknowledging that it’s all “very subjective”, but the basis of a good scone is “it needs to be fresh.” It takes a lot to ruin a fresh scone.

“Then you have other factors. A good scone has a good rise in it and it looks like it’s split in two…it has to be soft, a nice crisp on the outside,” continues- her, before concluding: “You know one when you see one.

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Sometimes his scone mission didn’t always go as planned.

When visiting the small medieval home of George Washington’s ancestors at Washington Old Hall in northeast England, “they only had tea cakes”, she recalls. On another occasion, at physicist Isaac Newton’s childhood home at Woolsthorpe Manor, a farm in Lincolnshire where he is said to have “worked in solitude, obsessively experimenting”, Merker rightly discovered that instead scones, they only served apple cake.

She chose to end at the Giant’s Causeway for her final scone, alongside her mother and sister, as it was a place she had first visited with her late husband. “In my head, he was ending up with me,” she said.

“When he was sick, I didn’t do the same,” she added. “After he died, it didn’t even occur to me to give up, it gave me something to go out and to… Everywhere I went, I looked at him through his eyes,” a- she said, noting that he would be “delighted” with his mission accomplished.

What’s next for Merker?

There is a separate National Trust for Scotland which she can check off next. Or, she can do something “completely different,” she says. Either way, “I’m determined to keep flying the flag for the scone,” she said. “I will love them forever.”

But her most immediate goal: “It’s on my wish list to try an American cookie.”

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