Briton Sarah Merker completes scone-eating mission at 244 National Trust sites

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

The centerpiece of the delicious meal is usually a mound of warm, fluffy scones – round, doughy, baked desserts – topped with thick dollops of clotted cream and drizzled with sweet strawberry jam. Not to be confused, dear reader, with American biscuits which are often tasty, chewy rather than chewy, and drowning in gravy.

Often featured in shows like the “Great British Bake Off” or slathered with pink-infused tea on “Downton Abbey,” scones are an emotional part of British life.

One British woman was so passionate about scones, and UK heritage sites, that she put them together her love of both, spending 10 years on a personal mission visiting 244 sites recognized by the National Trust, a century-old conservation charity, and sampling scones everywhere .

Sarah Merker, 49, delighted Britons and made national headlines on Wednesday when she ended what she called her decade-long “odyssey” and brought her into her final rut. – amidst the backdrop of the ocean opposite the Giant’s Causeway, a historic site in Northern Ireland.

“It’s been absolutely incredible,” a global marketing agency from London told The Washington Post in an interview Saturday about her long journey and the attention it’s received. “I’m never sick of scones.”

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Merker’s journey began for a practical reason – she and her husband had joined the National Trust charity as annual members in 2013, and Merker set herself the project of visiting all the sites with catering facilities to make sure her membership wouldn’t be used, like her gym membership. .

But, over the years, her mission also took on an emotional meaning – her husband Peter died of cancer in 2018, and as the couple enjoyed visiting National Trust sites together, Merker also saw the journey completed as a way of paying homage to him. .

Along the way, she wrote a personal blog detailing what she learned – as well as getting the scones she tasted out of five. The blog was even turned into a book, highlighting scone recipes from National Trust chefs across the country – as well as finally getting national news coverage.

“People equate the National Trust with the scone – it’s quaint and a bit old-fashioned,” she joked, calling her trip a “duplication of Britishness.”

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

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

Despite being promoted by royals and celebrities, the charity has come under political fire in recent years after being accused by right-leaning Tory lawmakers that he was “unpatriotic” and “woke” when he took steps to acknowledge public links to slavery and colonialism. its historical sites.

“We are amazed that visiting our locations means so much to Sarah and her husband and that the humble scone holds such a special place in her memories of their time together,” said a spokesperson for National Postal Trust in email.

“We know that going into the cafe for a treat is their favorite part of their trip,” she said, adding that it “raises vital funds for us to do the work we do looking after their favorite places.

The trust says scones are their best selling dish, with over 3 million sold each year and many of the ingredients sourced from their farmers.

So what was Merker’s favorite scone?

Well, it would be a slightly unusual seasonal “Christmas pudding scone” with brandy butter that she tasted in Yorkshire, northern England, at the Treasury House National Trust site in 1897. “It was just off the amazing records,” she said. “The most memorable one.”

She’s tight-lipped about her experiences with poor scones, acknowledging that it’s all “very subjective” but the bottom line of a good scone is “it has to be fresh. It takes a lot to break new ground.”

“Then you have other factors. It’s got a nice crack in it and it looks like it’s split in two… it’s got to be fluffy, nice crisp on the outside,” she continued, before concluding: “You know a man, when you see one.”

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Sometimes, her crack mission didn’t always go as planned.

When she visited the medieval home of George Washington’s ancestors, at Old Hall in northeast England, “they only had teacakes,” she recalls. Another time, at physicist Isaac Newton’s childhood home at Woolsthorpe Manor, a farmhouse in Lincolnshire where he was said to have “worked in solitude, carefully experimenting,” Merker found, h -properly, instead of scones they only served apple cake.

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

“When he was sick, I didn’t do as much,” she said. “After he died, it didn’t even occur to me to give up, it gave me something to go out for… Everywhere I went, I was looking at him through his eyes,” she said, noting that he would be “pleased” with her intention to complete it.

What’s next for Merker?

The National Trust for Scotland is separate, and can investigate the following. Or, she might do something “completely different,” she says. Despite this, “I am determined to keep flying the flag of the fault,” she said. “I will love them forever.”

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

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