Lazy sunny days, out enjoying country houses and drifting through the scents of country gardens. What do we need? We need ice cream!
Ice cream is luxury stuff. Before refrigeration came along in the 19th century, only the very rich had tasted ice cream and no one had a fridge in their kitchen before the 1920s. Charles II seems to have been the first king to have eaten ice cream but in the 17th century flummeries and syllabubs (cool but not frozen) were more in vogue. In popularising the English landscape garden, clever Capability Brown provided many noble estates with a lake not far from the house. In winter the lake froze and the ice could be gathered, packed in straw and kept for the summer in a purpose built ice house. Many examples of ice houses still survive sowe can see where ice cream might have been enjoyed in country houses 250 years ago. For most of us, ice cream has always been a treat on a day out. And still is! Here are some special historic places where ice cream is definitely part of the fun.
Take a break from your bucket and spade holiday in the South West and visit Sherborne Castle. They serve wonderful tubs of local Dorset ice cream from the Isle of Purbeck in the Tea Rooms. Savour it sitting on the Terrace, on the Gingko Lawn or stroll around and enjoy the sweeping views down to the lake (yes, Capability Brown was here). Sir Walter Raleigh, who lived here in Queen Elizabeth’s time, would have loved it. After all, he is supposed to have introduced us to potatoes and tobacco, so was definitely up for new flavours.
Mottisfont in Hampshire has an ice cream parlour in the stable block serving New Forest ice cream. You won’t melt in the cool of the cellarium– a survival from the house’s medieval origins as an Augustinian priory –even on a hot day.
You are never farm from a chilled cone at Hever Castle in Kent where local Kentish ice cream is dispensed from kiosks around the castle grounds at the busiest times. You can win a year’s supply of ice cream by tweeting an ice cream selfie from Hever, hashtag #SolleysSelfie. I’ll see if I can fit Walpole, the ice cream slurping dog, in mine.
There’s a new tea room at arts and crafts Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton, named after its builders, Theodore and Flora Mander. Next to it is a new ice cream kiosk serving local scoop ice cream. Take a cone onto the sunny South Terrace and admire the gardens.
Another astonishing Victorian black and white house is Gregynog Hall in Powys, where they make their own ice cream and serve it in the Courtyard Café, or take a tub into the Water Garden or the Great Wood to seek a little summer coolness.
Chatsworth in Derbyshire also make their own ice cream from their herd of Holstein cows in the Cowhouse dairy. If the weather is fine, you can pick up a cone from the Chatsworth ice cream van by the Flora’s Temple Tea Shop. It’ll give you an energy boost to get round at least part of the 105 acres of gardens.
Yorkshire is home to some great local ice creams. A wander round the ruins of Fountains Abbey and the Water Gardens of Studley Royal is much nicer with a Yorkshire Dales ice cream from the Visitor Centre Café in your hand. It is always green and pleasant at Fountains even in a heatwave which explains why cows fed on Yorkshire Dales grass produce good ice cream.
Newby Hall, nearby, is the place for an ice cream cone with the kids, who’ll happily queue at the kiosk for Mr Moo’s real dairy ice cream, after a tiring few hours paddling and playing in the exciting Adventure Gardens. Chocomoo and Cheekee Cherry are our favourites.
Ice cream was brought to Scotland by Italian immigrants who came at the end of the 19th century seeking a better life. Many ice cream parlours in Scottish towns are still run by their descendants and at Mount Stuart on the Isle of Bute, a short hop from Glasgow, you can try one of 12 award winning ice creams made in Rothesay by the Zavaroni family since the 1920s.
Another Italian family founded an ice cream business on the North East coast in Sutherland at about the same time. Try it at nearby Dunrobin Castle. From the tea rooms you can walk in the formal gardens laid out by Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament who extended Dunrobin for the 2nd Duke of Sutherland in the 1850s. Reflect on the collision of the wealth of 19th century Dunrobin – the 2nd Duke was one of the richest men in Britain – and the rural poverty that drove desperate Italian families to bring their traditional ice cream recipes to Scotland.
So enjoy your own ice cream tour of Britain or follow mine. It’s my favourite treat on a summer day out – Walpole thinks it’s too cold.