What is your favourite way to spend an afternoon?
Taking afternoon tea, comprising a hot drink served alongside a multi-tiered cake stand full of delicious treats, is a quintessentially English thing to do. Yet although there are an abundance of venues that offer afternoon tea, I have only visited them to partake in it a handful or so times. This really should change, because it is probably one of my ideal ways to pass an afternoon.
It feels a delightfully indulgent thing to do. As formal afternoon tea involves the aforementioned multi-tiered cake stand filled with finger sandwiches, scones (to be served with jam and clotted cream) and cakes or other sweet delicacies, you really need to have a light lunch beforehand or skip it altogether.
I had recently booked one at a local period house hotel as a postponed birthday treat for my mother. Typically, the day before we were due to go saw a heavy snowfall hit our region of the UK (something which is pretty rare), which continued for the next few days. We decided to go ahead anyway, having checked that the roads were meant to be clear and indeed, they were.
Seckford Hall is a beautiful country house hotel full of olde-worlde charm and period details. On arrival, we were shown to the dining room and had our pick of tables. Naturally, we plumped for a window table that framed the winter wonderland snow scene covering the landscaped grounds of the hotel. Soon after we were seated, a blizzard commenced which was beautiful to watch from our warm and cosy position.
The table was beautifully set with starched white linens and matching napkins. A little reminiscent of the dining table when I lived in Italy, in fact.
Those who know me well know that I have never been a tea-drinker. I simply can’t abide the smell of it, never mind the taste. I can vividly recall a day when I was at primary school, aged perhaps eight, and the class teacher decided we would have a day for tasting different types of tea. I’m not completely sure what topic this actually related to… On the day, I tried in vain to tell the teacher that I really didn’t like tea but she was adamant that couldn’t be true and insisted that I taste a sip of every different type. There were about ten types… Let’s just say that the experience did little to turn me into a tea convert!
Well, in the last year or so, I have been making an effort to try a few different teas, especially ones with added flavours. I still can’t say that I love it, but I can now drink green tea with cherry or coconut extracts. At Seckford Hall, I opted for green tea with infused with cherry. My mother chose Earl Grey.
We weren’t disappointed when the waiter placed the cake stand on the table. There were both plain and fruit scones, which was perfect because I prefer plain. Whether jam or cream gets spread first is a subject that provokes hearty debate, but I personally prefer jam followed by cream. We couldn’t resist eating a scone first.
Next we moved on to the sandwiches. There were cucumber and cream cheese fingers, homemade sausage rolls and smoked salmon and cream cheese mini wraps with a sprinkling of caviar on top.
I imagine most people would agree that the very best part of an afternoon tea is the cakes. Today they certainly didn’t disappoint. There were mini carrot cake slices, battenburg slices and mini chocolate cakes (the latter were decadently rich).
When I asked a staff member where the toilets were, I was directed to a door labelled the ‘Ladies Powder Room’. How quaint is that? To reach it I had to climb up a rather grand old staircase that also led to the the guest bedrooms for people lucky enough to spend a night at the hotel.
On the upstairs landing I paused to look out of the window and survey the beautiful scene. A large pond on the hotel grounds had iced over and snow continued to fall, making it look almost magical. I wished I had taken my phone with me to take a sneaky picture!
All in all it was a lovely afternoon. It’s rare that I spend time with my mother without the children being there and, adorable as they are, they demand constant attention. We enjoyed conversation about all sorts of things and really enjoyed the experience. The older I get, the more I identify with my mother and see her for the incredible person that she is. I genuinely enjoy spending time with her and can only hope that my children will feel a similar way about wanting to spend time with me when they are older, too.
I am determined not to leave it too long before we go again. Perhaps to Seckford Hall again in the summer, to enjoy the landscaped grounds without a snowy white covering. I have already resolved to make the most of my local area and all that it has to offer.
How about you? Do you often go for afternoon tea? Who you you go with? And, dare I ask, do you add the jam or cream to your scone first?