In the home of cream teas, you’re never far away from a good scone. But how to tell the good from the bad? The perfect scone is crumbly, feather-light, warm, and served with fruity jam and clotted cream so thick it sticks to your spoon. Stay clear of anywhere that serves scones with butter, or toppings in tiny packets – they know not what they do.
So important is this Devonshire tea-time ritual that science has dedicated itself to working out the perfect formula. The 'hedonic breakpoint' – the optimum level of sweetness – is a 4:3:3 ratio of scone, cream and jam, with cream applied first to ensure an even spread of toppings.
For all-out decadence, nothing beats Hotel Endsleigh, an ever-so-English Elizabethan mansion house on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. Freshly cut finger sandwiches, delicate pastries, just-baked scones, mounds of clotted cream and glass jars of Tiptree fruity jams come with fragrant loose-leaf tea served in bone china cups. Tuck in by the open fire in the wood-panelled lounge, on the sunny terrace or parterre overlooking the River Tamar. Work off the calories with a stroll around the hotel’s Grade-I listed gardens.
Top treat: Blood orange macaroons and the financier cake
The scones at this café-cum-music venue are made daily with organic flour ground in the on-site working water mill, which dates back to 1068. Free tours offer a taste of the flour as it emerges fresh and warm from the chute. The café is set on the banks of the peaceful River Otter, so the keen-eyed might spot kingfishers, otters and beavers, recently reintroduced as part of a rewilding programme.
Top treat: Rare West Country beef sandwich or crab baps, served on a huge choice of organic handmade breads, including tangelo, rye or spelt
Cream teas are best enjoyed after a countryside ramble, and few walks work up a better appetite in Devon than Fingle Gorge, in Dartmoor National Park. Perfectly positioned for hungry hikers, family-run Fingle Bridge Inn is set on the banks of the River Teign, with a sunny terrace making the most of the riverside views. It’s not gourmet, but is excellent value and the idyllic location by an age-old buttressed bridge more than makes up for it.
Top treat: The homemade scones
Devon’s quirkiest cream tea is carried by llama and eaten on top of a tor (granite-topped hill) in the wilderness of Dartmoor National Park. Dartmoor Llama Walks run circular guided cream tea walks for groups throughout the summer. Hikes take two-and-a-half to three hours. Book in advance.
Top treat: The homemade scones
Set amongst the rose beds, orchards and arboretums of RHS Rosemoor near Torrington, RHS Rosemoor’s Wisteria tea room is in the house of Lady Anne Palmer, who donated the house and garden to the RHS in 1988. Jams are made from fruits picked in the award-winning kitchen garden, scones and cakes are baked on-site and the tea is Cornish-grown Tregothnan. Admission to the restaurant is free.
Top treat: Earl Grey lemon drizzle cake
It’s a tourist hotspot, and for good reason – this half-timbered Tudor restaurant and tearoom has the best view in town from its terrace and first-floor restaurant, overlooking Exeter Cathedral and green. Traditional scones are baked daily and served warm with Dorset-made clotted cream and fruity strawberry or blackberry jam. Gluten free versions are available, along with vegan and gluten free cakes. Look out for the original bread oven and ship’s flooring.
Top treat: The carrot cake is legendary
Set just 300m away from the stunning Hele Bay Beach, the owners of this mill and tea room must be Devon’s most experienced scone makers, with 75,000 under their belt. Everything is baked by the miller’s wife daily, often using stone-ground flour from the on-site watermill, which dates back to 1525. Seating is in a pretty covered courtyard looking onto the mill. Gluten free and vegan options are available.
Top treat: The Devonshire split – the original scone, made with a soft brioche-style bun and served with black treacle and clotted cream.