In the beginning, there was flour and sugar, a white tent and a stylish English lady who abhorred a soggy bottom. In 2010, Britain debuted a scrummy television sensation called The Great British Bake Off. The show, now nine seasons in, features a group of home bakers who compete in themed challenges to earn the title of Britain’s best amateur baker. In the United States, where it’s known as The Great British Baking Show (GBBS), the series is a breath of fresh Yorkshire puddings—proof that reality TV can be about more than late-night carousals and brazen infidelity. Goodbye depths of humanity, hello crème pat.
Among the show’s most endearing qualities is its ability to transport viewers into a bucolic fairyland of Secret Garden proportions. Scattered amidst shots of whirring mixers and Mary Berry’s floral bomber jackets are idyllic clips of azure skies, golden daffodils, bleating lambs, and perfectly manicured lawns. “I bungled the Johnson account today,” you might grumble, “But look, that sheep is chewing its cud so jauntily. What a world!”
In short, location is the delicate sugar work atop the cake of British baking competitions. The next time you’re in England, excuse yourself from high tea with the queen to experience one of these scenic taping destinations for yourself. If you’re perfectly still, you just might catch the admonishing tones of Paul Hollywood whispering, “You over-proved the dough.”
Unlike in later seasons, the tent in Series 1 did not have a permanent home. Instead, the bakers stirred and whisked and measured in a variety of locations across the UK. The destinations changed weekly and reflected the themes of that week’s bakes: Pudding Week took place in Bakewell, Bread Week near Sandwich, and Scotland’s aptly named Scone Palace hosted a rip-roaring Biscuit Week. The six-episode season culminated on the grounds of Fulham Palace in London.
The Bishop of London first acquired the property around 700AD. However, archaeological excavations have revealed some very stale Jaffa cakes artifacts from Neolithic, Iron Age, and Roman times. The Fulham estate was owned by the bishops of London for over 1,300 years (which is about how long the bakers had for their Week 3 Showstopper Challenge). Mainly used as a summer home until the 1900s, the palace became the principal dwelling of the Bishop of London until 1975.
Today, visitors can take a guided palace tour or admire the paintings and artifacts on display in the museum. The 13-acre garden provides a quiet place for guests to relax and reflect on the time David’s hot lemon soufflé souf-fell flat, or the injustice of listening to someone not named Mel or Sue narrate the action of the first season.
Pesto quiche. Elderflower macarons. Mel-Sue sandwich. Commemorate these and other noteworthy bakes with a romp through the grounds of the Valentines Mansion.
Part of the National Heritage List for England, this historic property has seen more action than a tent full of bakers. The mansion was built in 1696 for the family of the Archbishop of Canterbury after his death. When the last private owner passed away in 1906, the Council of England acquired the property. Since then it’s been used as a hospital, public health center, council housing department, and a home for wartime refugees.
Regular yearly events at the mansion include fairs and creative workshops ranging from soapstone carving to glassmaking. Visitors can watch artists at work in open studios or wander the 18th-century formal garden, which is listed on England’s Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. Because it would be sacrilege to visit a GBBS location without indulging in a baked good, head to the Gardener’s Cottage Café for some snacks—and some chill time with Tinkerbell the tortoise.
Series 3 & 4
Who could forget John’s gingerbread Colosseum or Frances’s breadstick matches? What about the time Deborah pilfered Howard’s custard and then Sue elbowed his English muffins (not a euphemism)? At Harptree Court, the baking presence is so thick you could spread it with an offset spatula.
Built in 1797, this Georgian mansion is a feast for the eyes. It features six reception rooms, seven bathrooms, a charming cottage, and a luxury treehouse rented out to lodgers. The 55-acre property was a private residence and B&B until it went on the market in 2018. We like to think that Mary and Paul put in an offer and spend their days in the parlor sipping tea and bickering about traybakes.
GBBS has certainly contributed a delicious legacy to this grand country estate. However, the proverbial oven of baking traditions started preheating long before the imperious Hollywood Handshake emerged from the fiery pits of Mount Doom.
In the 14th century, a monastery and village occupied the land that now houses the Welford Park estate. A recipe preserved from this time dictates the precise ingredients and regulations for preparing a proper loaf of bread. Severe penalties awaited bakers suspected of using cheaper grains or shrinking the size of their loaves. They could face a fine, jail time, and, we assume, a swift elimination from the tent.
Today, this happy, hallowed baking ground is a private home that’s only open to visitors during snowdrop season. Each year from February through March, these delicate white flowers unfurl their petals en masse to create a carpet of blossoms covering much of the estate. Come admire the ethereal blooms or walk down the same stone steps that guided such memorable baking personalities as Sophie, Selasie, and Paul’s tan.
Visit all of these enticing locations and more with our England Fly & Drive package!
Want to see all the English highlights in one go? Check out our England in One Day tour!
Disclaimer: The title of the television show referenced above is the trademark of its owner. References to the show in this post are used to describe the abovementioned locations and are not related in any way to go-today.