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Stourhead

April 4, 2013

I’ve wanted to visit Stourhead ever since one of my lecturers talked about it as an example of a landscape garden when I was studying at Writtle. Stourhead was modelled on the idealised landscape paintings of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin – such gardens came to be known as ‘picturesque’ (other examples include the gardens at Stowe and Painshill – though I enjoyed Stourhead better than both). I wanted to walk around that lake; take in the carefully composed views of the classical temples and Gothic buildings that dot the route; see the historical and political references that garden-makers so liked to include back then. That was almost nine years ago now. So on our way back to London after our Easter in Cornwall we decided to stop there to break up the trek home. I’ve seen so many pictures of this garden and have wanted to visit for so long it can be hard for a place to live up to high expectations. But this garden most definitely did. It was impressive without feeling overly imposing – welcoming and perfect for strolling around as it was designed to be. A new and tantalising view opened up at every turn. It was picture-perfect, tranquil and very romantic. Henry Hoare II, who inherited the house and land from his father, created the garden from the 1740s. It’s situated in a beautiful location – where two steep valleys meet and where a natural spring called Paradise Well comes up (an apt name!). The large lake, around which the walk is designed, was created by damming the stream at the end of the valley.

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Excitement! First glimpse of the Temple of Apollo as we walked into the garden from the upper entrance

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Wider view across the valley

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The Temple of Flora, dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring (we could do with her working some magic right now don’t you think?), was the first garden building erected in 1744-6.

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View of the Pantheon across the lake through the doors of the Temple of Flora

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The Grotto (or Temple of the Nymph), a popular feature in such gardens. Inside the walls and domed ceiling are lined with limestone and tufa.

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By the exit is a statue of a river god.

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The Gothic Cottage. They were selling tea inside so we stopped for a warming cup. It was so cold and so quiet I think they were thinking of closing up.

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The Pantheon. Inspired by the one in Rome this is the largest of the garden buildings. Inside were a series of rather impressive statues standing in niches in the curved walls including one of Hercules and one of Diana, the goddess of hunting.

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The Temple of Apollo approached from the Rock Arch (not pictured). My favourite of the garden buildings it stands up on a hill and is dedicated to the sun god.

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View back down to the Pantheon

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Temple of Apollo. You might recognise this view from Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. It’s where Matthew Macfadyen’s Darcy tells Keira Knightley’s Lizzie that he loves her; and she tells him that he’s offensive. Apparently there are many fans that want to re-enact the scene here. The spot also sees a fair few proposals and they do weddings here too. It is a gorgeous view of the garden from up here.

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No, we didn’t do a re-enactment. But I did get hubs to take my picture with The view!

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The end of the walk. The decorative Palladian Bridge in the foreground with the Pantheon in the distance and the Gothic Cottage just visible on the far right of the lake. You can see the sky is just turning blue. About 15 minutes after we left the garden it was glorious sunshine, dammit!

If you want to visit the garden it is possible to stay right by the garden entrance, literally a stone’s throw from the view above – either at the Spread Eagle Inn or in the National Trust holiday cottage opposite. The Stourhead estate covers 2,650 acres so there is no shortage of long walks to keep you busy!

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