a garden for all seasons
I have been visiting the National Trust’s Stourhead Gardens for over 40 years. Some of the mature trees were saplings when I first went! Of course, many trees are far older than me. The gardens are world famous for their beauty, and no doubt billions of photos must have been taken by visitors since the age of photography. We must not overlook that there is a grand house to visit for which the gardens were created.
The gardens are formed around a man-made lake and were designed by nonother than Capability Brown. There are several walking routes around the gardens, and it’s easy to miss some of the fine views if you don’t take the time to explore. The paths are well made; however, note that the gardens sit on a valley floor, and there are some steep climbs on the upper pathways.
The Hoare family built the house and gardens, who were bankers, and their private bank, established in 1672, C Hoare & Co, exists today. The son of the founder of the bank, Henry Hoare, purchased Stourhead Estate in 1717. The original manor house was demolished, and Henry built the Palladian mansion. The house was gutted by fire in 1902 and rebuilt in an almost identical style. Fortunately, many of the artworks, books and antiquities that had been collected over the years were saved and are now on display in the house. The gardens are open all year, but the house is open to visitors from spring to early November.
The gardens have some lovely follies and garden temples to see. The Hoare family being wealthy, obviously travelled and loved the greek style of architecture and brought some of this into their garden.
There is plenty of car parking (free for National Trust members) at the top of the hill above the gardens and some limited parking close to the entrance and next to the Spread Eagle Inn. Here is a small courtyard of shops, a cafe, and toilets. The main car park has more toilets, a large cafe, a farm shop, and a National Trust shop.
When you enter the garden, you are met with the iconic view of the lake and bridge that you will always see when you see photos in magazines. You can walk uphill or down toward the lake from this point. I would encourage you to walk both routes but if you lack the time, maybe start with the lower route. Most visitors and I tend to walk in an anti-clockwise direction, keeping the lake on our left. This makes it easier when it’s busy with many visitors, particularly on weekends and bank holidays.
A route into the garden from the driveway to Stourhead House will also give you more things to see, including the ice house and an expansive view over the lake and church. The church is a little further past the Spread Eagle Inn and set back from the road.
With every twist and turn of the path, you will see different views of the lake. In spring, you will have the blossom and fresh leaves, and in summer, your view will be more restricted by the fully clothed trees in all their shades of green. Visit in autumn, and your eyes will be dazzled by the wonderful spectacle of golden and red leaves, especially on a sunny day. Many of the trees are labelled so you can find out what kind they are. If you can visit at different times of the year, you will enjoy the constant changes, even with the changing light on the same day, creating ever different photo opportunities.
As you walk along the paths, do look out for the temples, the cottage and the grotto. Occasionally the garden hosts artworks on display for you to enjoy. The National Trust does a good job of maintaining the garden to the highest standard and preserving the buildings. If you live close enough to visit regularly, membership of the Trust will save you a small fortune in entrance fees. Your membership will also enable you to visit all the other National Trust properties too.
When Henry Hoare purchased the estate, he must have seen the potential and, with the services of Capability Brown, produced this magnificent garden.
At the end of your walk, you can take refreshments at The Spread Eagle Inn or one of the cafes. If you would like to experience a video tour, please click here to see my video on YouTube.
I hope that you will be able to visit Stourhead House and Garden and that I have given you a taste of the place. There is much to explore and enjoy. Please let me know if you have been by leaving a comment below.
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