When Stourhead Gardens first opened in the 1740s, it were described as a ‘living work of art’ – and it is easy to see why. Henry Hoare “The Magnificent” had 50 gardeners plant a variety of beech, oak, sycamore and ash trees (to name just a few) on his land in order to create a classical landscape bejewelled by temples and caves.
We were more drawn to this National Trust property for its stunning gardens, than for the actual house. I knew that the gardens were known for their element of spectacle, but nothing quite prepared us for the bombardment of colour and exotic plants we would be subjected to when we arrived.
“The greens should be ranged together in large masses as the shades are in painting: to contrast the dark masses with light ones, and to relieve each dark mass itself with little sprinkling of lighter greens here and there.” – Henry Hoare
We were expecting to spend perhaps half a day here at the gardens and house, but hadn’t quite taken into account the sheer scale of the grounds. This place is simply vast. We spent a good 4 hours just walking around the gardens before we even got close to the main house. So if you’re wondering, there is definitely enough here to keep you occupied for a whole day! Bring a picnic (or at least a hot drink in a thermos, or plenty of water on a hot day and some snacks!) and enjoy the scenery.
I absolutely love the juxtaposition of the stone against the bright trees and shrubs – it’s like something a romantic artist might have dreamt up in a watercolour painting. It’s times like these I wish I could draw or paint – imagine the hours you could spend here capturing the beautiful surroundings.
Stourhead gardens house a whole host of eerie and beautiful stone tunnels and caves, and they. are. gorgeous.
Just look at that happy face! The Grotto is a group of connective underground tunnels and caves with a small water feature, a skylight and a view out over the lake. Apparently grottos were popular in Italian Renaissance gardens as a place to escape the summer heat. The combination of smooth archways, jagged rocks and dappled sunlight make the tunnels a really magical place to catch your breath and spend a few moments reflecting by the lakefront.
If you take a walk around the wider land surrounding Stourhead, you might come across this little oddity. “Scraptor’s Scratch Band” is an homage to WWI soldiers who convalesced at Stourhead. The ‘metal band’ float upon the water on a raft that gently drifts about according to the breeze.
Also hiding in the grounds, deeper into the woods, is this quirky model train. Isn’t it lovely? There is also a creepy monster hiding in the trees around here, so keep your eyes peeled…
The Temple of Apollo was adorned with hydrangea bouquets when we visited. It turned out that there was a wedding on site that day, so I would imagine that this was a lovely little spot for getting some beautiful photos. This temple looks out over the lake and takes in many of the contrasting colours of the lakeside flora.
As usual, the library was my favourite part of the main Stourhead house – it even had a ladder to access the top shelf books, just like in Beauty and the Beast! Swoon.
Don’t forget to stop by the cafe for a drink and a bite to eat before you leave. We had a delicious flapjack and sat out in the sunshine enjoying our treat. The decor alone is worth a quick stop here – who else wants one of those signs??
From Stourhead, you can walk (or if you’re feeling rather lazy after all that wandering through the gardens, as we were, you can drive) to the nearby National Trust property King Alfred’s Tower.
Henry Hoare, owner of the Stourhead estate, had the tower built to commemorate the end of the Seven Years War against France. Standing at 160ft, with 205 steps to access the top, and with three sides creating a triangular shape, it is both an imposing and spectacular building. From the top, the views are rather special, and apparently from here you can see all three counties of Wiltshire, Dorset and Somerset.
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