Visiting Stourhead: The Gardens

Monday 7th November 2016

Having already explored the house, it was now time to get outside and see the rest for myself.

Shortly after leaving the house, I turned off down a path with a manned booth at its entrance – only ticket-holders or National Trust members are allowed beyond.

Coming up soon on the left was a brief diversion to the ice house. This one appeared to contain less litter than some others I’ve visited. I don’t remember using a flash and so, it might also have been illuminated by artificial light.

Stourhead is a place that I can imagine is busy all year around. But with the promise of autumn leaves and a range of colour, it’s really no surprise that it would a hive for amateur and professional photographers alike.

I left the main surfaced path to cross the grass towards the most colourful trees. There were no ‘keep off’ signs and I’d already seen a woman doing the same thing.

Perhaps this one was the highlight of them all. Too tall to be an acer?

Continuing along the grass and around the gathering of trees, I passed the rear of the house. Typical of such a property, there were sculptures guarding the back door.

I caught another glimpse of the Egyptian obelisk.

After returning to the main path briefly, I was heading indirectly towards the obelisk on another grassy route. Almost muddy, in places.

These ‘mock’ Egyptian pyramids can be found across the ditch from the obelisk; apparently related to the story of brining the monument to its current home.

I can be a “Grammer Nazi” but someone else had already spotted the grammatical errors on the chalkboard before I had arrived. However, I’d have replaced ‘of’ with ‘have’… I may be wrong but the phrase ‘could little imagine’ doesn’t sound very British.

This next sign was a very welcome sight. Informative, without offering intimidation or threat. British farmers… Please, take note!

Heading down towards the lakes now, there was another junction (before a bridge crossing the water) where the estate walks continue on across the estate. I chose to ‘save this one for next time’ partly because cows were present close to another monument.

It was quiet around here. Yet, I knew I would soon be arriving at the most popular spots of Stourhead.

Now, walking along the other side of the lake and back on myself, I was looking for a place to stop for lunch.

I found an idyllic bench close to the next footbridge and I would soon have a couple of ducks bounding up from within the water to enquire about the sharing of food… They soon returned to the lake, a little disappointed.

I could not believe that this bench was vacant. Most people appeared to cross over the turn left; not seeing the seat available to their right… That and the fact it was obscured behind tall grass and reeds.

By this point, I ha already decided that Stourhead is now my favourite place to come for an autumn stroll.

Westonbirt Arboretum is the one that seems to attract the true masses each year and I hope that remains to be… Allowing the rest of us more freedom and space to enjoy these landscape gardens in Wiltshire.

Stourhead was busy on this Monday, don’t get me wrong. I’m also certain it would’ve been ‘close to chaotic’ over the weekend. But there was still plenty of breathing space and room to move. I only found myself having to ‘queue’ for a couple of photo opportunities. At Westonbirt, the tracks are narrow and it’s too easy to find yourself standing within another photographer’s frame.

Across the water at one pointed, I noticed the Temple of Apollo, slightly uphill from the water.

Then, the natural path led me to the Grotto.

This one was so much more than I had seen at other National Trust properties. For one, it was so large that masses of people could walk through and explore the interior.

You can even look out through a ‘window’ and on to the surface of the water.

Out the other side of the Grotto, via a series of stone steps and I soon arrived at the Watch Cottage, in all its Gothic style.

Next up, was a larger building (I forget its name) with a circular interior and walls adorned with the statues of Ancient Greek deities.

Beyond this, I noticed a sculpture trail ascending the hill on a diversion from the main path.

I forget the purpose and intention of these pieces.

Descending back down towards the main path and I could see a waterfall, with a working water wheel off to its left.

I followed a dead-end path down to an information sign on the wall of a small building but there was no way to get to or from either feature, once you were inside the estate. Paths were present but you could only access them from the path outside. There was a gate in between but it was securely padlocked. Presumably, the prevent people from wandering in (without having paid).

Then, I arrived at another stone arch. Passing through, I found steps leading up to another and then, higher up the hillside.

A short but very steep climb led me on to a junction with a public footpath. Turning left, I was on the approach to the Temple of Apollo.

You can walk inside to explore the interior but the attendants there seemed very chatty with the other visitors and I just wanted to be left alone, admiring the view over the lake below. It was quite windy up here.

This, then, was my attempt at the typically ‘iconic’ Stourhead view. Where ninety-five percent of visitors will stop withdraw their cameras and smartphones… This was taken on a dry day in early November, around 15.00.

Beyond another manned entry/exit booth and before returning to the car park, there’s a church to be explored (again, something I’m saving for next time).

Nearby, you can also admire a monument known as the Bristol Cross.

At very long last, I have been to Stourhead. I have seen, explored and appreciated so very much in just one visit. I do not intend to wait another four-years before making my next one!

Thanks for reading.

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