“ Address: Stourton / Warminster / Wiltshire / BA12 6QD „
A Brief History Lesson
Stourhead is often considered one of the jewels in the crown of the National Trust properties. Combining an 18th Century mansion together with large landscaped gardens (complete with several outbuildings and follies) it is an attraction which pulls in thousands of visitors every year.
Stourhead is easy to find, sitting just off the A303 near Frome. As with most National Trust properties, it is well-signed from all major routes. All the roads to it (including the driveway into the property) are well paved, wide roads so shouldn't cause any issues. A large car park (costing £2 for all day or free to National Trust members) ensures you don't need to worry about parking once you get there. During the main season, a shuttle bus operates to get you from the car park down into the grounds or across to the house.
The main feature of Stourhead is undoubtedly the impressive gardens and parklands, which occupy a huge area. Scattered throughout the grounds are little temples, monuments and summer houses which break up the trees, plants and bushes. Many of these are inspired by Greek mythology and still have the power to impress today.
I have to confess that the park and gardens held less interest for me. I'm not a gardener and have no real interest in plants. It's certainly pleasant walking around them (although you do really need to pick a nice day as much of the time is spent outdoors) and you can stroll around at your leisure, with no prescribed set route. The walking is not particularly arduous and mostly down well gravelled paths (we took walking boots in case it was muddy, but actually would have been fine without them). There are a few steeper inclines in some areas, but at such points there is almost always a lower, easier path that you can take if you prefer.
It's a pity that so few of the summer houses/monuments located throughout the gardens are now open to view, unless you happen to go on the right day. This is perfectly understandable for conservation reasons - many of the buildings are old and fragile but it would have been nice to be able to see inside them (all were closed on the day we visited). It is particularly frustrating because many of the information boards outside each monument refer almost exclusively to features inside the building, which you are unable to see. I'm not suggesting the National Trust are wrong to restrict access, but they should update their information to tell visitors what to look out for on the exteriors of these buildings, not taunt them with informaton about things they can't see!
Our House (in the middle of the park)
As well as the landscaped gardens, you can visit the Palladian style mansion, built in the mid-1700s. It's slightly disappointing that only around a dozen rooms (all on the ground floor) are open to view, making it one of the smaller properties to look around (although the house itself is much larger.) However what you can see is very interesting. Most of the furniture is original to the house (a rare thing in many properties these days, as financial difficulties and natural wastage have taken their toll) and there are some very impressive pieces (including several pieces of Chippendale furniture). There's also a large collection of paintings, many of which were done by a member of the family whilst on the Grand Tour. It's good to see a house which has so many close and personal connections to some of the people who lived there, rather than just seeing something that has been reconstructed to reflect the period in which it was built.
Information sheets are interesting and well written. I did, however, find it slightly frustrating that they tended to focus almost exclusively on just two generations of owners - were all subsequent owners really that boring and never do anything of note?!
Facilities & Access
Stourhead is one of the better developed properties and actually offers quite a lot in terms of facilities. There is the usual, bog standard National Trust tearoom and shop and at least three lots of toilets at various parts of the site. In the middle of the estate, there is even a pub selling hot and cold food (we didn't visit, but it seemed very popular), a series of small craft shops and a farm shop selling lots of lovely local products.
In terms of access, the lower part of the gardens are quite accessible as they follow fairly flat, gravelled paths, although there will be some areas wheelchairs cannot go. A golf buggy (driven by a member of Trust staff) is also available to take elderly or infirm visitors around the gardens. Access to the house for wheelchairs needs to be by prior arrangement, according to the National Trust website.
At 2013 prices, adult admission to Stourhead costs £12.90 for the house and garden or £7.70 for either the house or the gardens only. The nearby King Alfred's Tower (which we didn't visit as it is only open on certain days) will cost a further £3.10. To be honest, I think this is very expensive for what you get. Had I not got in for free as a National Trust member, I wouldn't have felt that it was great value for money - but that's probably because I'm not really a plant and gardens person. If you are, you will get much more out of your visit.
With the focus on gardens, rather than house, Stourhead is not the sort of place I would normally visit. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would, but if I'm honest, I'm not in any rush to ever go back. If you enjoy walking around formal gardens and parkland, then Stourhead is a spectacular example; if you prefer looking around houses, then there are more impressive places to visit.
Stourhead Park & Gardens
BA12 6 QD
(C) copyright SWSt 2013
~PLEASE can we go to Stourhead?~
Each time we go to visit my parents in Salisbury my husband asks if we can go to Stourhead. It's a lot nearer to them and to my sister than it is to us but even so, once we get to Salisbury, there always seems to be something else - weather or my mother having other plans - that comes up and gets in the way. Even though Salisbury and Stourhead look to be quite close on a map and are about 25 miles apart, the route is cross-country and it takes about three-quarters of an hour to get there.
On this occasion in July we stayed at my sister's place in the west of the county and took the opportunity to spend the day at Lacock Abbey and Stourhead. Stourhead was our second stop of the day.
We arrived mid-afternoon and the sky looked threatening. As we'd gone to visit the gardens and not the house, we knew there was a high risk that we'd get wet and on the drive between Lacock and Stourhead we'd had monsoon-like rains. We parked up in the car park, showed our membership cards and headed down the hill towards the gardens. It's quite a long walk before you even get to the entrance so if you're not too steady on your feet, ask for a transfer on one of the site's golf-buggy like shuttles. The path down the hill is quite steep but once you can get down to the actual entrance to the gardens, the path around the lake is fairly accessible and wheelchairs are available if required. The paths are compacted gravel and there's a bit of 'up and down' but nothing terribly steep. I would suggest a decent pushchair will do fine on the paths but a heavy wheelchair might not be much fun to push and there is no buggy alternative as far as I've been able to find out.
Before reaching the gardens there's an interesting courtyard of craft and art shops and the Spread Eagle Inn offers food and drinks indoors or on the terrace outside. Looking at the sky we wanted to get a move on and decided to look at the shops on the way back and not delay any longer.
My husband has been to Stourhead before and knew already that he loved the place. I'd only seen a couple of photos on the National Trust website and knew that they often make a place look more attractive than it really is. Stourhead bucks this trend and is far better in real life than in any of the beautiful photos you may have seen.
~History and the Buildings~
The gardens were laid out in the 18th Century for the Hoare family who had the local river dammed in the 1740s in order to create the lake which is the central feature of the gardens. Up to that time garden design tended to be very formal and full of straight lines and geometric designs so Henry Hoare II's decision to recreate a more natural and undulating landscape went against the trend of the time which had been heavily influenced by the French garden designers. It was also a period when the wealthy liked to take trips round Europe doing the so-called 'Grand Tour' and many returned with big ideas based on what they'd seen. Whilst we're content to bring back a fridge magnet of the Acropolis or a snow dome of the Eiffel Tower, the travellers of the 18th century came home with big ideas to build their own classical follies in their gardens. I was reminded of the gardens at Stowe, near Northampton, where the landowners filled their landscape with rather cheesy looking statuary and mini versions of great buildings. Stourhead is an altogether classier garden where the follies and buildings are tucked temptingly and tantalisingly amongst the vegetation to be glimpsed rather than stared at.
We passed what I assumed was a war memorial by the entrance to the gardens, showed our membership cards and headed in. You really have only one decision to make and that is clockwise or anti-clockwise and once that's decided, just follow your nose. I am always a bit frustrated by gardens with too much choice and too many different parts. My desire to not miss anything drives me crazy and means I'm almost always left with the sense of missing something no matter how hard I try. That's one of the reasons I loved Stourhead - all you have to do is follow the path and you really can't get lost and equally important, you can't miss anything.
The circuit is about one and a quarter miles in length but it feels much shorter because there's so much to see. We went clockwise since we've spent a lot of time in Buddhist countries and learned to always go that way but also because there's just something contrary about going widdershins. The first feature of note is the Palladian Bridge, a stone bridge with five symmetrical arches. It seems to be placed primarily for aesthetic purposes since walking across it would save only a few paces compared to walking round and I suspect it's there to reflect in the water but I suspect it's intended to give the impression of a river running out from the lake. The water around the bridge was a bit scummy and less clear than elsewhere so it was clear that there was no river draining under the bridge.
Walking with the lake on our right hand side we took pictures the whole way around. In the old days of 35 mm film, these gardens would have been a 'two-reel' attraction - guaranteed to need at least a second reel in order to get all the pictures you would want. The next building we came to was the Temple of Apollo, a rotunda-like building sitting above the lake. You can walk up to it but we chose not to, our eyes always on the colour of the skies.
The grandest of the buildings is called the Pantheon, named after the Roman temple to all the gods which was built by Marcus Agrippa. The Stourhead version is more modest but takes the heavy frontal columns and the triangular facade above the pillars. This is about half way round the lake so we stopped to sit down and take more photographs. The next building was a small cottage which I decided not to photograph as a woman covered in tattoos was determined to get her boyfriend to shoot dozens of pictures of her and I didn't particularly want her in my photos so we moved on to the grotto.
The grotto is a fine example of how even someone with the most sophisticated taste and almost unlimited funds can have a bit of a brain-burp and build something hideous. It would need only a few gnomes and some shells in the mortar to look like something from the most down-market of seaside resorts. Clearly a lot of manpower went into creating this ugly grotto as the pattern of pebbles on the floor must have taken weeks to put together. The final building I remember was the Temple of Flora, not unlike a smaller version of the Pantheon, it was another handy place to stop and watch the ducks and swans on the lake.
~When can we go again?~
July was a good time to visit. The long days and traditionally rubbish English weather meant everything was lush and green. The rain held off long enough for us to get round though it certainly wasn't warm enough to linger as long as we might have done if we'd been less concerned about getting really wet. The swans and ducks were entertaining and getting there before the school holidays started meant we pretty much had the place to ourselves and - tattoo lady and her beau excepted - nobody really got in our way or made us modify our plans. The walk back up the hill was completed with the rain still holding off which we felt was reason enough to celebrate with big hearty slices of cake and a couple of hot drinks. Having seen it in summer, I'm now really keen to go back again with my camera and see it in autumn, winter and spring. Sounds like my Mum might be getting more visits than she expected.
Now that we've been I can't quite believe it took us so long to get there. Stourhead is a stunning garden and I can't imagine anyone wouldn't love it. Mobility issues have been discussed already and the National Trust will happily get you to the gates of the gardens but from then on, it's not so easy for those who aren't good on their feet. Even so, I wouldn't say 'don't go' since you could take a seat in the Temple of Flora and just enjoy the view.
There are no toilets in the gardens - the nearest are probably at the Spread Eagle Pub or back in the car park near the cafe. The gardens are open daily from 9 am to 6 pm throughout the year. By contrast Stourhead House has more complex opening arrangements so if you want to see the house as well as the gardens (and I suspect most people don't bother with the house - it's apparently 'nothing special' according to the guide we spoke to at Lacock Abbey) be sure to check the website for the times and days
of the week as these vary at different times of the year.
Gift aid admission prices for the gardens are £8.10 for adults and £4.40 for children with family tickets for £19.20. Turn up by bicycle or on foot and they offer reduced prices.
Stourhead is a country estate of 2650 acres (owned by the national trust) deep in the Wiltshire countryside which is probably one of the best gardens in the world. It is great to visit at all times of the year whether it is in during the Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter as each season gives a different perspective and range of colours to behold. Red and brown hues in the autumn to match the magnificence of fall in New England USA as trees were imported from as far away as America, China and Japan. In spring the grounds come alive with bluebells and daffodils doted throughout the estate giving a carpet of colour and feeling of rebirth. In winter when frost is on the ground and the lake is frozen it looks like a winter wonderland. In summer green, alive and inviting.
The time of the day also influences the views that you get for example at dawn and as the sun rises and works its way across the sky it imparts different lighting to the trees giving different colours and hues. This is a photographer and landscape artists dream location
An monthly timetable of flowers is listed on the National trust website as follows.
April - Daffodils
May - Bluebells
June - Rhododendrons
July - Virburnum
August - Hydrangeas
September - Hydrangeas
October - Autumn colours.
The trees are wide and varied including conifers, red cedars and the giant redwood trees which give a wonderful display in the autumn. It has been described as a living breathing piece of art. At various times throughout the last two hundred years there has been the occasional massive storm producing hurricane force winds and on one occasion 300 trees were lost. Another storm saw the felling of another massive tree measured at over 400 feet. Over the years of course trees have been added to enhance the beauty.
The scenery is absolutely stunning and there are pictures and paintings that are quite famous and popular with wonderful views of the trees lakes and Roman temples dotted around the estate. These can be found on calendars and chocolate boxes.
You can take a three mile walk which takes you all around the estate so that you get the opportunity of different vistas throughout your walk.
The estate had been owned for 700 hundred years by Stourton family but was sold to Henry Hoare I who was the son of a rich banker in 1717.The estate and village in the valley were owned by the Hoare family and they had a massive Palladian mansion built in place of the house that was already there right at the top of the hill overlooking the valley and the village below. Down in the village there is a church, a pub, a memorial to those who fell in the First World War including the only son and heir to the estate and a number of cottages. There are four farms dotted around the estate one is on top of the opposite side of the valley overlooking the parkland. There is also are also two Iron Age forts on the far side of the valley.
The Palladian mansion built on top of the hill is a magnificent house which houses a very large collection of collectables including rare Chippendale furniture, art and books. There is a massive library in the mansion. There was a fire in 1902 which caused immense damage to the building but fortunately most of the furniture was saved from the ravages of the fire.
The valley was a unique and wonderful setting to develop this ornamental garden which was designed by Henry Hoare II (Known as the Magnificent) and the garden was initially laid out between 1781 to 1790. Over the years it has been added to, to make it what it is today. You can imagine after two hundred years how the trees and shrubs have grown and matured enhancing the landscape in all its beauty. In 1946 Henry Hoare the 6th Baronet gave part of the Stourhead estate to the National trust. Within one year he died and his wife died six hours after him. There was no real heir to the estate as their only son had been killed in the First World War.
There is a massive man made lake in the centre of the valley which is also the source of the river Stour having been dammed to create the lake. There is a Palladian bridge crossing part of the lake which gives a fantastic mirrored effect when taking photographs. The dam at the far end of the valley to helps maintain and tops up the lake. Dotted around the lake there is a footpath that you can walk around and a rocky formation containing a little grotto containing little nymph like statues. It is very cool in here and is featured in a lot of Italian gardens to provide a cool place to sit. There are water features, cascades and Roman and Greek temples dedicated to Apollo, and the Parthenon in Rome, an obelisk and a 50 metre high tower which can be climbed to get a bird's eye view of the gardens and estate.
There is a three mile walk that you can take around the gardens on gravel and woodchip pathways. It is not really suitable for people with walking difficulties or mobility problems as it is quite hilly and there are some steep inclines to walk up or down. It is not too bad on the walk around the lake but bear in mind that the pathway is covered in gravel which may make it very hard to push a wheelchair around. Whilst walking around the route you can view the whole of the gardens from different angles and each new vista is stunning and beautiful.
Facilities there is a farm shop and gift shop in the visitor centre near the car park. There is a pub and restaurant in the village.
The gardens are open from 9Am to 6PM Daily
The house is open at various times but usually from 10AM- 5 or 6PM
Entrance is Adults £11.100
Family ticket £26.30
National trust members free admission.
Would I recommend a visit.
Yes I would it is an absolutely stunning and beautiful place. The photo opportunities are probably one of the best features of the visit taking photos of the beautiful temples form various spots around the estate making each and everyone unique. It is good for families but I would suggest you wear a decent pair of walking shoes. It does not matter whether it is rain or sunshine the gardens are absolutely beautiful and I don't think anyone wouldn't appreciate a visit here/
Stourhead Estate Office,
Telephone:- 01747 841152
At Stourton, off B3092, 3 miles north west of Mere (A303),
8 miles south of Frome (A361).