Newest Review: ... home whose gardens are now known as Stowe Landscape Gardens. ~Our Visit~ We parked up in a field and headed towards the entrance, stopp... more
Big Enough To Escape the Crowds
Stowe Landscape Gardens (Buckinghamshire)
Member Name: koshkha
Stowe Landscape Gardens (Buckinghamshire)
Advantages: Lots to see, beautiful setting
Disadvantages: Very dependent on getting good weather
We kicked off our 'Year of Trust' with a visit to Lyveden New Bield - just about 45 minutes to the North East of our home and then followed it up with a visit to Stowe Landscape gardens - approximately 45 minutes south of where we live. Yes, you can now get out your maps and 'triangulate' our home location if that's the kind of thing you are into.
Stowe was a place my mother and stepfather recommended. They have 'life' membership of the Trust so there's not too much that's missed their attention over the years. Since Stowe is signposted off the route from our house to their house they'd been a couple of times. We set off in May, a time that was still fairly cool weather-wise, but before the main crush. Leave it a couple of months and a collective madness sweeps across the country as households up and down the nation are thinking themselves "It's Sunday, what do we do now? Let's find a National Trust property to visit".
~Could you Locate Buckinghamshire on a Map (if you didn't live there?)~
Stowe is located in Buckinghamshire, not one of the nation's more memorable counties. In fact Buckinghamshire makes living in Northamptonshire seem slightly less awful. Stowe is about 3 miles to the north of Buckingham and travelling from Northants, it's just south of Silverstone, the home of the national Grand Prix circuit. We followed signs off the A43 which took us down narrow roads and through small villages before leading us up a grand driveway towards Stowe School, a fee-paying school which now inhabits the stately home whose gardens are now known as Stowe Landscape Gardens.
We parked up in a field and headed towards the entrance, stopping to show our membership cards and pick up a map before we headed in. My husband had been particularly organised and had made a picnic lunch and since it was around 1.30 when we arrived, we were keen to find somewhere to sit and eat quite soon.
The gardens have always been intended for public consumption, although in the days when the Temple-Grenville family who lived at Stowe Hall were in situ they were most likely to be seen by a 'certain class' of visitor. The hoi polloi were unlikely to get much of a look in back in the 18th Century when even national travel was the preserve of the well-to-do. The land on which the gardens stand was in the hands of the same family for over 350 years and at one time it was said that they family were 'Richer than the King'. As any family with money to burn will find, it's nice to have a hobby and in the case of two of the family members - Lord Cobham and his nephew Earl Temple - their hobbies were gardening and travel.
I can relate to returning from holiday with a few mementos and knick-knacks and the inspiration to bring a bit of your holiday destination back with you. We have a bright blue summerhouse/log cabin in our garden which was inspired by a visit to the Majorelle Gardens in Marrakech. These two men came home inspired to build dozens of stone buildings that reflected the palaces, temples and inspirational buildings that they had seen. Or more accurately they paid other people to build them for them. One or two such 'homage' buildings might be enough for most wealthy folks but these two went a bit crazy and with plenty of land to spare (the gardens are more than 100 hectares), they built a succession of weird, wonderful and downright bizarre buildings around the gardens. It's a bit like taking a trip to a glorified garden centre with extreme displays of ornamental monuments.
We live close enough that we decided that if we liked the place it wouldn't be difficult to return later, so we didn't attempt to cover everything in just one visit. Instead we passed up on the opportunity to join a guided tour and headed off to follow our noses and see where we'd find ourselves. We fancied the sound of the 'Elysian Fields' and followed signposts in that direction until we came to the 'Temple of British Worthies' - a shrine to the great and the good of our national history and a handy place to sit and eat lunch whilst gazing out across the lake towards a little round chapel which I think is licensed for civil weddings. It would certainly be a lovely spot.
We headed towards an intriguing triangular gothic lodge which caught our attention. Wading across slightly boggy fields and trying not to scare the sheep or be scared by the grass-snake my husband spotted (I really have to train him not to shout 'Look' at the top of his voice scaring me and the snake out of our skins) we came to this fantastic construction. It's apparently available for hire by members of the public who have deep pockets, want a unique holiday venue and don't mind being stared at by tourists. From there we headed towards the covered bridge, stopping to wonder if the sheep were a special giant breed or just incredibly well fed. One of the wardens bumped into us by the bridge and stopped to chat (at length....) and to confirm that they were 'ordinary sheep' though I still have my doubts. We stopped off to see a Chinese pavilion, painted in jazzy designs, passed a small chapel, a grotto decorated with shells (very tacky) and to walk beside a large lake resplendent with spring time little birds - ducklings, goslings and all manner of cute feathered fluffy critters.
More grottos and temple-like buildings followed including a golden naked lady surrounded by pillars before we found ourselves at the back of the school where the children were playing cricket on a pitch that overlooked a far-away arch. We lamented that the main house wasn't open to the public and then started our trek back to the entrance. We'd covered less than half the land but the skies were starting to look a bit moody and it seemed like a good time to head for cover. All too often sod's law ensures that the rain holds off right until you get to the farthest point away from the car park and we were determined not to get caught out again. I'd certainly aim to return and walk the gardens in the opposite direction next year but we'd seen enough for one afternoon.
~Facilities - aside from grottos - and other details~
Facilities include a small shop, a restaurant/cafe, plenty of toilets and hire of disability vehicles for those who aren't so stable on their feet although these need to be prebooked. This is a very big site with a lot of up and down paths so I would suggest that hiring a vehicle is a good idea if you struggle with long distances or uneven paths. There's no information on the website about whether the National Trust charge to hire these vehicles.
Entrance fees are £7.50 for adults with reductions for children and families but not apparently for OAPs. It's free of course for National Trust members. The gardens are open on different days at different times of year so be sure to check before you visit. From early March to end October they are open from 10.30 to 5.30every day except Monday and Tuesday but outside these dates the opening is more restricted.
With many more National Trust properties under my belt, I'd now say that unless you are passionately interested in landscape gardening, this is one to consider if you're in the area, but not worth travelling too far to see.
Summary: As gardens go, it's impressive but I prefer stately homes.
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