Stourhead is hidden away in the Wiltshire countryside. Close to the A303 a village of grandeur and tranquility is ready as a retreat from the bustle of modern life.
Stourhead was designed between 1741 and 1780 by Henry Hoare. A banker who had help from an architect by the name of Henry Flitcroft. This was a massive break from other similar English gardens that were designed by ‘Capability’ Brown or William Kent - the go to garden designers of the 18th Century. It opened in 1740 and was described as 'a living work of art'.
In the mid 18th Century many English gents went on the Grand Tour, a visit to key places in Europe. The owner of the Stourhead Estate, Henry Hoare II went on this tour to Italy and returned inspired by a painting by Claude Lorrain. Upon his return he dammed a stream on the estate to form the lake and then built structures around the edge of the lake further inspired by the journey of Aeneas from Aeneid by Virgil. The source of inspiration can be clearly seen in the Pantheon on the shore of the lake with the Pantheon in Rome in Lorrain's painting.
The first structure to be built was the Temple of Flora, dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. There is a Palladian Bridge, inspired by the 16th Century architect Palladio. Totally ornamental, it is designed to give the illusion that the stream runs under the bridge from the village. In the grounds there are grottos, water falls, an ice house, bridges and arches and a mediaeval cross relocated from Bristol using ox and cart for transport.
The gardens change with the seasons, bluebells coating the woodland in spring. Cool grottos in the summer and come the autumn the colours change to deep russet and ochre. In winter the landscape is open and bare, sometimes coated in snow but still beautiful even in the deep brown and green of deep winter.
Visiting and Photographing Stourhead Gardens
The gardens are stunning in autumn, but are beautiful for a visit at any time of the year. The grounds are wonderful for children to explore with lots of space to run and variations in scenery depending on what you fancy. Woodland, streams, meadows as well as the lake provide a day of fun. There are also cottages on the estate which can be rented and the Spread Eagle pub provides lovely food and a beautiful special night away. This allows you to see the estate when it is peaceful at dawn and dusk. The whole Stourhead Estate is managed by the National Trust and there are lots of really good events through the year.
The gardens have lots of photo opportunities. Look in hidden corners for little surprises, vast landscapes as well as intimate details of the trees and plants. Arrive early to capture sunrise and the frosty mists over the lake or stay late and watch the sunset from King Alfred’s Tower.
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