Doesn't matter which critic of gardens you discourse with, this is in the top five in England, many rate it number one.
The sight (of a photo) of that Palladian architecture reflected in the waters of the lake proved too much for me when I was planning my itinerary. Of the ten things I had to see, this was one.
A couple of hundred years ago, the grand European tour was the thing for the gentry to do, and that grand tour would never be complete without calling in to Italy. This is where Henry Hoare II found himself in the 1730's.
Some returned to the mother country and only spoke about their travels, flaunting a momento here and there, pointing to a recently acquired work of art on the wall. Henry was not satisfied with that. No, he went the whole hog. Decided to create a garden of immense proportions and adorn it with things classical. Thus he begat Stourhead.
Influenced by Palladian architecture he placed follies discreetly around the forest and, in the main one, placed classical statuary; but that is only a small part of Stourhead.
The garden was designed to be approached by a shady walk from the house. That path today suddenly emerges on the edge of the combe providing a wonderful view of shining water through the trees.
Contrived vistas, marked by the occasional classical temple, change according to your aspect along the path. In the spring there is a carpet of daffodils, in the summer rhododendrons colour the upper slopes and in the autumn Japanese maples bring a flash of fire to the woods.
The architect Henry Flitcroft, who designed the classical eyecatchers, was the only professional employed in the creation of the garden. His circular Temple of Apollo sits high up on a knoll overlooking the island-studded lake and his Pantheon crowns a rounded slope above the water.
The carpark, when you arrive after following the signposts on the country roads, is handily placed. Just a short walk off to the right takes you the grand entrance gateway that sits adjacent to the walled garden and Pelargonium House.
Should you choose to head left you'll find yourself at the art gallery (interesting, but not great) or the Spread Eagle Inn, a not inapt description of the position Rosemarie found herself in after a tummy upset at the end of our tour.
Stourhead is pre-eminent among English landscape gardens. Horace Walpole described it in 1762 as, 'one of the most picturesque scenes in the world'. The footbridge shown here, along with the Pantheon, would grace more than half the photos you ever see of the place, so well placed are they.
The garden is primarily the creation of Henry Hoare II, although later members of the family, in particular Sir Richard Holt Hoare, added to the range of shrubs and trees and thus broadened the scope of the foliage. For 40 years Henry II was smitten by the garden and its possibilites.
The design is a direct expression of the classical tastes of the 18th century and the reaction against the formal landscapes of the preceding century. It's a mix of ordered classical architecture with rambling English country garden and it works a treat.
Some of the mature trees that grace the 1.072 hectares (2,650 acres) in the vast garden. The furthest point of note is King Alfred's Tower which is nearly a 4km hike from the house. Time not permitting, we weren't able to get there but the views, when the weather is favourable (which is certainly wasn't when we were there), are reportedly vast and well worth the climb up the 49 metre high tower.
We simply had to put up with walking around the spectacular trees.
The architect Henry Flitcroft, who designed the classical eyecatchers, was the only professional employed in the creation of the garden. His circular Temple of Apollo sits high up on a knoll overlooking the island-studded lake and his Pantheon crowns a rounded slope above the water. Across the valley steps lead down to a dripping grotto where sombre rock pools are adorned with sculpture.
The informal nature of the grotto contrasts wonderfully with the order of the nearby Pantheon and sits snugly in the woods, just as intended.
The Stourton family had lived in the Stourhead estate for 700 hundred years when they sold it to Henry Hoare I, son of wealthy banker Sir Richard Hoare in 1717. The original manor house was torn down and Colen Campbell was employed to build the new one, one of the first of its kind. Over the next 200 years the Hoare family collected many heirlooms, including a large library and art collection. In 1901 the house was gutted by fire. However, many of the heirlooms were saved, and the house rebuilt in a near identical style. Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, whose heir had been killed in World War I, gave the house to the National Trust in 1947.
The square main block has a portico to the east, rising to the height of the building. It is flanked by pavilions added in the 1790s to house a library and picture gallery. The rather severe lines of the facade are softened by three lead statues above the portico and the two flights of stairs rising to the entrance. Their end pillars support stone basins surmounted by the Hoare eagle.
Addmission Charge - £10.40 house and gardens,
One of the great things about Storhead are the gardens and grounds. The gardens were designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1780 in a classical 18th-century design set around a large lake, achieved by damming a small stream. The inspiration behind their creation were the painters Claude, Poussin and, in particular, Gaspar Dughet, who painted Utopian-type views of Italian landscapes.
The gardens are huge so allow youself a good hour to do the walk around the lake, stopping off at the classical temples, folly, grotto and to admire the many magnificent plant specoes.
Included in the garden at Stourhead, are a number of temples designed to show off the Hoare family's education and wealth. The panoramic vista of the garden from the temple is unparalleled, and was once described by Horace Walpole as ‘one of the most picturesque scenes in the world’.
Inspired by the ruins of Baalbec in Syria, the temple was built in 1765 and dedicated to the sun god, Apollo, who in Greek mythology helped gardens to flourish. From his hill-top position, Apollo has been observing the Stourhead landscape for nearly 250 years.
The Pantheon, a gorgeous neo-Classical structure designed by Henry Flitcroft, who advised Hoare on most of the garden's architectural features. It has a lovely postion near to the lake shore. Under its coffered dome is an impeccable collection of lead, plaster and marble statues, centered on Michael Rysbrack's Hercules. Admission to the Pantheon is included with your ticket.
On the walk around the lake, a short detour takes you to the magical grotto. There are classical figures inside, including a stern looking Neptune. it is rathe spooky and dark when on your own, although there is also a vista through an opening over the lake.
The Palladian Bridge, built in 1762, was based on a bridge in Vicenza designed by Palladio and forms the centre point of many of the garden’s classic views. Although purely ornamental, the bridge also serves to create the illusion that the lake is a river, flowing from the village down into the valley.
The Temple of Flora stands above a natural spring known as Paradise Well. It is dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.
Henry Hoare II 'the Magnificent' erected this, his first garden building, in 1744 to designs by his favourite architect Henry Flitcroft. Flitcroft took inspiration from a temple dedicated to the river god Clitumnus in Spoleto, Umbria.
On the shores of the lake, is a fine old stone cottage, which good views over the water, I don't think it was ever lived in, but used more as a summerhouse in the daytime. It is only visible from outside.
Alfred's Tower is one of the finest triangular folly towers in the country. Alfred's Tower stands 50 m high, in sheer windowless brick, unashamedly built for the view from the top - the ten tiny stair-turret windows do no more than illuminate the steps. Designed in 1765, it was completed in 1772.
In the main house, of particular not is the Pope's Cabinet. The 4 m high Cabinet is worth between £8m and £12m.
t is thought the piece dates from the late 16th century and was created for the family of Pope Sixtus V.
It is feared that without urgent repairs, the ebony and gilt bronze cabinet could eventually collapse.
The spectacular-looking cabinet is clad in multi-coloured pieces of polished marble, alabaster and semi-precious stones.
The facade resembles a Roman baroque church with doors and windows, which are actually cupboards and drawers, and within which are numerous secret compartments.