If you were to ask me my favourite place to visit in the world, Stourhead would be on the shortlist, if not at the top. A 1072 hectare estate in Wiltshire, Stourhead is a National Trust run estate and family home. It’s open to visitors 364 days a year – if you were hoping for a Christmas day visit you might be slightly disappointed – and at certain times and in certain places you can even take the dog. We didn’t. We wanted a relaxing trip after our recent week away in North Devon!
I first went to Stourhead over a decade ago with my family. Since then we’ve been with family, as a couple, as a newly engaged couple and most significantly on our first day as man and wife. En route between our wedding venue and the airport, we decided to while away the 8 hour wait with a wander around the estate and a chance to catch a breath between the wedding mayhem and the honeymoon whirl.
Since then, our lives have changed significantly and this weekend we were able to make our first trip as a family of our own. The only threesome I want – me and my boys. Whilst we’re not National Trust members – we just wouldn’t use it enough – there’s something comfortingly familiar about a trip to an NT property. It just feels like a proper family day out.
Stourhead estate includes a pub, church and a variety of small shops including an art gallery so you really can fill a day out and guarantee a decent meal, something I tend to plan my trips by! I usually find that National Trust places are either great houses or great gardens and, whilst the house is impressive (don’t get me wrong, I’d kill to live there!), it’s the world-famous garden that deserves all the attention in this case.
Stourhead garden is split into two parts; an incredible kitchen garden that haunts my dreams and a huge estate situated around a large lake. Due to the dwindling light and poor weather, we decided to skip the house and kitchen garden this time and take in what I would term the ‘main event’; the lake walk.
The garden opened in 1740 and was one of the first to be designed as a piece of landscaped architecture. The waterway was dammed to create a lake with islands populated only by tall trees. The lake then dictates a pathway around the estate, leading you through temples and grottos with hidden statues and beautiful views at every turn. There are cottages, statues and towers dotted amongst a variety of flora and fauna meaning that there’s always something to see, especially in the spring as the garden comes to life and in the autumn when it blazes out.
During the autumn, the landscaping of the trees gives an outrageous display of colour – a sight that attracts hoards of crowds all seeking the perfect autumnal experience. You may have seen the estate featured in the national press year after year – as soon as the leaves begin to change, the challenge is on to get the latest display of colour before the winds take the leaves down. Better yet, the lake reflects back the colours, multiplying the visual masterpiece and making for spectacular images. At this time of year, there really is nowhere better.
Aside from the shops and the onsite pub (delicious incase you were wondering), you can also stay on the estate or even hold your wedding in the Temple of the Apollo – I have to admit to having a sneaky google prior to booking our venue! With a walk through a hand-carved stone tunnel to take you from the church up to the temple, it truly offers a magical experience.
You may be thinking some of the views look a little familiar. Stourhead estate was used in the 2005 film, Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightly. The Temple of Apollo and the Palladian Bridge featured in the rain scene where Mr Darcy first declares his love for Elizabeth Bennett. There’s a small chance we may have once acted out the scene as children. Okay, probably more than once. And probably more recently than that!
As Darcy says in that famous scene – “I love you. Most ardently.”
Stourhead, I couldn’t agree more.