Dear Mummy, we’ve been meaning to visit this National Trust property for ages but have always been distracted by other attractions nearer to us. The weather has been pretty miserable recently too, but we woke up to dry weather last weekend and decided to go on an epic adventure.
We visited Stourhead in Mere, Wiltshire. Over an hour and a half away from us in Basingstoke, Hampshire. It’s just off the A303, past Stonehenge. It’s a 2,650-acre estate at the source of the River Stour.
We arrived in a break between showers on a miserable and gloomy day. It’s the first time this year we’ve braved the weather and we were craving some fresh air.
After our long car journey we headed to the National Trust cafe to have lunch. Daddy enjoyed a sausage hot-pot and I had parsnip and apple soup with bread and butter. There’s a small indoor play area for children which kept me occupied until it was time to eat. The food selection on offer was warm and hearty, just what was needed before our winter walk.
Afterwards we headed straight to the main reception entrance by the main car park and headed down the winding path. The estate has been owned by three main families. The Stourton family were the first and had lived in the Stourhead estate for 500 years until they sold it to Sir Thomas Meres in 1714. His son, John Meres, sold it to Henry Hoare I, son of wealthy banker Sir Richard Hoare in 1717. 200 years later, the last Hoare family member to own the property, Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, gave the house and gardens to the National Trust in 1946, one year before his death.
The drive-way up to the main house is impressive, its flanked by trees and has an imposing castle gate entrance. We didn’t enter the house on this occasion and opted to explore the grounds instead. We didn’t think it was wise to let a crazy toddler loose on all the antiques!
I stopped to look at all the information signs which were dotted around the estate. The National Trust are great at making them appealing for visitors and it’s nice to read about the history of the area.
We visit the stable yard near the house and loved looking at all the quirky doors and little outbuildings. I spent ages trying to find horses, but alas we didn’t see any. We entered the gardens via another small reception building and they check our National Trust membership cards again. The heavens look like they are going to open so we increase the pace to get to tree cover.
We then found one of the many viewing points across the estate. We spotted the Temple of Apollo on the other side of the valley and decided to make it our mission to visit it. I jumped in my buggy and daddy pushed me all the way down the hill on the zig zagged pathways.
We travelled past the Temple of Flora or the ‘Cinderella Ballroom’ as we referred to it and I disembarked the buggy to investigate the quirky space. The Temple of Flora is dedicated to the Roman goddess of flowers and spring was the first garden building erected in 1744-6. I spent some time dancing and twirling in the large room. My singing echoed as we waltzed to music in our heads. We took shelter from the heavy downpour and watched the droplets on the lake. The lake at Stourhead is amazing and artificially crafted into the valley.
With a break in the rain we headed to the Temple of Apollo, on the other side. Past the beautiful Palladian Bridge, then the rain started again so I took sanctuary in my buggy with the rain cover over me.
Daddy pushes me and we enter a dark cave and then go up a very steep hill and find ourselves at the Temple of Apollo. It was built in 1765 and is dedicated to the sun god. It has scenic views across the lake and grounds. You might recognise this view from the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice. It’s where Darcy, played by Matthew Macfadyen tells Keira Knightley’s character, Lizzie that he loves her; and she tells him that he’s rude. Love eh??
We take a short break and soak up the views, sitting on our jackets and rucksack. We open up a packet of crisps and share them together. I sit quietly the munch away, occasionally going in for a cuddle with mummy. It’s a moment of complete happiness, even though our bottoms are cold.
We take a shortcut back down the hill (with buggy in tow) and head towards some creepy looking rock gardens. It looks like ruins of a house and we are expecting trolls to pop out at any second. It’s not really suitable for buggies here and daddy ends up carrying it down some steep steps.
We follow the path around the large lake and head towards the Temple of Hercules built in 1754. It’s called the Pantheon. Inspired by the one in Rome this is the largest of the garden buildings and a main focal point in the grounds.
We saw lots of dog walkers on our trip. Dogs are welcome across Stourhead’s countryside areas all year round, but only in the landscape gardens during certain hours. After seeing the Pantheon our main aim was to get to the Grotto before it got too dark. It’s a little bit challenging getting around the Grotto. This was the only time we abandoned the buggy and left it on the wide pathway at the top of the stairs.
The Grotto, commissioned by Henry Hoare and built by Henry Flitcroft, was constructed in 1748. It is a large domed rocky chamber lined with flint, pebbles and tufa. Grottos were popular in Italian Renaissance gardens as places of retreat from summer heat. It’s very damp and dreary down here and we have to watch the slippery steps as we walk around it.
Underneath the ground is a large tunnel with a couple of chambers. We admire Stourhead Grotto’s ‘Nymph’ and ‘River God’ statues. The Grotto (or Temple of the Nymph), a popular feature at Stourhead and well worth the journey to the other side of the lake. Its one of the furthest attractions from the main gate.
We loved the white-painted lead statue of Ariadne, a sleeping nymph on a marble plinth. However we couldn’t get a good photo of her, as it was too dark! Underneath her was a quote carved into stone.
Nymph of the Grot these sacred springs I keep,
And to the murmur of these waters sleep;
Ah! Spare my slumbers, gently tread the cave,
And drink in silence, or in silence lave.
We pretended the Grotto was the lair of the Sea Witch Ursula and the Little Mermaid was trapped inside and we had to find her. It was a great game, however some of the other visitors must have thought we were mad!
Before we knew it the light had nearly disappeared outside and it was time to head back to the car. It was only 3.30pm but all the visitors had vanished. Despite being a hugely popular destination, it was eerily quiet. At one point it felt like we were the only people there in this vast open space.
On our way back around the lake, we pretended that Snow White and the seven dwarfs lived in the gothic cottage at Stourhead. Unfortunately we couldn’t gain access as it was locked and roped off, but we did mange to peer through the dusty window. It was very magical.
After a long cold walk we made it back to the main entrance, but had missed grabbing another cup of tea, as the cafe closed at 4.30pm. so we warmed up in the car and headed home. We had a great day out.
Entrance prices to Stourhead are £15.60 with gift aid for an adult and £7.90 for a child over 2 years old. We think this is definitely worth the money for this wonderful outdoor experience. Stourhead is one of the largest National Trust properties we’ve been to. All it’s lacking is a natural woodland activity play area for the kids, which many other National Trust properties have. However there is enough walking and make-believe to keep children occupied. We loved acting out some of our favourite fairy tales throughout the day. A really magical and breathtaking place to visit we can’t wait to visit in the Spring!
Love Bella x