Monday, July 21, 2014

Stourhead: The Home and Gardens

 The Palladian Mansion
 The View of the estate from the entrance

Stourhead Landscape Gardens 

 The Palladian Bridge
 The Gothic Cottage

England is a living piece of art and an old, old country filled to the brim with beauty!  Just a little over three years ago, I visited England for the first time and have been back each year since, for a total of three times. I feel blessed that my wonderful son in law, Philip, has such a rich British heritage and many of the places I have visited, he has driven me....very patiently as I asked him to stop so I could snap a photo! He drove on tiny one lane roads to show me villages that are in fairytales....or so it seems.  There is still so much I hope to still see and experience in other visits. One of my favorite experiences in my travels there has been visiting homes and gardens of The National Trust of England.  The National Trust is a registered charity and is independent of the British government and was founded in 1895 to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty permanently for the benefit of the nation.  The national trust relies on the generosity of its supporters, through membership subscriptions, gifts, legacies and the contribution of many thousands of volunteers. There are over 300 historic houses and gardens.

I was invited by my daughter's husbands grandparents, who are British citizens and hold a membership in The National Trust to tour the beautiful Stourhead Landscape Gardens.  I was enthralled by its beauty, a true paradise!  We visited on a beautiful spring day and walked the gardens around the beautiful clear lake which is tastefully surrounded by classical and Gothic buildings set against wooded slopes.  From the beginning, I was in love! It is such a well designed landscape garden full of formal and native plantings and well maintained today as a park like setting around a fourteen acre lake. It's hard to believe that it was one man's vision.

The entire Stourhead estate consist of 2,650 acres at the source of the River Stour near Mere, Wiltshire, England. On our visit, we arrived by car and the winding roads which take you to the entrance seem to have a way of drawing visitors in..... immediately!  The vast beauty of the setting and the landscape attracts visitors daily.  This past Spring when I visited England again, I wanted to visit the beautiful Palladian mansion on this visit as well as the gardens. I was not disappointed!  The history of Stourhead manor house is just as interesting as the gardens. The original estate is 800 years old and passed from the original family, the Barons of Stourton, to Sir Thomas Meres in 1714 and he sold it to Henry Hoare i in 1717.  The original manor house was demolished and new house was build in 1725.  Over the next 200 years the Hoare family collected many heirlooms, a library of books, and an art collection.  In 1902 the house was gutted by fire but many of the collections were saved.  The house was rebuilt but in 1946 the only remaining son gave the home to the National Trust. On our visit, the house seemed neglected and in need of paint and restoration in comparision to other National Trust homes I had visited, but still the beauty of its setting and the beautiful antiques were interesting. Once I understood about the loss due to the fire and the early death of the last owner, I understood more and appreciated its place in the history of Stourhead and Wiltshire.  On the day of our visit, volunteers were cataloging the antique books in the library. They wore gloves in order to preserve the delicate papers of the volumes and volumes of books.  It was as though they understood they were being entrusted with a valuable piece of history. They spoke quietly among each other with their findings as we watched in awe. These volunteers are another resource that makes England so very special. British people love their country and their heritage in honored by one another and those of us who appreciate the joy of visiting.

These beautiful estates scattered all over England are well worth a visit if you plan a trip abroad. The city of London is beautiful and rich in history and modern as well however..... it's in getting out to the countryside that one truly sees England and its history. It is beautiful. indeed!!!

If you've seen the 2005 period film Pride and Prejudice then you've seen some of Stourhead.  The Temple of Apollo which stands high on a hill at the western end of the garden is where Mr. Darcy declares his love for Lizzy.  The Palladian Bridge is where Lizzie runs in the scene hoping to run away from her fear that she is falling in love with Mr. Darcy.  

Stourhead is to be enjoyed over and over again!
 The Temple of Apollo
 Beautiful hybrid rhododendrons fill the landscape planted in the
20th Century!
 The gorgeous 14 acre lake!