After spending the last few days inside eating and drinking more than I should have, we finally decided to head out for a long needed walk. I have been to Stowe before, however it was before I went to university and a lot has changed since my last visit. The entrance has been relocated to the opposite end of the park, through the coach house where it would have been originally.
The Stowe estate is fairly far away from where I live, so it takes around an hour to get there by car (Via the A40). There is parking on the estate nearby the New Inn coach house which is free for National Trust members, but is pay and display for non members. Once parked you can then follow the new landscaped path down to the restored New Inn where guests would have stayed when visiting the Stowe estate. Lord Cobham inherited Stowe in 1697 and decided that it would be useful to offer guests a place to stay when they visited.
Originally opened in 1717, the coach house was last used as an inn in the 1850’s by the final inn keeper Mr Bennett. You can now explore the right side of the building as you walk in, which have been restored to show what the coach house would have looked like when in use. There are several rooms, including: an entrance/games room, bar, kitchen and food store. I really enjoyed looking around these as they were well decorated with plenty of traditional furniture to look at and information to read through.
Writing desk inside the New Inn
You can then walk across the courtyard to the newly built extension of the inn, which houses a restaurant, gift and plant shop. I really liked how the new building looked as it was well designed and used a mixture of weathered wood and glass.
Heading through this building, you can then follow a path between rows of trees before reaching the main garden entrance. Look out on the right for a circle of wooden carved toadstools and mushrooms, as well as a small wooden seat which look amazing as they are all different shapes and sizes.
The estate and grounds have been owned by one family for almost 350 years, reflecting the work of two members in particular: Lord Cobham and his nephew, Earl Richard Temple. The most significant changes in the grounds occurred in 1711 when Viscount Cobham inherited the estate, turning it into one of the first great English landscaped gardens. In 1749 Richard Temple inherited Stowe and set about making many alterations to the grounds. Stowe reached it’s peak in 1822 when Temple became the 1st Duke of Buckingham, with Queen Victoria visiting the estate in 1845. However by 1847 the 2nd Duke of Buckingham was declared bankrupt and he soon fled abroad. His son took over the estate, selling off most of the contents in attempts to pay back debt, however this wasn’t enough and he died in 1889 with the future of Stowe remaining unclear. His daughter inherited, and then her son but with little use of the estate and his death, it was sold after World War I. In 1922 the estate was brought and restored as a school, with The National Trust taking over the gardens in 1990.
Once inside the main grounds you can either turn left or right, as all the walks link up to form a large circuit with many individual paths. We decided to head right, walking past the following monuments before returning back at the entrance gate: Pebble Alcove, Temple of Friendship, Palladian Bridge, Temple of British Worthies, Grotto, Doric Arch, Ruin on the Cascade and the East/West Lake Pavilions. We visited quite a few of the different monuments on the estate, however there are several more throughout the park to explore (This website gives an interesting description and history of them).
I won’t go through each and every monument, but I particularly enjoyed visiting the Pebble Alcove, Temple of British Worthies and The Grotto.
Built before 1739, the Pebble Alcove is made up, as the name suggests, of a collection of different coloured/shaped pebbles which form a decorative alcove. If you look carefully along the wall you can see lots of symbols, including: Star signs, star fish and a large crest with lion and unicorn. Below this crest is the family motto – Templa Quam Delecta, which translates as ‘How beautiful are thy temples’.
Temple of British Worthies
Built in 1734-5, the Temple of British Worthies is a collection of individuals who at the time were believed by the family to be of significance. Names include: Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, Queen Elizabeth, Sir Issac Newton and William Shakespeare. Each bust is carved from stone and has a plaque above that describes each ‘worthy’ and their ‘worthiness’. They are split into two groups, eight known for their actions and eight for their thoughts and ideas. Interestingly there is actually another ‘worthy’ who is behind those which face out across the grounds. Signor Fido is found under the following description:
‘To the Memory of Signor Fido,
an Italian of good Extraction;
who came into England,
not to bite us, like most of his Countrymen,
but to gain an honest Livelyhood.
He hunted not after Fame,
yet acquir’d it;
regardless of the Praise of his Friends,
but most sensible of their Love.
Tho’ he liv’d amongst the Great,
he neither learnt nor flatter’d any Vice.
He was no Bigot,
Tho’ he doubted of none of the 39 Articles.
And, if to follow Nature,
and to respect the Laws of Society,
he was a perfect Philosopher;
a faithful Friend,
an agreeable Companion,
a loving Husband,
distinguish’d by a numerous Offspring,
all which he liv’d to see take good Courses.
In his old Age he retir’d
to the House of a Clergyman in the Counry,
where he finish’d his earthly Race,
and died an Honour and Example to the whole Species.
this stone is guiltless of Flattery,
for he to whom it is inscrib’d
was not a Man,
but a Grey-Hound.’
Built in 1739, the Grotto looks out over a circular pond and is decorated with shells and pebbles. It has been closed for a while due to restoration by the National Trust, however it is now open to explore. As you head down a gentle slope into the grotto you pass through one outer area before finding yourself in the central room. Inside, the walls are decorated with more pebbles, shells, pieces of mirror and when we visited seasonal foliage, lanterns and tea lights. At the back of the room in a recess stands a statue of Venus arising from her bath, along with the following description:
‘Goddess of the silver wave,
To thy thick embower’d cave,
To arched walks, and twilight groves,
And shadows brown, which Sylvan loves
When the sun begins to fling
His flaring beams, me, Goddess, bring.’
As Stowe house itself is not owned by the National Trust, only a small part of it is open to the public and you do have to pay extra to visit. We decided not to visit this time, but I would definitely like to visit in the future as I would love to see inside! I really enjoyed wandering around the estate, as there is so much to see and each monument has a different and unique history. It would be interesting to visit at different times of the year to see the change in landscape and see some of the monuments which are closed during the colder winter months.
A Day in the Life…