Known for its idyllic beauty, iconic Palladian architecture and being both home to the source of the River Stour and the famous landscape garden, Stourhead is a must-see. It doesn’t matter when you visit in the year as the place comes alive with each season – you won’t be disappointed.
It’s part of the National Trust so admission is free for members. You can find out more about opening times and ticket prices on the National Trust website.
A brief history…
The Stourhead estate is home to centuries of history, having been passed down through generations of the Hoare family. The house and gardens that we can explore today were originally built in the 18th century under the watch of Henry Hoare, a banker from London.
The estate is essentially split into two halves with Stourton village at the centre. The first half which is close to the entrance is the stately home, also known as the ‘country villa’. Visiting this first is the perfect way to start your visit – step back in time and explore the property that’s rich with history, art and architecture. The building has been restored twice, once due to neglect and the second time was sadly due to a fire. After the restoration was complete the National Trust took over the care and maintenance of Stourhead and it’s been open to the public ever since.
The second half of the estate is the b-e-a-utiful landscaped gardens, which I’ll get on to…
Stourhead in film
Stourhead was used as the location for some iconic scenes in Pride and Prejudice (2005) – the one starring Keira Knightly as Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. The first location used was the Temple of Apollo; in this scene they had been walking in the rain (v romantic…) and ended up sheltering from it at a beautiful temple. Here he proposes and subsequently offends her entire family, she responds with “no” (although, a little more eloquently) and runs off over a bridge. The Palladian bridge is location number two – it’s the perfect setting for such an emotional scene and gives me (Charlotte) goosebumps just thinking about it. I could go on and on, but let’s get back on track!
The world-famous gardens
Along with the Temple of Apollo and the Palladian Bridge there’s also the Temple of Flora, the Pantheon, the Grotto and the Gothic Cottage to explore. It feels very much like something from The Secret Garden, and i’m totally onboard with that. Every time I visit, I feel like i’m a kid again and just want to run off and investigate every corner.
The secluded gardens are very classically designed, with a huge (and I mean HUUUGE) nod to Greek mythology and architecture. The lake walk takes you around each of the areas on a circular trail so you shouldn’t get lost. The plants and trees on the walk are absolutely stunning too, with a mixture of local and exotic species. It’s a real work of art – a living painting before your eyes.
Stourhead is one of my most favourite places in the world. I know it’s quite a bold statement, but once you’ve experienced the beauty and tranquility of Stourhead you’ll get the bug too.
Where to eat
Now for the good stuff… At Stourhead you’re quite spoiled for choice when it comes to where and what to eat. For starters (unintentional pun) there’s a National Trust owned restaurant at the entrance where you can sit down and have a bite to eat. They sell all the usual goodies like sandwiches, jacket potatoes, soup, crisps, cakes and scones to name a few things. There’s also a kiosk outside that sells quick nibbles like pasties, ice cream and hot/cold drinks. Great for if you’re hungry but want to get exploring!
Once inside the grounds of Stourhead there’s the Spread Eagle Inn – we’ve not eaten here, but from the menu it looks quite fancy, yet reasonably priced (it’s not owned by the National Trust). In the quad that the Inn is based, there’s also an ice cream parlour that we’d recommend. We’ve tried it out a few times… you know, just to make sure.
As you should know by now, Fern and I are regulars with BYOP (bring your own picnic), and there are plenty of spots to stop and take in the tranquil views. Don’t forget to bring a picnic mat though as there aren’t too many benches.
As most of the paths are accessible, deciding on what to wear to walk in is pretty easy – whatever you’re comfortable in and whatever the weather is – so whether that’s walking boots or sandals you should be just fine. We wouldn’t recommend heels though, there are some cobbled paths and hills to walk up and down too.
Visited Stourhead? We'd love to see what you got up to, so make sure to tag us in any photos @deardorset and use #deardorset!
Good to know…
- Parking charge for non-members
- Prices start from £8.70 (child) without a NT membership
- Options for food