Walk 6: Stowe Gardens, Buckinghamshire

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3.5 miles (5.63km)

Time to walk: Stowe Gardens are just stunning at all times of the year & you can’t put a time limit on walking around here. We’ve done a fairly small circuit as a taster, but there’s loads of paths & each monument & folly has a story behind it. Plus in good weather it’s a fabulous place to just take a book & sit, or binoculars to watch the wildlife. This is a National Trust property & you can pay the entry fee. However, it’s well worth joining the National Trust as it’s so easy to recoup your money & there are plenty of places to visit around us.

Difficulty: All on hard paths & gravel. In wet times there’s a few puddles, but easy walking

Parking: Parking on the grounds & free to National Trust members

Public toilets: In the fantastic visitor centre. PS. Don’t forget to visit the cafe. Tip…the cheese scones & sausage rolls are amazing!!

Map of the route: Not the best ever picture, but hey….just wander…there’s so much to take in

So what can we tell you about Stowe?

Well firstly Stowe is home to an elite school. Next it’s home to an incredible house which you can visit.

But most of all it’s famous for it’s gardens…

Stowe has a place in gardening history. It was one of the first ‘landscape gardens’. The gardens developed from a formal garden.  Around 1718 Richard Temple, Baron (later Viscount) Cobham chose to replace the formal garden. To help him Cobham called in Sir John Vanbrugh, architect of Blenheim Palace and Charles Bridgman.

Vanbrugh and Bridgeman started to transform Stowe into a classical landscape of temples and grottos, walks and vistas. Others were brought in to help including one of the most famous and successful landscape garden designer of all time …Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown.

In the early 20th century the house was sold and later became the private school. The garden was eventually taken over by the National Trust, and now over 40 monuments have been restored and preserved.

Stowe is a garden to ramble in, exploring the various paths & hidden sights, temples & views at every turn. It’s also a place to visit in the different seasons.

Our visit today was on a beautiful January late afternoon. There was no way we could cover all the sights in the time we had, but this will hopefully give you a flavour.

So…enough history, let’s go explore…

1. The drive up to Stowe is pretty impressive in itself…

The Corinthian Arch was designed in 1765. It’s 60 feet (18 m) in height and 60 feet (18 m) wide & is modelled on Roman Triumphal arches.

After parking in the car park, we pass through the visitor centre & head out to the track that takes us down to the gardens. It’s a bit of a stroll so they do offer a free buggy ride to the entrance

The views at the end await us...

The views at the end await us…

2. At the entrance to the gardens themselves we turn left & walk a short distance to our first amazing view across Octagon Lake to Stowe House

The lake was drained at the end of 2013 & allowed to fill naturally again. Given the current levels of rainfall this didn’t take long…

3. Let’s turn right & retrace our steps passing The Eastern Lake Pavillion…

…before taking the left path towards the lake & arriving at Pebble Alcove, a stunning little building

The Pebble Alcove built of stone before 1739 probably to the designs of Kent. It takes the form of an exedra enclosed by a stone work surmounted by a pediment. The exedra is decorated with coloured pebbles, including the family coat of arms which is the Temple family motto TEMPLA QUAM DELECTA (How Beautiful are thy Temples).

4. The path now heads away from the lake up towards the Temple of Friendship

The Temple of Friendship was built in 1739. Inscribed on the exterior of the building is AMICITIAE S (sacred to friendship). It was badly damaged by fire in 1840 and remains a ruin. Originally it was built as a pavilion for entertainment & was decorated with murals by Francesco Sleter

… now we swing left where we’re rewarded with one of the best views in Stowe Gardens

What a fabulous January day...

What a fabulous January day…

In view are The Palladian Bridge, The Gothic Temple & Lord Cobham’s Pillar…we’ll have a closer look at each in a bit.

5. Before reaching The Palladian Bridge, if it’s open, there’s a chance to visit The Lamport Garden which contain The Chinese House

These gardens aren’t usually open in the winter months & the Chinese House was under wraps, however as there had been a lot of rain, the garden was open as the waterfall was in magnificent flow.

Here's what it looks like in the summer...

Here’s what it looks like in the summer…

The Chinese House dates around 1738 making it the first known building in England built in a Chinese style. Originally it was on stilts in a pond but in 1750 it was moved from Stowe and was purchased by the National Trust in 1996 and returned and placed in its present position.

Here’s our photo of the waterfall but as we were close standing on the bridge, we’ve also shown a Google image

The back towards the start of the lake

The back towards the start of the lake

6. Now we head back out of the Lamport Garden & turn right along our original path towards The Palladian Bridge

It really is one of Stowe’s jewels

Here's a view we took from the side

Here’s a view we took from the side

The bridge was designed to be used by horse-drawn carriages & was completed in 1738. We stood on it for quite a time watching a grebe who was an expert fisherman – every time he dived he came up with a fish!

7. The path splits to the left now, but we chose to head straight up the hill towards another of Stowe’s iconic landmarks…the Gothic Temple

The Gothic Temple was designed by James Gibb architect in 1741 and completed about 1748. It’s the only building in the Gardens built from ironstone. The  two storey building is triangular with a tower at each corner. Above the door is a quote “Je rends grace aux Dieux de n’estre pas Roman” (I thank the gods I am not a Roman). You can actually stay here through the Landmark Trust

Over to the right of this property is Lord Cobham’s Pillar

It’s the tallest structure in the gardens rising 104 feet (32 m) & built between 1747-49

8. You can head further up the hill, but we turned left in front of the Gothic Temple & went down the hill. Looking up the hill to the right we can see The Queen’s Temple

Originally designed in 1742, it was then called the Lady’s Temple & was designed for Lady Cobham to entertain her friends. The Temple has been used for over 40 years by the School as its Music School

9. Passing through the gate there’s again another crossing of paths. Today we take the one straight ahead over the Shell Bridge. As you can’t really see what you’re walking on we’ll come back to it shortly

On the right now is another small lake…

containing a monument to Captain Cook


…& ahead lies another of Stowe’s gem…the Grotto…

The view from the inside

The view from the inside

10. Straight ahead now lies Captain Grenville’s Column…

It's January but there's early signs of spring

It’s January but there’s early signs of spring

The column was originally erected in 1749 . It commemorates one of Lord Cobham’s nephews killed in 1747 while fighting the French

11. Ahead of us now is The Temple of Ancient Virtue

This was built in 1737 & it contains four life size sculptures, Epaminondas (General), Lycurgus (Lawmaker), Homer (Poet) and Socrates (Philosopher).

12. As we make our way back down the hill we get our first glimpse of the beautiful Temple of British Worthies

Fabulous reflection...

Fabulous reflection…

Let’s go & have a closer look…

Looking back towards Shell Bridge which we crossed above

Looking back towards Shell Bridge which we crossed above

Looking back towards The Temple of Ancient Virtue

Looking back towards The Temple of Ancient Virtue

Nasty little invaders!

Nasty little invaders!

Here’s a closer look at Shell Bridge…

Built around 1739, it’s really a dam disguised as a bridge of five arches and is decorated with shells.

13. The Temple of British Worthies really is an impressive work of art. The curved wall contains 6 alcoves either side of the central block. There’s more alcoves at the two ends of the wall and two more behind.

All are filled by busts of John Milton, William Shakespeare, John Locke, Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Francis Bacon, Elizabeth I, William IIIInigo Jones, Alexander Pope, Sir Thomas Gresham, King Alfred the Great, The Black Prince, Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, John Hampden, and Sir John Barnard. The choice of who was considered a ‘British Worthy’ was influenced by the Whig politics of the family, the chosen individuals falling into two groups, eight known for their actions and eight known for their thoughts and ideas.

14. Heading down towards Octagon Lake we cross The Wooden Bridge…

…and head along the bank of the Lake

Great views all over the place

Great views all over the place

15. On the right now we look towards Stowe House again. This part of the gardens is actually Stowe Golf Club

Great long winter shadows

Great long winter shadows

The view back across the Lake

The view back across the Lake

Looking back towards The Palladian Bridge

Looking back towards The Palladian Bridge

16. Rather than carry straight on we decide to take a detour by turning right & heading up Gurnet’s Walk. On the right up here is Sleeping Wood which was too muddy to visit today

At the top of the Walk we can see our ‘target’…The Rotunda

Built in 1720, this circular temple, consists of ten columns. In the centre is a gilt statue of Venus.

17. Now we turn & retrace our steps back down the hill. On the left is the Golf Course…

…and on the right we get our first glimpse of Eleven Acre Lake

18. At the end of Gurnet’s Walk we turn right & continue on the path around Eleven Acre Lake

On the right we get a glimpse of Stowe School

And on the left some very protective Greylag Geese

19. At the end of Eleven Acre Lake is The Statue of Queen Caroline

We really are on the Golf Course now!!

Looking back at the School

Looking back at the School

20. The path really is easy to follow as we’re simply walking round the Lake…

…& the next sight we come across is The Temple of Venus

Dating back to 1731 this was the first building in the gardens designed by William Kent.  There are alcoves containing busts of Cleopatra, Faustina, Nero & Vespasian. Above the door is carved VENERI HORTENSI “to Venus of the garden”

21. We were intending to take the straight path below known as Pegg’s Terrace  back to the entrance…

The direct route back...

The direct route back…

…but there was a commotion on the Lake so we decided to turn left & follow the Lake path to investigate.

And here was the culprit. We were very fortunate to come across 6 Goosanders which are rarely seen this far south

It was great fun to watch them diving for fish & when you see them fly you realise they’re quite large birds. We had a chat with one of the Rangers when we got back to the centre & he said it was the 2nd year they’d stopped off on their way up north

22. At the end of Eleven Acre Lake lies The Cascade & artificial ruins. It’s a great place to stand as it divides the two Lakes

Constructed in the 1730s The Cascade links the Eleven Acre Lake, which is higher than the Octagon Lake. The ruins are a series of arches above the cascade built to look ruinous.

The view back across Octagon Lake

The view back across Octagon Lake

23. Well that’s our short walk almost done so we head back up to Pegg’s Terrace where we turn left past The Western & Eastern Lake Pavilions before heading back through the Bell Gate & back up the track to the visitor centre

Back in the visitor centre it’s time for a cuppa in the cafe to get warm – it’s January after all.

Stowe Gardens are worth a visit several times a year to appreciate the seasons & we’ve only touched on them – there are many more follies etc to explore.

Now….about that cheese scone…. 😉

Stowe School

Later in the year we revisited & were lucky to find the School open so we’ve added another section here

In the 18th Century the powerful Temple-Grenville family created a landscape filled with magnificent temples. The largest of them all is the lavish Stowe House filled with amazing interiors – even Queen Victoria was astonished by the grandeur of it all. However the excessive spending led to bankruptcy & scandal leading the richest family in England to become the greatest debtors in the world

In 1922 Stowe School saved the building from certain destruction & today it remains one of the UK’s top schools with several famous people amongst its past pupils including Sir David Niven & Sir Richard Branson & AA Milne (Winnie the Pooh)

If the school is open when you visit we recommend either the full or short tour just to get your bearings & then go off & explore on your own. The fact that this is a working school with muddy footed kids running amongst such wealth is incredible & they probably don’t appreciate what they had until much later in life

Anyway…come have a look around…

The walk towards the House is impressive…

The grand entrance up the steps

The grand entrance up the steps

Take a moment before entering the House to sit on one of the 250 year old benches & admire one of the finest views in England…

The view symbolises the righteous path through life towards death at the Corinthian Arch & the ascent to heaven at the spire of Buckingham church in the far distance. You can’t see the spire these days as it was moved to spite the family in a bitter dispute

Entering the House be prepared to stand in awe inspired by the amazing domed ceiling of The Marble Saloon inspired by the Pantheon in Rome

Queen Victoria & Prince Albert danced in here when visiting.  When visiting try to spot the tennis ball embedded in the ceiling

Heading west for a start we enter the state dining room, now a dining room for the pupils of the school…

Our next stop is downstairs in the Egyptian Hall, the first of its kind in England & the carriage entrance into the rear of the House

The restoration of this room was completed in 2014

Back up the stairs & out onto the the lawns at the back of the House where there’s the most incredible cricket & rugby pitches. If you get a chance whilst walking round to have a look at the variety of sports on offer to the pupils here…

Even the pavilion's amazing!

Even the pavilion’s amazing!

The rear facade

The rear facade

Back inside now & moving past the Grand Staircase with its ceiling painted by Francesco Sleter

…& into the Old Chapel which is now a very ornate house common room!

Just opposite here is a door leading to a bit of a treat. For two days a year the Headmaster’s study is open to the public & today was one of those days…

It's a bit like Hogwarts!

It’s a bit like Hogwarts!

In the window’s a sculpture of The Beatles by ‘old boy’ David Wynne

The Beatles played at the School on 4th April 1963 – see this link & here’s the photo…

The school crest on the cushion

The school crest on the cushion

Back up the stairs the next room we come to is The Large Library, another ornate room…

before passing into the amazingly decorated & peaceful State Music Room

Exquisitely decorated by Valdre, it truly is one of the jewels of Stowe’s interiors. These days it’s one of three rooms in the House that’s licensed for weddings. Music concerts are also regularly held there

So that’s the end of our little addition to walk around the House & it really is worth a visit alone

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