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?
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…
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
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
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.
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
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
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…
10. Straight ahead now lies Captain Grenville’s Column…
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
12. As we make our way back down the hill we get our first glimpse of the beautiful Temple of British Worthies
Let’s go & have a closer look…
Here’s a closer look at Shell Bridge…
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 III, Inigo 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
15. On the right now we look towards Stowe House again. This part of the gardens is actually Stowe Golf Club
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!!
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…
…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.
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
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…. 😉
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…
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
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…
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…
In the window’s a sculpture of The Beatles by ‘old boy’ David Wynne…
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