With Greek temples, grottos and crystal-clear waters, Stourhead feels more like an eclectic wonderland than an 18th century estate.
Stourhead, based in Wiltshire and Somerset, sprawls across an impressive 1,072 hectares of land. So if you’re planning to tackle it in one day, it’s a good idea to pack your walking boots and snacks. You may even come across a film set or two. The site has already been featured in historical shows like Pride and Prejudice (2006) and The Pursuit of Love (2021).
In this article, we’ll take you through an exploration of temples, monuments, art collections and Stourhead’s Grade-I listed mansion.
A Brief History of Stourhead
Stourhead’s known history starts in the 15th century and possibly earlier. For 500 years, the land and old manor house (which has now been destroyed) was owned by the Stourton family.
The family motto “I will be loyal throughout my life” still holds an uncanny presence in the site today. However, by 1714, the estate was sold to Henry Hoare, a wealthy London banker.
During the next 200 years, the Hoare family re-built Stourhead into a grand mansion house. The family also cultivated an outstanding collection of literature, art and heirlooms. Henry was particularly fond of classical Italian paintings by artists such as Carlo Maratta, all of which can still be seen at the house today.
He was also greatly inspired by mythology when designing Stourhead; this can be seen most clearly in the gardens. For instance, the path around the lake is meant to mimic Aeneas’s descent into the underworld. Although, we promise the walk feels much less gloomy than that!
Other major Greek and Roman influences are the Ceres and Hercules temples and the pantheon building. It’s also worth mentioning that the grand lake is entirely artificial, another example of Henry’s unwavering vision.
How was Stourhead Built?
Stourhead is clearly a labour of love, but its sheer size means that it was the work of many. Famed master-builder Nathaniel Ireson is largely credited for the work on the estate and it even established his career. However, architect Henry Flitcroft is responsible for designing all three temples.
To get an idea of just how gradual and vast the Stourhead building project was, take a look at our timeline below.
- 1714 – The Hoare family buys Stourhead and work on the estate begins.
- 1744 – Ceres temple was built, inspired by the Roman goddess of grain and harvest.
- 1746 – Flora temple was built, inspired by the Roman goddess of flowers and spring.
- 1765 – Apollo temple was built, inspired by the Greek and Roman god of the sun.
- 1772 – A 49 metre tall brick tower is built called King Alfred’s tower. It commemorates the end of the Seven Years War against France.
- 1816 – William Wilkins builds a Grecian-style lodge on the grounds.
- 1947 – The National Trust became part owners of Stourhead.
- 1966 – The House is given Grade-I listed status
What to See Inside Stourhead House
Stourhead’s Palladian mansion is a large and domineering building on the estate. It sits on a slight hill, so it feels even more impressive walking towards it. But the true gold lies within.
The Stourhead collection includes over 8,000 objects, including textiles, engravings, furniture and of course, paintings.
As mentioned above, Henry Hoare’s love of Italian art is renowned. To really understand this passion, visit the Italian room where you can admire an impressive painted alcove. Some of his favourite painters were Daniele da Volterra, Carlo Maratta and Hendrik van Lint.
Like many 18th century buildings, the interior rooms are vast, cosy and richly decorated.
What to See in Stourhead Gardens
While Stourhead house is impressive, the gardens are world renowned. You’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to stroll along the lake path and appreciate the surroundings. Take a look at our unmissable Stourhead sights below.
The Palladian Bridge and Temple of Apollo
Based in the Eastern gardens, arguably the most picturesque, visitors can view the Palladian Bridge. Be prepared for jaw dropping scenery. The low, five arched bridge is a testament to the 18th century’s love of pure romance.
If you want the best angle, walk from Stourhead House and look westwards. On a clear, sunny day, the bridge’s arches are reflected in the lake and the Pantheon can be seen from across the water, making for some wonderful photographs.
Carry on walking around the southern lake path, and you’ll find The Temple of Apollo. If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, you’ll instantly recognise it as the spot where Mr Darcy confesses his love to Elizabeth.
Although small, the temple is impressive, with a ring of stone pillars surrounding its outer structure.
The Pantheon and Lake Grottos
Across the lake, directly opposite the Palladian bridge, is the Pantheon. Many visitors think of this building as the most impressive in the entire garden and when you see it, you’ll understand why.
The Pantheon is built as a replica of the original in Rome, although much smaller of course. Again, it’s a nod to Henry’s devout love of mythology. The outside is guarded by four large pillars and the building features a dome roof. Once you step inside, you’ll be greeted by several Greek and Roman statues, which adorn the circular interior.
While you’re on the Western side of the lake, don’t forget to visit the Grottos. Exploring these mysterious little caves feels like walking through a fairytale. There are lots of hidden statues and inscriptions inside, so keep your eyes open!
King Alfred’s Tower
If you find yourself with a few days in the area, King Alfred’s Tower is definitely worth visiting. It’s about an hour’s walk from Stourhead House or an 8 minute drive.
The triangular tower was built to symbolise the end of the Seven Years War. However, it’s also tactically placed near the site of the Battle of Edington (879). A battle which saw Anglo-Saxon King Alfred rally and beat the Danish army, led by Guthrum the Old. An inscription inside the building reads:
“ALFRED THE GREAT
AD 879 on this Summit
Erected his Standard
Against Danish Invaders
To him We owe The Origin of Juries
The Establishment of a Militia
The Creation of a Naval Force
ALFRED The Light of a Benighted Age
Was a Philosopher and a Christian
The Father of his People
The Founder of the English
MONARCHY and LIBERTY”
The monument is an impressive 49 metres high and can be climbed by an internal staircase. Although we warn you, it’s higher than it looks!
Other Highlights from Stourhead Estate Gardens
To highlight everything worth seeing in the Stourhead Estate would be impossible. But here are some honourable mentions:
- St. Peter’s Pump
- Bristol High Cross
- The Old Boathouse
- The Obelisk
- Gothic Cottage
- The Gatehouse
Things to See Around Stourhead Estate
Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to visiting areas surrounding Stourhead. The closest city, Bath, is only a 40 minute drive away and guaranteed to offer even more beautiful aesthetics. Yeovil and Salisbury also make a great base for exploring this green corner of Wiltshire and Somerset.
If you want some adventure, visit the safari park Longleat. The park features a drive-through monkey and wolf enclosure, so make sure your windows are firmly sealed! It’s great for families and better yet, it’s less than a 20 minute drive away.
Eating at Stourhead
The restaurant at Stourhead serves hot and cold lunches as well as delicious cakes, cream teas and hot drinks all day long.
There is also an outdoor kiosk providing takeaway options from the main restaurant as well as mouth watering ice cream.
Shopping at Stourhead
The Stourhead shop has everything you could want from souvenirs and gifts to fashion and homeware products. The shop houses some beautiful items for all the family so it really is worth taking a look around.
You can also find a plant centre at Stourhead housing many plants, shrubs, herbs and flowers for both your house and garden. Whether you’re looking to grow some vegetables or want to brighten up your borders, you’re sure to find something at this garden shop.
The substantial farm shop at Stourhead serves everything from butchery meats and deli products to locally supplied milk, cheese, fruit and vegetables. There is everything you could want from a farm shop here at Stourhead.
As if that wasn’t enough, there is also an art gallery and shop at Stourhead, The First-View Gallery. There are beautiful items from local artists including paintings, sculptures, ceramics, pottery and glassware perfect for a new addition to the home or a gift for someone special.
Opening Times for Stourhead
The House is currently open from 11am – 3pm daily.
The Garden, Restaurant and Car Park is open from 9.30am – 5pm daily.
The Shop is open from 11am – 4.30pm daily.
Ticket Prices for Stourhead
Entry into Stourhead House and Gardens is free for National Trust members.
For non-members, the prices are as follows:
Family (with one adult): £27
How to Get to Stourhead
How to Get to Stourhead by Car
Stourhead is near Mere in Wiltshire and the postcode you need to get to the main car park is BA12 6QD. Parking is free for National Trust members but for non-members, there is a pay and display system charging £4.
How to Get to Stourhead by Train
The nearest train station is Gillingham which is 6½ miles away from Stourhead. From this train station, you can get bus number 80 (coming from Frome) to Stourhead which takes 25 minutes. The bus arrives at Stourton bus shelter which is then a 9 minute walk to Stourhead.
How to Get to Stourhead by Bus
From Stourton bus shelter, you can walk to Stourhead (see How to Get to Stourhead by Train above). Another good option would be to get the number 25 bus from outside Salisbury train station to Zeals which is just 1¼ miles away from Stourhead.
Final Thoughts on Stourhead House and Gardens
Stourhead is a truly remarkable place of history. Despite over 200 years of architectural and natural changes, Henry Hoare’s vision remains intact even today. His love of Italian art and mythology lives on in both Stourhead House’s interior and gardens.
And there’s plenty to entertain even the most reluctant explorer, whether that be one of Stourhead’s walks around the garden or exploring classical paintings in the house.
Stourhead is a perfect example of how people always find inspiration from the past and repackage it for the future. So, if you feel like discovering a particularly beautiful time capsule, Stourhead is absolutely recommended.