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A Classical Wondering of Wiltshire…

Late May Bank Holiday weekend and I have another trip planned. I am heading West and I have two places in mind.

The first is Stourhead. To get to Stourhead, it is approximately a 2 hour drive from Hertfordshire via the M3 passing Stonehenge along the way which is the pagans favourite for the solstices.

Stourhead is a National Trust site with stunning gardens and a historical house. Set deep in the Wiltshire landscape is a 300 year old mansion surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens covering 2,650 acres and with a rich history. The history begins with a family who were goldsmiths turned bankers. The Hoare family.

As turned bankers they founded Hoare & Co in 1672 which is the UK’s oldest privately owned bank whom of which are still in operation.

When you read up on the history, you will note the National Trust states the family were ‘blessed and cursed in equal measure.’ They were blessed in business but it seems there was a lot of personal tragedy along the way.

As you enter the grounds, you will find yourself walking over a bridge and into a small orchard garden, follow the path, you come out onto a road and will note it as a small village. Bearing left up the road onto a long driveway and the Hoare family’s former residence comes into focus. This is a house of which is not just pure grandeur from the outside but it is filled with rich history and renaissance decor. Due to Covid there were restrictions but from the guide book you can purchase, you get a feel for the finery within. This is not limited to just the house.

As you continue on and follow the one way system set up by the National Trust, you are soon in awe of the magnificent gardens concealed behind. It’s nothing short of spectacular.

Map from National Trust

You have the obvious manicured lawns and then you are hit with colourful rhododendrons, trees and a small meadow, that overlooks a view you are presented with from a view point downwards into the small village. You continue on the pathway through the magnificently colourful Rhododendrons (depending on the time of year you visit), you see a smattering of bluebells through the woodlands. The colour scheme of the planting certainly keeps your attention ever diverting.

Following the path further down you start a descent into what can only be described as a secret garden…

The first view you get on this descent into a larger sea of vibrantly colourful rhododendrons which in turn frames a romantic view of the famous Temple of Apollo sat on top of the sweeping landscaped gardens and for those of you who loved the film adaptations of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, most notably the 2005 production by Working Titles, you will instantly recognise this as the place where Elizabeth Bennet played by Keira Knightley, first rejects Mr Darcy’s proposal of marriage.

However, aside from the famous film links, this structure was designed and erected by Henry Flitcroft. Reading about this remarkable gentleman, clearly shows that creativity in a bad situation can take you on a journey to prominence. It could be said that Flitcroft was a pioneer of his time in the 17th century and that his vision which would have seemed unrealistic or overly ambitious for his time, but this ambition remains erected to this day and is what took him from being a humble carpenter, who suffered an injury whilst working, to a renowned architect.

As you continue to follow the path, it winds to the left and you can see the famous lake. At the bottom of this winding path your attention is immediately drawn to the Palladian bridge and quoted in Henry Flitcroft’s own words “I took it from Palladio’s bridge at Vicenza 5 arches; and when you stand at the Pantheon the water will be seen thro the arches and it will look as if the river came down through the village and that was the village bridge for publick use.’ (Referenced in the National Trust guide).

Walk a little further down the path or onto the grass towards the lake and you will see The Pantheon across the lake with both the bridge and Patheon reflecting in the calm waters, you can see from my photography. The public are not permitted onto the bridge but you can get close enough to admire the structure and romance of the immediate landscape setting.

This area is also popular with visitors for picnics, especially on a day like this where temperatures were soaring with only a very gentle breeze to mildly cool the air.

I had bizarrely decided to use a purple filter on the day and whilst I present to you my RAW images, these have had editing to remove the tint of the filter as it was incredibly intense. It had rendered my photography on this day as not suitable or to my taste for display, but by the power of Photoshop I have brought to you the images in colour correction glory and can confirm the colours are as true to the day as technically possible. I had also taken some shots with my iPhone that have enabled me to get as best a match for the colouring shown.

I continued to walk on in my purple haze blissfully unaware the images weren’t as they should be and it wasn’t because I was clueless to what I was doing, Stourhead is incredibly distracting in its glory and the light so bright, I was really able to see that clearly off the tiny LCD screen on the rear of my camera. You can imagine my horror when I uploaded the next day. However, I have digressed here, so let’s get back to the walk, history and photography.

I continued to walk further round the edge of the lake before taking a path up and round, before taking a stroll down to the edge of the lake. There I see an array of ducks, geese and a pair of mute swans with their single signet. A lone carp skims the surface of the lake, basking in the warmth of the early summer sun. I take a few shots of the mallard couple and the view before me and after taking a brief break on the bench, I head up back towards the main path.

I next come to another structure, known as the ice house and take in the view at this angle, as I then move on round the path, I come across another stunning view. It’s a cut off pathway towards the lake, with the stunning blue sky enhancing the framing from the acer trees before me, it reminds me of scenes out of the old Agatha Christie murder mysteries set back in 20’s or 30’s, a time long forgotten.

The path continues to wind around the vast lake and as you continue on, the views catch your breath over and over. You are soon winding around a bend heading into a lakeside woodland. You move ever further on and pass through a stone arch which seemingly transports you into another dimension.

The Grotto is a wonderous man made cavern with water features feeding from the lake internally with sculptures. You see ferns and then a cavernous window that looks out to the Palladian bridge framing a wondrous view with colour pops from the intense pinks and purples of the rhododendrons. as you walk through, you move up hill via some stone steps, surrounded by various fern varieties and another spectacular view meets you as you look back to where you have just walked from.

A small thatched cottage comes into view. This is known as the Gothic Cottage. You’d be forgiven for thinking it may have been a small rectory in the grounds, given the church style windows and stone seating furnishing the exterior, adding to it’s unintentional charm. It is said this was a fashionable design for men of taste towards the end of the eighteenth century.

As you pass this quaint cottage, you come to the Pantheon which is referenced as the home of Hercules. However, we are talking about the sculpture of Hercules which sits within. The sculpture itself is said to have been modelled on a London prize-fighter named Jack Broughton who was a fine physic of a man. As you press onwards along the pathway, you take another glimpse back across the lake and you have a view of a tall imposing tree on and island reflecting in the lake.

You soon come to another bridge and as you cross over, you are hit with another wave of colour which trails down a descending pathway. To your left you see a river leading to another lake, the sound of running water brings your attention to a mill and waterfall, functioning in the near distance. If you look keep your attention focused as you amble round the lake, you will see the Ice House opposite and a sunken jetty in the waters.

You then come to a crossroads as such and you can choose to go onwards along the path or follow another stone cavern arch with steps within, which takes you up a steep incline. I chose the latter and found myself walking along the upper landscape of woodlands, before coming out to the Temple of Apollo. There I had this stunning view across the vast acres of the gardens and lake.

From here you get a real feel for the immense beauty of Stourhead and in the May sunshine and clear blue skies, you really do just stop and admire in all it’s awe and take in the tranquility. It really is a place that brings peace to your soul.

You can see from my photography, I was able to capture the tiniest of details, like the bellis daisies smattering the greens of the grass with their delicate white petals and the different tree planting and general planting colour scheme. When I visit certain places, I generally aim to document my view to take the reader on a journey of discovery. Stourhead is one of those places where you cannot really fail to achieve this.

As I take a steep cobbled path down from the Temple, I enter another rocky tunnel and come out on the pathway below. I take a shot of the Temple from below before continuing on and this is where you need to have all your senses active and always remember to look up…

I say look up as trees aren’t always just leaves, they are so much more! There is the details of the bark depending on the age of the tree. Some have leaves that resemble flowers like this one and under its canopy of green and white, it makes you feel like you are anywhere but in the UK.

As I come to the end of my walk around Stourhead, I head out and I pass the Bristol Cross which had visitors resting on it below, enjoying their picnic in the heat. I then come out to a small village and head up pass the church into a courtyard with a pub. I am in need of a spot of lunch myself and I am then to head to my next destination. Westbury or known to some is the neighbouring Bratton Camp.

After lunch and a brief rest, it is a 30 minute drive north and this will be my final Wiltshire destination of the day. I arrive in Westbury after a minor misdirection by my sat nav which initially took me to the army barracks of Bratton Camp and not to the Westbury side where I am to walk the rolling hills home to the Westbury White Horse.

The White Horse on the Hill at Westbury is an old familiar for me, from my childhood. Dating back to the iron age, the horse was carved into the landscape approximately 400 years ago. English Heritage have said that records dating back to 1742, suggest the horse was carved into the landscape to commemorate the supposed Battle of Ethandun, which is thought to have taken place at Bratton Camp in AD 878.

The hillside is chalk ground and this is obvious from the narrow pathways, however, this is not the only white horse carved into the Wiltshire landscape. There is in fact a total if eight in a 90 mile radius. However, the Westbury one is the most imposing one of the eight.

I take a stroll down to what looks like a cliff edge on this steep landscape and whilst snapping the view, a bumble bee makes its way onto my hand. I sit there just letting it have a buzz and a wonder, enjoying the rest and the gentle breeze cooling the sticky air.

I place my hand back down and encourage it to climb onto some small blue flowers which are trailing through the grass. I have a really strong connection with nature and can often be found doing things, many wouldn’t dare to. Bees are actually very gentle and will only sting in defence. Often, when they are like this one, it is from exhaustion and a little help, is always met with gratitude from these tiny furries.

I decide to go for a walk along the chalk ridge and during this walk I spot a butterfly. I initially assume it is a species of fritillary. This butterfly is pretty aggressive and I follow it, watching it pick fights with a pair of tortoiseshells and a painted lady. I am keen to get a shot. Blues whizz past and in the heat, there is no way I am following after the amount of walking I have already done. I come across a queen bee mating in the grass and as I usually see many people on social media baffled as to what is going on when they see these activities, I took another small video. My iPhone is most certainly not thankful for this effort and my battery is getting very low.

The views of the landscape are stunning and you can see the shadows of the clouds moving in shading areas below.

As my battery begins to die, I take one last attempt to capture this butterfly that has been eluding me over the chalk landscape and as I head back towards my car, it lands on the steps in front of me. At this point there is no one else near me, or so I thought and as always a usually simple photography shot gets made a little more difficult.

A booming voice comes from behind just as I am lining up my shot and it takes every little bit of strength in me not to swear at this man. ” Hey, I want to see what the lady is doing!” I think she is taking a photo. my thoughts are which part of huge camera is not obvious? I mutter back, “Erm, could you keep the noise down please? Butterflies and particularly this one are very sensitive to air vibration and noise.” He looks a little puzzled. I have this challenge every time when trying to explain basics of nature to members of the public. ” Ok ok he says, but can I also get your instagram details?”.

I am huffing by this point not that he can see this, but I have now had three attempts in this short period and just as the butterfly stops and I am lining up, he starts talking again. Is he for real?

Finally, it settles back on the steps and I grab two super fast bursts, killing the last of my iPhone battery in a pot luck attempt as he begins talking again. Oh my god, which part of be quiet does he not get?

He then says, “Did you get it?” I hope you got it, I want to see”. With a concealed eye roll, I say yes I think I have but I won’t know now, how good it is until I upload. Unfortunately this is becoming a regular habit where people like you see me with a camera and then creep up behind me and start talking which makes it very difficult for me to get shots.” He looks puzzled. “Oh”, he finally says. He then asks again for my instagram and then retorts, that’s too long for me to remember. I am at this point face planting and walk off. Another lady who had been watching this hilarious exchange from a distance, stops me and says, “Did, you get it?”. I confirm and she replies, she was feeling my frustration watching me trying to keep the man and his family quiet as I tried to capture, what I can now confirm is a Wall Brown.

Allelujah, it is now time for a cold bottle of water, a Mr. Whippy and then the long drive home.

My next adventure takes me to Sussex and without the faux pas use of purple filter, keep your eyes peeled for the next release. I hope so far you are all enjoying my works and my write ups.

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1 thought on “A Classical Wondering of Wiltshire…

  1. 🤩most of it looks like Greece…so amazing😍

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