England went mad: with the Easter weather forecast of doom for three of the four-day weekend, today was the day to get out. And get out everyone did! Up and down the land, queues formed for just about everything.
Having just renewed my National Trust membership, I was eager to visit Stowe House and Gardens near Buckingham, once the county town of Buckinghamshire in the 10th century until Aylesbury assumed the mantle early in the 18th century. It’s fairly flat country with extensive farmland – a lot of sheep with their offspring – and the vista’s are impressive. The drive up Grand Avenue towards the house is just that, grand, and the road undulates towards the Corinthian Arch that will either intimidate or impress the guests.
The 200 hectare 18th century site is difficult to describe as it’s vast, filled with crafted and hewn landscapes, temples, bling, statues of long-dead grandees, columns and man-made lakes. Like an 18th century Nkandla, without a fire pool or helipad, this was an estate and home where money was no object. From humble beginnings and a fortune made from sheep farming, Sir Richard Temple began building a mansion in 1677. This building is now at the core of the current mansion and had a formal terraced garden with straight walks to the south and a walled kitchen garden close by. Transformed by Capability Lancelot Brown who worked here as head gardener and clerk of works from 1741 – 1751 he designed the grand vista’s we see today.
As you stroll through the grounds, structures appear from behind trees, or over the brow of a hill and I was unsure whether to take a closer look. Unlike it’s financier Lord Cobham, the hidden political meanings and cultural nuances he created were just too subtle for me.
It’s a strangely unfriendly place, unsure now of its identity as the school, independent Stowe House Preservation Trust, and National Trust sit cheek-by-jowl, all playing their role in education, preservation and conservation. Apart from the golf course that has its fairway right in front of the main house, so unless you want to be knocked on the head with a golf ball, it’s best to walk elsewhere. “Good shot Terry!” rang out in the spring sunshine.
We were hungry so make our way past endless refreshment queues and headed home, past the little princes’ and skipping princesses on their way to enjoy an Easter parade.
One more stop on the way home to savour a little gem; Old Thornborough Bridge, a wonderful 14th century ‘cut waters’ bridge design that diverted debris and allowed passing places for pedestrians and is what the original London Bridge probably looked like, but on a grander scale of course. This is the rural equivalent, and sits alongside the very busy A421 and is what I love about England: just like Avebury, the best bits can be enjoyed out in the countryside, often obscured, overtaken or ignored as we rush through the landscape, hardly ever finding the time to stop and savour. I am glad we visited Stowe!