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Stourhead's Paradise

A gentle walk through the Stourhead Estate.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 262ft (80m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Parkland and woodland paths and tracks, 2 stiles

Landscape Woodland and parkland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 142 Shepton Mallet; 143 Warminster & Trowbridge

Start/finish ST 779340 (on Explorer 142)

Dog friendliness Under control through Stourhead Estate; off lead on White Sheet Hill. No dogs in Stourhead Gardens March-October

Parking Free National Trust car park at Stourton

Public toilets Stourhead Visitor Centre and Spread Eagle courtyard

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1 Leave the car park via the exit and turn left down the lane into Stourton village passing the Spread Eagle Inn, St Peter's Church and the entrance to Stourhead Gardens. (Note: National Trust members or those paying to visit the Gardens and Stourhead House should access the village via the visitor centre.) Continue along the lane, pass beneath the Rock Arch and turn immediately right along a track.

2 Pass beside the lake, cross a cattle grid and follow the track to Beech Cottage. Keep left along the track, to a stile beside a gate and ignore the Stour Valley Way signposted to the right. At a fork, bear right through the gate, signed 'Alfred's Tower'.

3 Proceed ahead on the grassy track along the top of the field to a further gate and stile, noting the ruins of Tucking Mill and Cottages on your left. Walk through the woodland and take the first track right (by a silver National Trust sign) into coniferous woodland. Ascend steeply to reach Broad Ride, a wide grassy swathe through the woodland.

4 Turn left to a gate and the Iron-Age hill fort at Park Hill. Do not cross the stile, but bear right along the narrow path beside the fence to reach a track. Turn right and shortly turn sharp left downhill through the woodland to a stile and Six Wells Bottom.

5 Turn right and bear diagonally left across the valley bottom, keeping left of the lake, heading uphill to a gate on the edge of woodland. Continue up the track to a gate and turn immediately left up the bank to pass the Obelisk, with Stourhead House clearly visible now to your right.

6 On reaching the track, turn right towards Stourhead House. At a junction of tracks, turn right through a gate and pass in front of the house. Walk down the drive.

7 Pass underneath the gate house and turn left up the lane back to the car park. National Trust members and visitors who have paid to enter the Stourhead gardens and house can bear right just before the gatehouse and walk through the walled garden and across a bridge to return to the car park via the visitor centre.

Although without the immediate charm of similar estate villages like Lacock and Castle Combe, Stourton enjoys an idyllic setting in a valley on the edge of the Stourhead Estate. Beautifully preserved, consisting of a pleasing group of 18th-century cottages, an inn, St Peter's Church and a graceful medieval cross, its unique atmosphere is attributable to the glorious views across a lake and one of Europe's finest landscaped parkland gardens.

Wealthy banker Henry Hoare acquired Stourhead in 1717. He promptly pulled down medieval Stourton House, and commissioned Colen Campbell, the foremost architect and designer of the day, to build a new Palladian style house. Extended in the 1780s by Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the magnificent interior includes an outstanding Regency library, a significant collection of Chippendale furniture and fine paintings in the elegant gallery.

But Stourhead is more famous for its gardens, designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out between 1741 and 1745. Now in the care of the National Trust, they are an outstanding example of the English landscape style. Inspired by the landscapes he had seen in Italy and by the artists Claude Lorraine and Nicholas Poussin, Hoare set out to create a poetic landscape at Stourhead. Having dammed the River Stour and diverted the medieval fish ponds to create a large lake, he began his three-dimensional 'painting', planting beechwoods to clothe the hills and frame new lakes. Classical temples, including the Pantheon and the Temple of Apollo, were skillfully located around the central lake at the end of a series of vistas, which change as you stroll around the estate. You will find the gardens a memorable place to visit at any time, but walk this way in spring for the spectacular display of rhododendrons and azaleas, and in late October for the beautiful autumnal colours.

This walk explores some of the tranquil tracks and paths that criss-cross the surrounding farmland and woodland. Along the way, at Park Hill, you will cross a large bank, formerly the boundary to the original deer park created in 1448 by John Stourton, and pass an Iron-Age hill fort covering 6 acres (2.4ha).

Where to eat and drink

Adjacent to the car park is the National Trust's restaurant serving teas, coffees and light lunches. Alternatively, enjoy a pint and a ploughman's at the Spread Eagle in the village or stop at the Red Lion below White Sheet Hill.

While you're there

Don't miss climbing King Alfred's Tower on the edge of the Stourhead Estate. This intriguing red brick folly, built in 1772, stands 160ft (48m) high and affords magnificent views across Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.

What to look for

In Beech Clump below White Sheet Hill, look out for the memorial dedicated to the airmen who lost lost their lives in Dakota TS436 No 107OTU Leicester East, which crashed here after taking off from RAF Zeals on 19th February 1945.

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