Savour the delights of Stowe, with its famous 18th-century landscape garden and surrounding parkland.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths, estate drives, stretches of road, 5 stiles
Landscape Farmland and parkland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 192 Buckingham & Milton Keynes
Start/finish SP 684357
Dog friendliness Under control across farmland, on lead within Stowe Park
Parking On-street parking in Chackmore
Public toilets Stowe Landscape Garden
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 Walk through Chackmore, pass the Queens Head, and continue through the village. At the speed derestriction signs, keep ahead for a few paces and look for a path on the left. Aim diagonally right in the field, passing under power lines. Make for a stile beneath the branches of an oak tree in the corner where waymarks indicate that the path forks.
2 Cross the field towards two stiles, making for the one on the left, beyond which is a plank bridge. Keep to the right boundary of an elongated field and when it widens, go diagonally right to the far corner. Stowe Castle is over to the right, and to the left the outline of the Corinthian Arch is just visible among the trees. Join a track, pass under telegraph wires and look for a gap and waymark as the track curves right by the hedge corner. Veer over to the right in the field and look for a path signposted 'Farey Oak'. Avoid this route and make for a footbridge and stile just a few paces away.
3 Cross into the field and head up the slope, keeping to the left of two distant houses. Head for a single-storey dwelling in the top corner and as you climb the slope, the outline of the Gothic Temple looms into view. Go through a galvanised gate at Lamport and continue ahead on the bridleway. The Bourbon Tower is clearly visible over to the right. Pass through a gate and keep ahead towards a monument commemorating the Duke of Buckingham. Merge with another path and keep a sports ground on your right.
4 Make for a gate leading out to an avenue of trees running down towards the Grecian Valley. Cross over and follow the grass track up to a clump of trees. Bear left here and follow the wide avenue, part of a Roman road. Pass the magnificent façade of Stowe School and keep along the main drive. On reaching the Boycott Pavilions, branch off half left at a stile and sign for the Corinthian Arch. Down below lies the Oxford Water, crossed by a splendid 18th-century stone bridge.
5 Follow the drive through the parkland with glimpses of temples and classical designs. The drive eventually reaches the Corinthian Arch. Line up with the arch and pause here to absorb the breathtaking view of Stowe School, surely one of Britain's stateliest vistas. Walk down the avenue to the road junction, swing left and return to Chackmore.
Stowe has been described as England's greatest work of art and possibly the world's most bewitching landscape garden. But how did it all begin? It was Sir Richard Temple (1634-97), one of Marlborough's generals and described as 'the greatest Whig in the army', who first built a brick mansion here. Work eventually came to an end in 1839 when Stowe's then owner, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, a descendant of Lord Cobham, suffered financial problems and was declared bankrupt.
Temple's son (1669-1749, also Sir Richard) married a wealthy brewery heiress, became Lord, and later Viscount Cobham and began to extend the house and park. He prided himself on his reputation as a great radical - anti-Stuart and pro-liberty, greatly endorsing the ideals of the Glorious Revolution. Although work on the gardens at Stowe started in 1711, it wasn't until Lord Cobham fell out with the George II and his Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, that the idea of an experiment in 'moral gardening' really seized him.
Cobham threw himself wholeheartedly into the project. His aim was to create a garden of ideas; a place symbolising the notion of liberty. Historians maintain that Cobham was attempting to rewrite the history of Britain, using buildings and landscape.
In 1713 Stowe employed only half a dozen garden staff, but five years later there were almost 30 gardeners. Work at Stowe became a way of life, and so anxious was Cobham for the momentum not to be broken that, when his head gardener Edward Bissell broke his leg, he called for a specially adapted chair so that Bissell could continue to work.
In total, Cobham designed eight lakes, constructed more than three dozen temples, and commissioned 50 statues and 40 busts. The country's finest artists and designers, including James Gibbs, William Kent and Sir John Vanbrugh, were employed to help create what James Thomson described as 'the fair majestic paradise of Stowe'. Even Lancelot 'Capability' Brown had a hand in it, beginning his career here in 1741.
Lord Cobham's successors consolidated his work by improving and adding to the garden. However, by the mid-19th century, the family fortunes had ebbed away and the estate was sold. After a further sale in 1921, Cobham's vision of an earthly paradise, described by Alexander Pope as 'a work to wonder at', was left virtually empty. The house became a school and the National Trust acquired the garden in 1989.
The triangular Gothic Temple, used by the Landmark Trust as a holiday let, can be seen from the walk, as can Stowe Castle, a remarkable eye-catcher built in the 18th century. Look out, too, for the Bourbon Tower, which was built in the 1740s as a gamekeeper's lodge in iron-rich Northamptonshire limestone and given an octagonal turret in 1845.
The walk skirts the garden, offering good views of its classical features. Stowe is very large and visitors often allow most of the day for a leisurely tour. One of Stowe's most popular features is the Grecian Valley, overlooked by the Temple of Concorde and Victory. The valley was 'Capability' Brown's first large-scale design and consists of a lovely sloping glade with vistas towards monuments of Lord Cobham and General Wolfe.
The Queens Head in Chackmore offers a range of traditional beers, including Banks. There is also a beer garden and a choice of meals and snacks - ranging from baguettes and chilli to lasagne and steak and kidney pudding. There is a licensed tea room at Stowe, serving morning coffee, light lunches and afternoon tea. A children's menu is also available. Alternatively, bring a picnic - permitted only in the Grecian Valley.