Stourhead is one the most influential and admired English landscape gardens. Even Horace Walpole, notorious for his bitchy comments on other people’s houses and gardens, was impressed.
Although the entire ensemble of the lake and the buildings ranged around it is artificial, it manages to convey an atmosphere of dreamlike harmony.
The intricate compositions and ever-changing views were clearly inspired by seventeenth-century landscape paintings.
There are also strong antiquarian and literary tropes, and originally there were even some exotic touches, including a Chinese-style bridge and pavilion.
The grotto, on the north side of the lake, takes the visitor down into the darkness where a river god a nymph reside. The temple of Apollo, by contrast, rises on an eminence on the opposite side of the lake, reaching towards the sun, Apollo’s symbol.
But the two buildings do reach out to each other: from an opening in the grotto the visitor can glimpse the temple of Apollo, which in turn reaches down through its reflection in the lake.
Parts of the garden are now in need of major conservation work. Our American partner organisation, the Royal Oak Foundation, has dedicated its 2014 appeal to raise funds for the temple of Apollo, the grotto and the pinetum at Stourhead.