17 October 2013

These heavenly hours - a visit to Stourhead Gardens

There are moments in your life when you catch a fleeting glimpse of what it might be like to wander in another, higher realm. This afternoon was just like that. The uniqueness of this place is unparalleled by any other place I've ever been before or ever will ever go in my lifetime.

It wasn't our maiden visit. When we last visited England over 5 years ago, we made another visit to Stourhead then. It was in spring rather than autumn and was actually a good deal warmer than this time. Nevertheless we came prepared with hats, coats and everything required to keep us warm in the stiff northerly breeze. It sounds funny saying that, as we are so used to the stiff southerly breeze bringing in the cold winds from Antarctica for us in NZ, and yet here it is of course the opposite, with the coldest winds blowing in off the Arctic.

Stourhead house and gardens is owned by The National Trust and is very well known as an English national treasure. The 1,000 hectare (2,500 acre) property is a photographer and botanist's dream, particularly in autumn with the turning of the leaves.

With the better than usual English summer that is only now dwindling away, the turning of the leaves is happening a little later this year, so there wasn't quite as much colour as I might have hoped for. But it really didn't matter - it is simply glorious all year round here.

It is incredible to think that this garden is nearly 300 years old, with the bulk of the architechtural design and planting happening in the mid 1700's.

Walking through the gardens is a visual symphony and around almost every corner you find yourself instinctively experiencing a sharp intake of breath.

The design of the garden is quite genius, and following a path around the lake is meant to evoke a journey reminiscent of one in ancient Greece. The monuments have been used to frame one another, for example the Pantheon entices the visitor to the other side of the lake, but once over there the extraordinary views back towards the bridge and Temple of Flora beckon the visitor back once more.

Finding helicopter leaves to fly a bonus for little ones embracing this other worldly journey we were on.

A fallen cedar from last season lies in wait for the opportunist to use its rings to measure its life.

Halfway round the lake there is an unusual grotto where a view of the lake is framed spectacularly through the rocks.

It's hard to know where to look there's so much to capture the attention.

The Pantheon is, in my opinion, the piece de resistance of the whole gardens, viewable almost from every path and angle on the journey.

On the way back, each little cave and rock arch provides a treasure trove to explore.

I vividly remember this tree from last time - it captured my heart with it's own heart carved so naturally into the trunk, and a black and white photo of it still remains on my wall at home to this day.

The sunlight, lower in the sky in autumn, only graces the tops of these trees, drawing out the gold and amber colour from within the canopy.

Before long we reluctantly found ourselves all the way back at the start.

We walk away with this view etched in our memories for all time. To be relived each moment we close our eyes.

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