Stowe missing monuments walk
This walk reveals the historic locations of many of the monuments and statues that are now missing.
Please note - do not follow the directional markers you will see on the walk as they are not intended for use with this one, they are for the separate 'secret places' walk.
New Inn, Buckingham, grid ref: SP681364
Turn right out of New Inn and follow the drive to Bell Gate. Turn left until you are between the two lake pavilions. On your right is the view across the Octagon Lake and the original site of the parterre.
Parterre and Octagon Lake
The landscape gardens at Stowe developed from a formal geometric garden designed by Charles Bridgeman. Like the rest of the gardens, the spectacular view you see here has evolved over the years. In the early 18th century, this consisted of three parterres in front of a much smaller mansion with a tight poplar avenue running down to an eight-sided lake (the Octagon Lake) with a Guglio in the centre. Eventually the view was changed - the two lake pavilions were moved further apart and the Corinthian arch was built in the distance.
Turn back towards Bell Gate and follow the path called Peggs Terrace beyond the Temple of Friendship. Proceed about 50yd (45m) and on your right there is a large iron gate. The school was originally sited beyond these gates.
Stowe School house
Near to where the school house once stood are two apple trees. One is not found anywhere other than Stowe and is known as the Stowe pear apple due to its odd pear-shaped appearance. This school was the village school and there's very little known about it other than that it was noted as a school house in 1827. Lady Buckingham had founded a school for local children but, after the first duke refurbished the original building, it moved here in the early 1820s and was demolished around 1839.
Continue to the Palladian bridge. As you cross the bridge on your right you will see the island in the distance where the Duke's Urn once stood.
The stone urn was erected in 1841 by the second duke, in memory of his father who had died in 1839. It was first placed east of the Palladian bridge near the Japanese garden which the first duke had created. Since 1931 it has been the central feature of the Chapel Court.
Move off the Palladian bridge and follow the lakeside path on your left. Continue across the wooden bridge and then turn right and follow the path uphill. Turn left at the Walking Yew and follow the path around to the right for the Temple of Ancient Virtue. We believe that Stowe village was located in this area.
The village once existed in the area of the Elysian Fields but, over time, the family evicted the villagers and rehoused them in Dadford. When the Elysian Fields were developed in the 1730s the village ponds were reshaped to form a river. The only surviving remnant of the village is now Stowe Church.
The Temple of Modern Virtue is to the left of the Temple of Ancient Virtue and the ruins of Modern Virtue are hidden beneath a large yew tree.
Temple of Modern Virtue
The two temples, Modern Virtue and Ancient Virtue, are designed to illustrate the two paths that a person can take through life - virtuous or debauched. Modern Virtue is easy to get to but leads only to ruins, showing what happens if you take the easy route through life. The Temple of Ancient Virtue is at the end of a much more difficult route but is a far superior structure featuring some of the greats from ancient Greece - showing what you can achieve if you take the harder, more virtuous path through life.
Take the path between Ancient and Modern Virtue and follow the evergreen walk which leads south from the temple of Ancient Virtue. Walk behind the ruins and follow a path to your left. The site of the Gothic cross is visible beside the path on your right.
Further south along the concealed path is the site of the Gothic Cross. This elaborate rectangular structure was three stories high. Only the bottom sides survive and the rest has yet to be rebuilt. It was constructed in 1814 from Coade stone by the first Duke. He may have been inspired by Queen Eleanor’s crosses and built the Gothic cross in memory of his mother who died in 1812.
Continue on the path passing the site of the Witches' House in front of the yew trees.
Near the Doric arch used to be the curious Witches' House. It may have been a wooden structure and was possibly designed by Vanbrugh before 1726, since his widow later had a plan of it. It could even be the 'little house in the wood' of 1719. The room was an irregular rectangle with uneven doors and little windows. By 1735, the inside had been very poorly painted to suit its name by Thomas Ferrand, 'a servant of Lord Cobham'. It was probably removed in about 1768 when the Doric arch was rebuilt nearby.
At the end turn left and follow the path downhill towards the water, turning right at the Walking Yew. Follow the path, keeping the wooden bridge on your left, to join the lakeside path on your right. Continue along – Stowe House will be on your right. Turn right when you are opposite the Lake Pavilions to enter the Sleeping Wood. Continue up and the Sleeping Parlour is at the top of this path.
This was a square, double-fronted building, also called the Temple of Sleep, erected in 1725 probably to Vanbrugh’s design. Its tetra-style porticoes, with square fluted Ionic columns are similar to his Temple of Four Winds at Castle Howard. Each front had a central door and two windows. Inside were paintings of festoons and heads of Roman emperors along with couches for sleepy visitors. It was sited in the new wilderness where six walks met, bordered by flowers and every kind of shrub. The sleeping parlour was demolished in 1760.
Take the well-defined path that is the second exit from this space: you should have Stowe House on your right and another path between you and the house. Follow to the end and turn left onto the path. Take the first path on your right and turn right when you reach the water. Follow the path along with the water on your left then take the path on the left once you reach the end. Continue till you see an opening on your left and a bench, from here you have a splendid view across to the Cascade.
The artificial ruins form a rockwork arch providing a charming frame for the view over the cascade into the Eleven Acre Lake. To the east there is an enchanting view of the Palladian bridge and Congreves Monument on Monkey Island. Three low arches for the water out-fall were built in 1728-29. The ruins existed by 1738, probably to a design by Kent. They were given elaborate additions in 1751-58 but these have been removed, as have the statues which embellished them (two river gods and a dancing Venus with two satyrs and a Neptune).
Follow the lakeside path past the Temple of Venus and take the first left to the boathouse in the wood which stands on the site of the urn. From here, if you follow the path and take the first right you will come back to the starting point, the view over the Octagon Lake between the two lake pavilions.
Cooper's (or Cowpers') Urn
This large stone urn with a wooden seat around its plinth was erected by 1827. It stood on the southern side of the Eleven Acre Lake, west of the Hermitage until its sale in 1921.
Bell Gate, Stowe, grid ref: SP677369
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.