A spooky Stourhead story

The Pantheon seen from across the lake in the winter at Stourhead, Wiltshire

This story is said to have happened a very long time ago, a hundred years ago to be precise. It happened here at Stourhead, in the days when it was still a private garden, and only the owner and his family and friends came to see it. This means it was a lonely place, and most of the time was quite empty.

One day at the end of October some friends of the owner, were taken around the lake by one of the gardeners and shown all the wonderful sights.  Halloween was near, and all the trees and bushes were in their bright autumn colours - red, gold and orange reflecting in the still water.  The gardener told the visitors all about the trees and the plants and the ducks and swans, but he seemed reluctant to talk about the magnificent buildings that they passed. At last, the father of the family asked ‘what about this stone bridge, with the soft turf over it? Is there a story about this?’  The gardener paused for a minute and a cold shiver seemed to pass over the land.  ‘They do say that there is a Warty Troll that lives under that bridge’, he said.  ‘They do say that he likes to catch unwary children and eat them’.

The youngest child of the family, a little boy of four, began to cry because he didn’t want to be eaten.  ‘Don’t worry,’ said the gardener.  ‘It’s only a story and any way, it only happens after dark’.

As they walked on around the lake, the gardener told them other stories about the places they passed.  He told them how the Crystal Ghosts lurked in the dark tunnel that led up to the Temple of Apollo on its high hill.  ‘They are brittle and crackly, glassy and spiky,’ he said, ‘and they do say that they prick and tickle anyone they can get hold of and fly up with them to the top of the dome, where they laugh and cackle at their cleverness.’

In the grotto, the gardener told them about the Slimy Creature that lurks behind the white statue of the Sleeping Lady.  ‘It slithers out with a slurpy sound, slipping it tentacles around people and gobbles them up while humming to itself.  ‘I’ve not seen it myself,’ he said, ‘But they do say as how that’s what happens.’

‘In the Pantheon, the statues come alive at night,’ he said, ‘If they catch anyone, the statues make them go round the garden in the dark and collect twigs and branches. These they must weave into clothes to keep the statues warm’.  ‘What if they don’t know how to weave clothes out of twigs and branches’ asked Amelia, the girl of the family, who was a bit older than her brother. ‘Oh, then they just toss the people into the lake,’ replied the gardener. ‘Or at least, that’s what they say’.

The Gothic Cottage becomes surrounded by autumn colour
The Gothic Cottage at Stourhead in autumn
The Gothic Cottage becomes surrounded by autumn colour

The only place the gardener didn’t know much about was the Gothic Cottage.  ‘I haven’t heard about anything nasty here,’ he said. ‘They say there is a Ghost in the cottage, known as the Ghost of Stourhead.  It is supposed to look after the garden at night.  But you must remember, it’s only a story, and anyway, it only happens after dark.’

Are you brave enough to read on? If so, pick up the full story when you visit around Hallowe'en.