Expanding out from the famous 300 acres of gardens is another 750 acres of landscaped park and deer park.
Ask people about Stowe, and most people would describe an iconic view, their favourite temple or a memory they have. Not many know about the 750 acres of parkland that surround the gardens. Just like the gardens they shelter, there are extensive areas of of man-made landscaping. Making use of trees, hills and lakes to manipulate the views. Grand avenues, secluded woods and monuments dot the parkland with areas created by 'Capability' Brown. Hidden treasures lie within and many are easy to miss on a visit to the gardens.
Whilst most visitors start their day through Bell Gate and into the centre of the ha-ha bordered gardens, a small path slips off to the right, allowing you to explore the vast parkland.
Sights and Sounds
As you venture through the parkland, it becomes clear how it compliments the grandeur of the gardens. Rather than existing as a separate entity, Lord Cobham had temples and monuments added to ensure the parkland served as an extension to his gardens. Some of these survive today. Highlights on your journey include:
Look to your right on your walk down Bellgate Drive and in the distance, you'll spot Stowe Castle overlooking the gardens. It was built in 1738 on the outskirts of the estate to act as an eye-catcher from the Temple of Friendship. Although it looks like a grand castle on a hill, it's actually a facade which hid a small farm behind and is now used as a business park. The avenue through the gates to the side of the Temple of Friendship leads out to Bycell Riding giving direct access to the farm.
Built in 1741, Bourbon Tower was built as a house for the estate's gamekeeper to provide a lookout point and control access to the gardens along a former road. The tower was built above to impress the french royal family on a visit in 1808. The most recent use was as a weapons store by the school.
Boycott Pavilions and Oxford Bridge
The Boycott Pavilions were built in 1729 and 1734 and stand either side of the Oxford Avenue, now used as the road to the school. The western pavilion was home to 'Capability' Brown during his time at Stowe. Oxford Bridge carries the Oxford Avenue across the Oxford Water and onto the North Front of the house. The formal entrance with its impressive welcome into the gardens was used exclusively for special guests on their visits to the gardens
Visitors to Stowe over the years may remember the Boycott Pavillions and the Oxford Bridge framing your drive to the gardens before our move to the New Inn.
Conduit House is possibly one of the most intriguing buildings of the parkland. It was originally called Gothic Umbrello and once sat within a grove of trees providing a secluded and sheltered view across the parkland. It's built over a vaulted reservoir which provided the house with fresh spring water until the 1950's. This is where the name Conduit House comes from.
Conduit house was once an at risk building in the gardens and was one of the first monuments that was restored in the 1990's.
Standing over 100 feet high, Wolfe's Obelisk is difficult to miss from around the gardens and parkland. It was moved in 1754 from the centre of the Octagon Lake, where it was used as a fountain, to its current position in the parkland. The layers of bricks were taken down and moved by hand as part of this. The obelisk serves as another eye catcher and can be seen from various locations within the gardens, standing alongside Lord Cobham's Pillar. It's dedicated to General Wolfe who was the victor of Quebec in 1759 and a friend of Earl Temple. The location in the parkland means the monument is regularly subjected to winds of up to 100 miles per hour. Three coats of lime wash help to protect against this.
Livestock in the parkland
Much of the parkland has been used for farming for thousands of years. It's made up of land acquired by the multiple owners over many years, to form the 900 acres seen today. An abundance wild animals and farm livestock live within the fields. On your travels, you'll probably spot sheep and cows and both have historical importance to Stowe.
Sheep have been grazed for hundreds of years. The family's original fortune came from the wool trade and that led to the growth of the estate. The sheep would also have provided food and helped to keep control of the grass growth. We still have sheep grazing on the estate to help maintain the historical views.
A Longhorn cattle herd resided at Stowe farm from 1790 and provided the Estate with valuable fresh meat. By 1840 it was one of the leading herds in the country and won many awards for the third Duke. Both can be seen in the parkland at certain times of the year
The lost village of Lamport
As the gardens grew, along with the ambitions of Lord Temple, more land was needed. The parkland created a seemingly endless and uninterrupted view beyond the gardens and virtually nothing could stand in the way. In much the same way that the village of Stowe had been absorbed into the gardens, Lamport, on the eastern edges of the estate was next in line. By the survey of 1633, Stowe was shown to own large parts of Lamport. By 1826, the Lamport estate was purchased and land used to form the Lamport gardens. The village was always seen to ruin the view upstream from the Palladian Bridge. The takeover of the village was not popular with the village residents who were more and more enclosed by the expanding gardens and parkland.
How to explore the parkland
There is free access to the parkland to members and non-members and unlike the gardens, bikes are welcome. It's a mostly flat route with gradual slopes so great for cyclists of any age. If you start at New Inn, a circular route around the garden is around 4 miles (6.43km). An adventure through the deer park is around 2 miles (3.21km). Footpaths and bridleways criss-cross the parkland and take in the many monuments hidden within. They're also open to exploring between dawn and dusk every day. Remember to wear solid shoes in winter. It can get quite muddy out there!