The Sleeping Wood at Stowe

A winding grass path leads to the Sleeping Wood at Stowe. The paths has borders of shrubs and seasonal roses and has a bech at the top.

A romantic story lies behind the historic design of the Sleeping Wood at Stowe. Delve into the deeper meanings from the tale of Sleeping Beauty that inspired this magical part of the Western Garden.

History of The Sleeping Wood

This wilderness garden was designed by Charles Bridgeman and John Vanborough with the Sleeping Parlour being built by 1725. It was purposely made to disorientate those that walked within it. Inside the centre of the wood you'd find the Sleeping Parlour with the interior decorated with murals and a message – ‘Since all things are uncertain, indulge thyself.’ 

This image was drawn by Bickham in 1750 showing the now lost Sleeping Parlour at Stowe
A line drawing of a closed ceiling building with urns on the top corners and a porch with columns and steps. This was The Sleeping Parlour in 1750 at Stowe.
This image was drawn by Bickham in 1750 showing the now lost Sleeping Parlour at Stowe

The themes and areas of the large gardens at Stowe can be split onto three topics, Vice, Virtue and Liberty. The Sleeping Wood sits along the Path of Vice, a trail which invites you along a route to see temples and views that reflect love and lust.

Sleeping Beauty

The design of the Sleeping Wood at Stowe inspired by Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty in the Wood circa 1697. Charles Perrault’s moral from this story was that women should not rush into marriage, that love is worth waiting for. 

It's up to you after discovering the stories of indulgence and its consequences where to go next. Do you remain in the Wood waiting for Love, return to the Path of Vice or move on to find virtue and liberty?

To physically represent this story, the Sleeping Parlour was set in a mazy wood, with closet paths winding through the shrubberies, but all the alleys led to the centre with the parlour in the middle of a secret clearing. The topic of sleep was signified by the grotesque grinning masks on the urns on the buildings walls – now relocated on the Oxford Bridge. 

Video

The benches in the Sleeping Wood

Gardens historian Richard Wheeler gives you a closer view of the benches within the Sleeping Wood at Stowe in this short video clip.

The gardeners have restored the Wood to its former glory, re-creating the twisting paths and wooded planting. Though you can now only see the base of the Sleeping Parlour in the ground, you can get a feel for what it looked like by taking a closer look the benches – they are carved with the faces originally on the Parlour urns. 

A special stone slab has been laid at the foot of where the parlour once stood engraved with the original quote ‘Since all things are uncertain, indulge thyself.’

Formal to fashionably relaxed

The gardens at Stowe went through periods of changes. Originally designed in a formal layout with straight avenues leading to direct views and an octagon shaped lake, everything was transformed when the landscape movement swept country gardens to become more naturalised.

The Sleeping Wood sits to the left of one of the main avenues and with time was exanded and could be discovered on a new variety of paths as the gardens were changed to reflect the new fashion. 

A historic map shows a section of the gardens at Stowe from 1739. You can see a more formal straight lined path network. The Sleeping Wood is to the North West of the large octagon shaped lake and is a central circle with straight and winding paths.
A black and white map of the gardens at Stowe dating back to 1739
A historic map shows a section of the gardens at Stowe from 1739. You can see a more formal straight lined path network. The Sleeping Wood is to the North West of the large octagon shaped lake and is a central circle with straight and winding paths.
This historic map of Stowe shows the layout from 1756. You can notice how the octagon shaped lake has now been softened into a rounded shape and the Sleeping Wood is accessed on new paths.
A black and white map of the gardens at Stowe dating back to 1756
This historic map of Stowe shows the layout from 1756. You can notice how the octagon shaped lake has now been softened into a rounded shape and the Sleeping Wood is accessed on new paths.

When you find your way to the centre of the Wood, share your picture with us: #indulgethyself on Twitter.