Under the Hawthorn at Stowe

In the autumn of 2019, we opened the door to the Grecian Valley at Stowe for visitors to uncover how the designed landscape has inspired our predecessors and still draws creative responses today. There were opportunities to take in the restored statues and monuments on walks, guided tours, try a new digital app and read Poet-in-Residence Dan Simpson's collection of poems for Stowe.

Tell me about the project

To celebrate Stowe as a place of creative inspiration, we enlisted the help of a Poet-in-Residence to produce a contemporary response to the Grecian Valley using their modern-day perspective to reflect on the eighteenth-century rural idyll. Immersing himself in a variety of activities within the landscape over the year, Dan performed the final poem on National Poetry Day, 3 October 2019. 

" I'm thrilled to be appointed as Stowe's Grecian Valley Poet-in-Residence. There will be a bloom of creativity, and I can't wait to explore the rich history and horticulture of this unique landscape - making new poetry for the place and the people who enjoy it. "

Dan has now built up a large collection of poems whilst creating brand new poetic forms inspired by the sightlines and Ha-ha of the garden to name a few. This new book is available to buy from the shop for £3. 

Dan Simpson's Under the Hawthorn poetry book is now available to buy from the shop at Stowe.
Poetry booklets
Dan Simpson's Under the Hawthorn poetry book is now available to buy from the shop at Stowe.

What is pastoralism?

Pastoralism was fashionable in eighteenth century elite culture and was expressed through poetry, literature, music and art. The genre celebrated the countryside as a rural idyll, a place inhabited by shepherds and shepherdesses living simply and in harmony with nature.

You'll find pastoral imagery incorporated into the landscape at Stowe through statuary and views of the garden and parkland, which provides garden visitors with a glimpse of the simple, rural life of the land. Alongside this, there is also a significant volume of eighteenth century poetry and creative writing associated with Stowe (by Milton, West, Pope). Some of these poems describe the landscape and others act as a guide for visitors in the landscape.

Statues of shepherds and shepherdesses surround a dancing faun in the Grecian Valley at Stowe
Three statues surround a central faun.
Statues of shepherds and shepherdesses surround a dancing faun in the Grecian Valley at Stowe

The title of the project – 'Under the Hawthorn' - is taken from L’Allegro, a pastoral poem by John Milton, which describes an idyllic landscape where milkmaids sing, mowers scythe and “every shepherd tells his tale under the hawthorn in the dale”.

A man with dark hair, glasses ad a full beard stands on a stage holding a book, as he reads aloud poetry.

Meet Stowe's Poet-in-Residence

Dan Simpson is a poet, performer and producer whose subjects include science and technology; history and place; geek culture and videogames; people and poetry. A former Canterbury Laureate, Dan has appeared at Glastonbury and on the BBC. He was Poet-in-Residence at Waterloo Station, Knole House and Canterbury Roman Museum. Dan creates pioneering work using crowdsourced and outdoor poetry for organisations such at the Royal Academy of Arts, National Museum of Scotland and the European Commission. He has had work commissioned by Southbank Centre, Free Word, and Corinium Museum, and his first collection is Applied Mathematics from Burning Eye Books.

What did visitors experience?

During the 2019 Autumn rambles season between 16 September and 3 November, 10am-4pm visitors could choose from different levels of involvement to experience. When going for a walk, they were greeted at the gateway to the Valley at a traditional Georgian tent where team members were on hand to offer different ways to explore this part of the garden. The simplest was to follow a self-led walking tour through the pastoral idyll of Stowe’s Grecian Valley, absorbing its history and immersing themselves in its stories through poetry, historic imagery and gentle prompts to notice and engage with the surroundings. 

There were also volunteer-led guided walks during this period and a multi-media app, downloadable from the café, to take the interaction a step further. The app used GPS trigger points in the landscape which prompt spoken word or visual notifications on your phone and tasks to take part in with different ways to interact. 

All of these activities were free of charge, with normal admission applying. In addition to the daytime programme, we had a range of bookable events where visitors could explore and experience more.

A printed map with a walking route highlighted. An illustration of a dancing faun.

Under the Hawthorn

Pick up our signature autumn rambles walk for 2019. Explore the Grecian Valley and the pastoral idyll to take you on a journey to another world of Arcadia.

Let's start a conversation #stowegrecianvalley

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