Stourhead National Trust Gardens

Access to the countryside, woods and green fields are something that as a Devon girl born and bred, I’ve taken for granted. However as I’ve got older and had children of my own I realise how lucky I am.  Thankfully places like Stourhead National Trust gardens are somewhere that everyone can enjoy.

It is interesting to know that the National Trust was established over 100 years ago by 3 philanthropists. They had exactly that sentiment in mind. Providing access to the countryside and buildings of historic interest to the working classes, ensuring that land was not all fenced off by wealthy landowners. Also to ensure historic buildings did not stay hidden or crumble into disrepair.

Stourhead National Trust Gardens Wonderful Walks and Day Out in Wiltshire

In the early years it was mainly land that was donated or bought by the National Trust.  However in 1934 the Trust developed the Country Houses Scheme.  This induced many cash strapped aristocrats to put their family heritage in the hands of the trust to avoid the 50% death duty, with the owners being allowed to stay living in their ancestral home.  Around a dozen houses were acquired under this scheme including Stourhead.

I’ve certainly fallen in love with the National Trust in the last 10 years, and make use of my membership* all across the country. *affiliate link

5 Things to Do at Stourhead National Trust Gardens

1 – Stourhead Lakeside Walk

Stourhead is most famous for it’s beautiful lakeside walk. In the autumn the huge variety of trees including maples, acers, tulip trees and beech turn glorious colours throughout September and October, making this one of the best places in the country to see an autumn display.

Stourhead National Trust Gardens Wonderful Walks and Day Out in Wiltshire
Stourhead National Trust Gardens view across the lake

The setting around the lake along side a range of monuments such as the Palladium bridge and miniature versions of the Temple of Apollo and the Pantheon is lovely.  There are various walks around the lake is about, the shortest is about 1 mile on well maintained level paths.

You may be able to make use of the buggy service operated by volunteers if walking is a problem.  There is also a minibus service to shuttle people between the gardens, house and the main entrance as there is quite a steep walk involved.  The route can also be easily extended within and outside the the lake area.

2. Hide and Seek For All Ages

There is no actual play park at Stourhead but that does not mean there’s no place for kids. The imposing looking monuments can be explored, there’s a keepers cottage and a watery cave grotto.

Outdoor fun can be found amongst the springy rhododendrons and the many trees to play in and around. Kids of all ages can build a den or roll down a big hill!

You can also pick up a Tracker Pack and search for wild animals or go bird watching.  Available all year it’s full of activities to discover the wild side of Stourhead and get kids closer to nature.  They include fun objects such as binoculars and bug pots.

Stourhead National Trust Gardens statue in the grotto
Stourhead National Trust Gardens ducks in the lake

On selected dates you can warm up by the fire with a hot drink in the lovely little Gothic Cottage on the far side of the lake. Check on the Stourhead What’s On page for date details. Dog on leads are allowed in the park for these events.

3. Visit Stourhead House

Not as grand as some National Trust properties, the ground floor of Stourhead house is open to the public. The house has a chequered history. Sadly there was a fire in 1902 many of the original paintings and fixtures were destroyed or later sold. However there is still plenty to see including the Picture Gallery and there are volunteers on hand to help you learn about the history of the house.  (Please check  for 2020). 

Stourhead National Trust Gardens Wonderful Walks and Day Out in Wiltshire

4. National Trust Cakes and Retail Therapy

No self respecting National Trust location can be without a cafe and this is a very nice one. A large airy room with plenty of tables. Lots of lovely cakes, hot meals, drinks and snacks. There’s a nice gift shop where I was tempted by some Christmas cards!

Also just on the edge of the car park there is an independent Farm Shop, perfect for picking up forgotten tea time veggies or choose something from their proper old fashioned butchers counter.

Just to note you don’t actually enter the grounds to reach the café or farm shop. This means if you are looking for somewhere to break your journey up or down the A303,  this is a great place to stop, just 5 minutes off the main road.

5. Walking Your Dog and King Alfred’s Tower

Dogs are only allowed in the main gardens at Stourhead later in the day after 4pm or 3pm depending on the time of year (more details here) and some selected events. That’s Ok if you live locally but not so great if you are making a day trip.

However for a longer walk with or without a dog you can head up to King Alfred’s Tower (where dogs are welcome).

I’ve not tried this myself but have friends who often go.  You can park at Stourhead and walk round the edge of the gardens, it’s a 5.5 mile circular walk or park closer to King Alfred’s Tower. Follow this link (click here) for a map and more details.

King Alfred's Tower Stourhead
King Alfred’s Tower marks a point where, in the past,  three counties meet – Dorset, Wiltshire & Somerset. It’s said King Alfred raised his troops there and went on to defeat the Danes.

Built on the Stourhead estate by the Hoare family, it’s now part of the National Trust estate. It is a folly which means it has no real purpose.

During the WWII, a US Airforce aircraft crashed into it killing it’s crew. Repairs weren’t completed until the late 80s – Royal Navy had a hand in it by flying in a load of bricks to the brickies working the top.

Christmas at Stourhead

The gardens are turned into a lovely illuminated trail over the festive season. The house and gardens lit up and are decorated from 27th November to 3rd January.  You need to book in advance and additional charges apply.

Stourhead National Trust Gardens

A Great Day Out in Wiltshire

Update for 2020 – you are advised to book for entry especially at busy times. Currently there is a one way system around the park but in no way does that detract from the experience.

I hope you are inspired to visit or even revisit Stourhead.  Next time I really want to make the walk up to King Alfred’s Tower.  If you enjoy this sort of day out then I have also written about other historic houses,  Cadhay House  and Shute Barton in East Devon.
If the walks are more your thing then there are lots to try in Devon and Dorset.

Thank you for reading my post and please leave a comment below if you have enjoyed this or have any other tips for visitors to Stourhead.

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Stourhead NT is easy to find off the A303 on the Somerset  / Wiltshire border. The turning is clearly signed (a big brown NT sign) one hours drive from Axminster or Honiton, 30 minutes from the Larkhill roundabout or Salisbury, near  Mere, Wiltshire, BA12 6QD

If you don’t want to drive you can actually stay in one of the lovely cottages just by the entrance to the lakes or the Spread Eagle Inn also on the estate.


Disclosure – this post contains affiliate links with the National Trust.