Stourhead

Recapturing my Youth

Chiara Keating

It took some thought as to which lighter should feature in this little piece, but in the end, I settled on this busted-up Zippo. The reason behind my choice is simple; like Stourhead, I have many fond memories of this little lighter and I couldn’t be more thrilled to have it and this place as my first entry into The Lighter Journal!

To me, the words ‘National Trust’ conjure memories of sunny school-holidays with the family, often spent dragging my feet through roped-off tours of stately homes with that nose-crinkling scent of damp wood and dust. Even now, as an adult, I hear my mother’s hostile whispering in my ear as she tells me for the third time not to touch anything, while my brother scowls in a corner, wishing he was somewhere else. One place breaks this mould, however, and draws me back year after year: Stourhead.

Located just outside of Mere, this 2,650-acre estate is the pinnacle of the beauty that rural England has to offer… once you pass the stereotypical gift shop selling over-priced tat, of course. (Really though, who would pay £5 for a rubber just to have the word ‘Stourhead’ on it?) Designed by Henry Hoar II, it has been described as being ‘a living work of art’ and let me tell you, it really is.

I was ecstatic to return to this place that held such amazing memories from my childhood, until I heard my father say that we should look at the house – something I had managed to avoid in all my years of visiting. I could begrudgingly bore you with the details of the 18th century mansion and all the ‘tasteful’ paintings of muscular babies that seem to litter the walls of these types of fancy estates. However, I would much rather discuss the real reason that tourists and locals find themselves returning to Stourhead – the gardens.

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Upon entering, the now familiar view still managed to take my breath away (and was only slightly improved by the sight of a small child battling with a duck on the waterfront.) There are numerous paths through the gardens and after a (fairly lengthy) debate, we chose to follow the one closest to the lake. This would sadly cause us to miss my favourite water-feature in the gardens, but it was a route that we hadn’t taken before. After about five minutes following this new trail, we happened upon a strange, tiny cottage which was just one room with a fireplace. My gaze was drawn to the only object within the small house: a board covered in the scribbles of guests that had visited before.

 

I found a kindred spirit in Alda, two people from different times sharing a love of the gardens. I imagine in her shoes, I would have done the same, although I would probably swap the tea for a bit of whisky…

After my moment of nostalgia passed, I pestered my mother for a pen and added my name and the date to the long list of other visitors, thankfully managing to repress my inner rebel and fight the urge to add a small penis doodle as I might have done in my earlier years.

I have matured well.

Exploring further into the gardens, we came across one of the many Grecian-style buildings that overlook the lake. Although they may seem out of place in the truly English setting, they somehow seem at home in the gardens… and provide endless entertainment to climb on for the young at heart! I quickly found myself once again reliving moments from my youth as I posed as a statue in one of the empty podiums that line the building.

 

The winding trails began to lead away from the lake, through man-made caves (they are lit with candles in the winter, very pretty and kind of creepy!) and through dense forests before finally taking me up a large hill to give me a wonderful view of the whole estate. The sight brings the place together as the journey through the gardens comes to an end. (The photo REALLY doesn’t do it justice!)

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Overall, I would highly recommend giving this little paradise a visit, should you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods – I know I’ll be heading back!

Editor: Malin Lillevold

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