Easter egg hunts at Stourhead

Easter egg hunts have brought swarms of families to Stourhead on a radiant April day. How Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838) would have marvelled at the enduring wonderment his legacy has brought to his Wiltshire home.

Stourhead House

I have a copy of his travelogue through Italy, Recollections Abroad and A Classical Tour through Italy and Sicily (1815), made in the aftermath of family tragedy. This hefty leather-bound tome contains carefully chosen words that formally give you only half the impact upon him made by his visits to Italy, its ruins and landscapes. Stourhead is the other half.

Richard Colt Hoare

A banker at a time when Great Britain was adjusting to its imperial status, he brought Europe to southern Wiltshire. Colt Hoare’s house is formal, Georgian and imposing, but inside it is a feast of Italian views. The walls are carpeted with panoramas, many by him. The visual effect on him of Central Italy and Rome, in particular, doubtless spurred him to invent the landscape with temples and bowers, grottos and faux ruins around a lake whose steep sides are in this period a festival of colour. This Wiltshire arboretum is a celebration too. Here the new empire is represented by plants from Asia and the New World, but in a Wiltshire coombe its most sentient purpose is an Italian sensibility.

Stourhead gardens

Colt Hoare’s cerebral intellect inhabits the joy of Stourhead. Here, each year, half a million visitors find sanctuary in a world that is artificially inserted into Selwood Forest yet magically feels completely natural.

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