Parks, Gardens, and Byways

48. Stourhead

If there’s one thing people tend to think of when thinking of England, it’s probably the English Garden. Undoubtedly, England is full of gardens.  It may be a secret little alcove in the basement of a city flat, or it might be a vast garden over acres of land like something in a movie, but I guarantee there’s more gardens than you think should be able to fit. Pictured above is one such garden I visited, Stourhead. Stourhead is a wonderful and vast garden with an enormous lake in the center, and a tiny village at the end. Owned now by the National Trust, it was owned and built by a banking family. Much of the garden is Grecian with highlights such as the Temple of Apollo (featured in Pride and Prejudice, the first proposal from Darcy), and the Grottoes featuring statues of nymphs and Neptune. Going to such a vast garden as this makes me wonder. Did the family often walk the whole garden on fair days? It took us nearly an hour and a half to make our way through the whole garden. If I had owned it, I think I’d have done nothing else but walk the grounds, have romantic rendezvous in the dark grottoes, hide from storms in the witch’s cottage, and admire the hills from the lonely island in the lake.

London 196

How different then, you think, is London? The capital of the nation. Well, it is completely different, actually. While the Queen still has her private garden hidden from the public eye, you’d think London didn’t have much room for gardens. London blurs the line of what we would call Gardens and what we’d call Parks. Kensington Gardens was a nice reprieve from the GO.EVERYWHERE.NOW.AS.FAST.AS.YOU.CAN of London. Full of surprisingly well-trained dogs, and a serious lack of plants, it seemed more like a vast park. Kensington Gardens is separated from Hyde Park by a small river and features the infamous Peter Pan statue. While a change from the city, I think this park is much nicer for sitting and picnicking than strolling through on a cold, snowy day.

Bath Abbey Cemetary 3

What fascinates me about England most, I think, isn’t how they incorporate greenery into their busy cities, but instead how they keep history and scenery open to everyone, even through private estates. They do this through a thing called Byways. They are basically footpaths honored by law for respectful, public use. Bath has a couple of these nearby, one of which includes the Bath Abbey Cemetery on its route. Positively the oldest cemetery I have personally been in, I found it to be eerie and peaceful. We entered through the gate and found our way along the soft ground to the center walkway. On either side were headstones nearly as tall as I am, some taller. A small chapel sat center at the end of the cemetery. It was interesting to see how ivy was beginning to take over some stones, while some stones were practically new (1980s). But up in the corner, if you walked to the side of the chapel, there was a small paper map in a plastic covering. The map said that this was part of a Byway, and people were permitted to take the path (through the cemetery and the small woods to the side) up to the Prior Park Estate. In essence, England, I feel, is set up in a way that almost the entirety of the country could be visited on foot.

We took a school trip to a piece of the Cotswolds. The Cotswolds is kind of like a mountain chain…or as close as England really gets to mountains. But it’s a series of Byways that stretch together and lead from Bath across a comparatively vast region. We walked from an old folly tower, through kissing gates, and across the grazing fields of sheep. There weren’t any sheep in our fields that day, but we saw plenty in the next field over. These paths are not for the unfit, though. Hiking is one thing, hiking through English mud is another. Thankfully, on the Cotswolds day it was so cold the ground was frozen (take your blessing where you can), though I still almost fell once!

 Skywalk 15

Now that I’ve had a taste for adventure, I decided to seek it out myself. I’d heard of something called the Bath Skywalk that is a large circle Byway path that walks in the hills around bath, up to the folly castle, and offers amazing views of the city below. (That pointy spire is right next to my house!) So I set out on Friday up Widcome Hill, yes, UP Widcome Hill, in the curiosity of what was uphill from my house. I thought the hill could only go on for so long…I’m just still unsure of how long that so long is. I have yet to reach the top of Widcome Hill, but that’s another story. A very good ways up the hill, I ran into a kissing gate. I paused, and noticed it had one of those little papers, and on the other side, was a very big, colorful, official map. So I went in. I found myself in a fair field with clear marks of trekking. I took pictures of the map and set out to walk the Skywalk! And got promptly lost in the woods.

After I lost the path in the woods, I started thinking… For being a Skywalk I wasn’t seeing much of the Bath city through the trees. So I opted to turn back, before I lost my converse in the natural spring swamp, and found my way back to my field. After admiring Bath for a time at the top of the field, I studied the map again for quite some time. The map, I decided, was not helpful in the least, but it seemed like the path went along Widcome Hill, not away from it, so I set out downhill, through another kissing gate, and eventually through a farm. By the end, I found myself lost somewhere near the center of the City of Bath. It was quite an adventure, and once I figured myself out, I bought myself a nice bacon and leek pastie from a local shop for my walk home. Next time, I will come prepared for a full 7 mile hike and attempt to do the whole Skywalk, and of course, find the folly castle.

One comment on “Parks, Gardens, and Byways

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