I can't believe that I've waited all this time to go to Stowe in Buckinghamshire. But brilliant winter light and intense cold brought The Boys and I here yesterday to this simply magnificent landscaped park. At the heart is the late seventeenth, early eighteenth century house, now part of the public school whose cricket pitches and athletic tracks appear as additional vistas on the grand tour of parkland pavilions, grottoes and temples. It's actually almost too much, like a folly theme park, but there's enough walking along laurel-edged paths in and out of trees and beside lakes and ponds (frozen stiff on our visit) to lessen the overwhelming impact. I could show you so much that we discovered, but I'll restrict it at present to this Gothic Temple. Designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1748, this is amongst the most interesting of the estate's buildings. Built in Northamptonshire gingerbread ironstone, a crowd of turrets, cupolas and pinnacles reach up from the triangular ground plan that sits out in an ordinary non-landscaped field where sheep graze under spreading holm oaks. The Boys were thrashing about with big sticks on a frozen puddle, but I made them gaze out over the field to see it silhouetted against the sun. Although very taken with their Christmas Harry Potter DVD, they readily admitted that this was real magic on a January afternoon. Got 'em.
Harry Willock: The man behind the curtain / Part one
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