Pilgrimage to Rousham, William Kent's unspoilt masterpiece

Finding myself in Oxfordshire for a client I did a 2 hour detour to fit in a visit to the best know secret in landscape design - Rousham.

The house was built in 1635 by Sir Robert Dormer and is still in the same family.  The garden is open to the public but very quietly so - it needs no introduction to those that know, so the small hand painted yellow sign on a country lane is advert enough, and a refreshing change from the hideous Euro-style brown tourist signs that make a theme park out of our landscape.

An honesty machine takes your money and you are free to wander, map in hand, through the glades and shady walks down to the river Cherwell in the south, or into the exquisite walled kitchen garden nearer the house.

The upper cascade with Venus and cupids. Dedicated to an Englishman's best friend: Ringwood, an 'Otter Hound of extraordinary Sagacity'

The Watery walk, a delight to stumble upon in the woods, as it leads you down to the Cold Bath
and on through to the open glade of the Octagon Pond.

The view from the front of the house is imposing and as was the fashion in the 1730's was designed to 'Bring in the Countryside'.
Laid out by Charles Bridgeman the garden was perfected by William Kent and is a stunning example of the first phase of the English Landscape period.

As the guide pamphlet says:
'Rousham is uncommercial and unspoilt with no tea room and no shop.  Bring a picnic, wear comfortable shoes and it is yours for the day.'

The herbaceous borders are behind these walls, a different and delightful world, a purely sensorial antithesis to the more literary woodland journey.

The 11th Century church is next door to the Dovecote - as I arrived they all swirled up into the air and away.


  1. I don't know what you think of Monty Don, but he was in raptures over this garden. One of the two best in England, and one of the great gardens of the world.

    Your photo of the Vale of Venus, when you enlarge it, is really 'colourful', even if the colour is green! The chlorophyl in the leaves of trees seems to be at its most vivid in mid-May, and the leaves become darker and duller as the Summer comes on. This must be best time to visit.

  2. Beautiful pics, as always. Thanks for sharing Britain's great gardens with those of us on this side of the pond.

  3. A truly beautiful garden. What a wonderful memorial to Ringwood, he must've been a very special otterhound. I love the dovecote, but the watery walk is absolutely enchanting.

  4. I've been thinking about this garden all afternoon. One thing Monty enthoused about was the symbolism. He compared Rousham to a Disney theme park, where characters from mythology, that would have been familar to educated visitors of the time, are on display.

    Simon Schama, the historian, says 18th Century garden design in Britian, was infuenced by freemasonry, and mentions Rousham alongside Castle Howard - that one has its own obelisk and pyramid!

    Monty says that Rousham is the garden with the 'big idea'. You can see Monty enthousing about Rousham on the 80 Gardens DVD. But he doesn't actually say what the 'big idea' is. It's very tantalising.

  5. Breathtaking landscape, Marian.

    I had fantasized about contacting you while in England, but of course there is never enough time. My head is spinning a bit as I sort through images of all the gardens I visited.

    And I'm still fighting a virus from the horrid airplane air on the long flight home. Have felt as if I need a vacation from my working vacation.

    You're in my google reader, so I will keep up with your posts even if belatedly. all best...

  6. I absolutely adore the castle and gardens. I sooo wish I could see it in person. Thanks for sharing.


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