J.M. Barrie, famed dreamer and creator of Peter Pan, once said, “Make your feet your friend”. As we zoomed along in-between the lush summer hedgerows of western Britain in our Fiat Mini rental, I thought about Barrie’s wise words. We were on the way to walk in one of those magic English places where leisure and history have come to co-exist in perfect harmony: the Stackpole Estate in Wales.
The Estate, owned and maintained by the National Trust, is situated within the Pembrokeshire National Park located between the villages of Stackpole and Bosherton in Pembrokeshire. Stackpole is both a listed “designed landscape” and an important nature reserve, with the famous Bosherton Lakes or “Lily Ponds” at its centre.
A Walk in Stackpole
This land began its occupation by the Stackpoles during the Norman Age (1188) when one of the fortresses the Normans used to establish their rule over England was constructed here. Over the years the estate has passed through three families, the de Stackpoles, the Vernons and the Stanleys, before being finally purchased by the Stanleys’ stewards, The Lorts family, in the 17th century, while the Stanleys were away fighting the civil war.
Today’s Stackpole is the result of the works of Sir John Campbell. When he inherited the estate in 1777 he began landscaping on a grand scale. In a painting of 1758 you see a meadow of grazing cows in the valley below the house. Campbell flooded the meadow to create a vast lake over which he constructed eight carefully placed arched bridges. This formed the focal point for his constructed-picturesque landscape.
He then surrounded the lake with “a thousand” trees. Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who founded the famous Kew Gardens in London, recorded sending many exotic plants to Stackpole. This insured that the original plantings would be of the highest caliber and very much in line with the fashion of the day for impressing guests with things collected from all parts of the globe.
In a photograph taken around 1850, you can see the house overlooking the lake with its series of bridges extending into the distance. The trees are a little shorter, but this view is quite similar to what you can see today.
Sadly, today you can enjoy only the landscape and nature on the estate, as the architecture fell into disrepair to the point that it was demolished in 1963. However, you can still enjoy Sir John Campbell’s walled garden and buy some of the produce grown there during the summer months. There is also a lovely Cafe on the grounds where you can sit and imagine what the estate might have felt like in its heyday.
To add to your imaginings, here is a racy anecdote. Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma Hamilton and Emma’s lover, Lord Nelson, all visited Stackpole in 1805, just before Nelson left for the Battle of Trafalgar. After I came upon this story I researched further only to find out that Sir William, Emma, and Lord Nelson lived openly together, which provided much fodder for gossip magazines of the day.
We parked the car and set off on our walk. The trail is well marked so you don’t need a map. Signs at the trailhead clearly outline a variety of routes to the beach of varying distances.
You first walk downhill through a heavily treed area (this must be where many of those “thousand” trees ended up) until you come upon the first bridge.
The bridge is only wide enough for one so we were lucky that it was near the end of the day with hardly anyone around. We lingered in the middle of the lake to look for otters, and to watch the birds and dragonflies. On cue, an otter poked up its head to welcome us.
What’s great about this walk is that within a short distance you cover so many different terrains. There are cool wooded valleys, romantic lily ponds and magnificent coastlines interspersed with the occasional sandy beach. The path leads you on a loop which eventually leads you back to the narrow bridge and up to where you parked.
The terrain is moderate and the path not so long – you can easily navigate it in sneakers. A sun hat would not go amiss, especially when you get out to the coast where there is no shade except on the beach near the rocky cliffs.
There is something about walking that invites the mind to wander, and in a location so steeped in history, this is a walk that is full of surprises, both current and from the distant past. Follow the trail that may have been Nelson’s last country walk before entering the annals of British history at the battle of Trafalgar.
Planning a trip to Stackpole? Here is the current weather and what to expect for the next few days.43°mostly cloudy99% humiditywind: 10mph SSWH 46 • L 4247°Thu51°Fri49°Sat50°Sun49°MonWeather from Yahoo!