WHEN Stourhead first opened in the 1740s, a magazine described it as ‘a living work of art.’ This statement still rings true today.

As we walked towards the estate’s grand landscaped garden and ambled along its stunning lake, past classical temples and through its grotto, I was inclined to agree.

Every inch of parkland seemed to bring new surprises – a fairy tale cottage here, an obelisk there... and even a boathouse for good measure. Apollo’s temple was the centrepiece of our exploration and a worthy one at that.

Despite the enchanting garden’s pull, the cold eventually forced us to seek shelter in the wonderfully cosy cafe, where we enjoyed a delicious cream tea and regained our strength before tackling the Palladian mansion itself.

With its Regency library, Chippendale furniture, and rooms decked with ornaments, the house was as impressive as it had been described.

But as we followed the tourist trail the lack of any information about the estate’s former owners, the Hoare family, became increasingly conspicuous and baffling.

Maybe we hadn’t looked closely enough. Or maybe such information panels didn’t exist. We had spotted a small display in the visitor centre but assumed the three boards were just an introduction designed to whet our appetites before a flurry of family stories and anecdotes dotted around the house. But it wasn’t to be.

A fortuitous trip to the basement toilets was my saving grace and satisfied my thirst for knowledge. Strangely enough, the loos’ entrance proved the Holy Grail in my quest for facts as it hosted a small presentation on Stourhead’s last owner, Sir Henry Hugh Arthur Hoare, complete with family portraits.

But this lapse could not have dampened our spirits after such a pleasant walk across Stourhead’s stunning gardens – this parkland is not renowned worldwide for nothing. - Marion Sauvebois

Need to know

The gardens are open every day between 9am and 5pm. The house is open intermittently. For more details go to national trust.org.uk/stourhead/ Tickets for the whole property cost £13.20 for adults, £6.60 for children and £31.70 for families. Tickets for the house or garden only are £7.90 for adults, £4.30 for children and £18.90 for families.