Recently my family and I visited Stowe Gardens in Buckinghamshire. Between the 1690s and the 1750s the modest early-Baroque garden was transformed into an ambitious English Barque park by its owner Richard Temple, 1st Viscount Cobham. Temples, shrines, lakes and bridges were designed by notables including Charles Bridgeman, John Vanburgh, William Kent and James Gibbs. Capability Brown was head gardener for a time, and worked with Kent. The gardens contain artwork depicting politicians and other historical figures (the Shrine of British Worthies), and were visited by many nobles, including political leaders. Temple was a member of the Whig Kit-Cat Club.

Stowe Gardens Palladian Bridge, by Lady Gooner
Palladian Bridge, L.Gooner/Flickr.

We didn't know what to expect from the gardens, which are now run by the National Trust. If you go expecting lots of formal flower beds you may be disappointed. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the wonderful views, and the scale and variety of the landscape. I was particularly taken with the Triangular House and the Palladian Bridge.

Shrine of Worthies, by Nilcor
Shrine of Worthies, Nilcor/Flickr - busts include Shakespeare, Locke, Newton.

Photograph, Stowe Gardens
Temple of Venus, R.Kilpin/Wikipedia.

Best of all from our point of view, Stowe Gardens has several 4 seater personal/powered mobility vehicles (PMVs) - actually electric golf carts. We borrowed one (for a suitable donation) so that my mother-in-law who is not very mobile could explore with us. The buggies need to be booked in advance, and you have to demonstrate that you can handle them. The standard time slot of two hours seems like a lot, but isn't by the time you've paused to admire the views and take photographs.

Golf cart
A golf cart, Wikipedia - the Stowe ones are 4-seaters.

I managed to drive us around without running over many pedestrians, and I didn't have to do too much reversing - the carts emit a loud "beep, beep" sound when reversing, which rather spoils the tranquility! And my 18-month old daughter enjoyed standing up in the back, and helping me steer. So, all in all we had great fun, and I would heartily recommend Stowe Gardens as the venue for a picnic. [5, 16 April]