Rousham offers a strollers’ paradise English-style

Woodland paths at Rousham offer strollers obvious choices, gentle slopes, and wide, slowly curving corridors.

Woodland paths at Rousham offer strollers obvious choices, gentle slopes, and wide, slowly curving corridors.

The Rousham landscape as completed in 1741 and still today offers the ingredients solo and social strollers seek in a naturalistic setting: easy access, broad, clear walkways, a sense of safety, a world apart, apparent extent, and opportunities for exploration.

The primary walk is readily accessible. It starts and ends at the house, which is itself visible from the approach road along the edge of the estate and immediately reachable from the entry drive. The walk around the house to the landscape at the rear is wide, graveled, and obvious.

Kent also established a hierarchy of walkways to guide visitors: paths are surfaced with gravel where required by formality, traffic, directional ambiguity, or slopes. He employed grass where the treadway is obvious, wide, gently sloping, and strongly bordered by walls or ha-has, the river, or hedges. When he wanted to block views as well, he added an edge of evergreen trees. Taken together, these border elements are those listed on Kent’s plan from the 1730s.

A rill accompanies strollers on a shortcut through the woods that leads to something interesting up ahead.

A rill accompanies strollers on a shortcut through the woods that leads to something interesting up ahead.

A sense of safety is conveyed here by many things, including the obvious paths, frequent handsome ornament, refuges and prospects, and a high level of maintenance.  Best maintained have been the woods with their studied understory of cultivated shrubs. The dense tapestry hedges of yew, holly, and beech and the pruned understory of laurel speak clearly of the design intent of limiting physical access while providing visual interest.

Signs that other people are present are also reassuring, such as when croquet wickets and stakes were temporarily positioned one recent summer day around the Bowling Green.

Views from the Bowling Green behind the house make clear that this landscaped garden is a world apart, an oasis surrounded by farmland. The things that separate it from the outer world besides the house are also obvious from the start: to the west, an embankment and the ha-ha beside the paddock; on the east, trees, a hedge, and the wall to the kitchen gardens; and to the north the River Cherwell.

The colored strip of gravel is as much environmental art as needed treadway, with soft lawn underfoot, the river bounding us on the left and hedges doing the same on the right.

The colored strip of gravel is as much environmental art as needed treadway, with soft lawn underfoot, the river bounding us on the left and hedges doing the same on the right.

This world apart feels extensive, much larger than its 10 landscaped acres, due to the overall path length and the repeatedly long views across the broad valley, ending at the eye-catchers—the faux ruins and mill that reflect the property’s themes.

The property also feels extensive because its long boundaries are hidden. The entry road in particular parallels the path for nearly 400 m (1/4 mile) but is so draped in trees and shrubs that visitors do not see it, demonstrating Alexander Pope’s well-known dictum, “He gains all ends who pleasingly confounds,/ Surprise, varies and conceals the bounds.”

Within its apparently ample world, Rousham offers real and imagined opportunities for exploration, especially at its extremities. At the southwest corner by the Gothick Seat and the northernmost point by the Heyford Bridge, gates suggest we can pass through the landscape walls and explore yet greater worlds. Similarly, the Bridle Bridge that formerly jumped the Cherwell offered a way for guests to cross the valley to the far hills.

To this day, within the grounds’ woods, serpentine and loop paths offer long, alternate routes for strolling. Short loops around the Bowling Green and other features near the house allow short introductory walks or later diversions, without backtracking.

These studied offerings have worked for nearly 275 years to assure countless enjoyable strolls along the banks of the quietly flowing Cherwell in the lush Oxfordshire hills.

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