There is a moment on the Stourhead estate, post-visitor centre, pre-ticket kiosk, when you find yourself walking along a lower road, steep bank either side, bridge overhead. On your right are some pretty little houses and on the left an august inn.
It's a picturesque setting. As with so many National Trust properties a suspension of disbelief takes place, at around this moment. Is this place for real? Yes, it has always been quite real, though the NT version is more thoroughly sign-posted. The house, garden and inn were built 300 years ago with the visitor experience very much in mind. Garden pride led to garden showing-off: What was the point in having a fabulous place if nobody saw it?
Richard Wheeler, who spoke at the Garden Museum last month, is National Specialist in Garden History for the NT and his brief covers over 100 gardens. He knows his stuff. He may not agree with the idea that gardens evolve after their creator has gone ("Can we do better than Vita? No") but this might be because in his view, things haven't changed much.
Keeping people out became more important in the 19th century, with the beginnings of the 'fortress mentality' which is so prevalent today. Even before those days, according to Richard Wheeler: "You had horrific vandalism." The Watch Cottage was built near the Pantheon for just that reason, "But still it got done over."
The garden boy, notoriously "a mine of misinformation," was tipped a small amount for a garden tour. The butler could be persuaded, for considerably more, to open up the house to a better class of person. Things were changing though: Blenheim Palace and Wilton formalised the visitor arrangements soon after being built, with the family living in one set of room and the public shown around another. The days of gamboling up the drive and trying your luck with the housekeeper, like the trio in Pride and Prejudice, were numbered.
Richard Wheeler's reaction to complaints about gardens under his watch looking old and tired is: "Good." For the staunch traditionalist at the National Trust then: bring back the grand tour on horseback.