Following the axis provided by the Long Water in the grounds of Wrest Park, your eye is led via tightly clipped Portuguese laurels in Versailles tubs down a path towards a round pond, again with classical statuary, and on towards the dome of Archer's Pavilion. The intended effect is to inspire a desire to walk and there's plenty of detail from diaries and letters to suggest that this is precisely what the de Grey family loved to do.
The Mithraic Altar
Sometimes this urge was teasingly exploited. Jemima, Marchioness Grey and her husband Phillip Yorke inherited Wrest Park in 1740 and Jemima, who had grown up amongst the woods and glades, adored the place.
She and her husband placed several monuments around the woodland, like the Mithraic Altar, designed to look like an object of great antiquity, and took mischievous delight in duping their learned visitors. In a gossipy letter to Jemima, her friend Elizabeth Anson wrote about some guests who visited Wrest Park,
"They were at Hill-House by Day-light, they say, but walked over the Garden by Moon-shine; however they saw enough to excite their Curiosity as to the altar, & taking it for an Antiquity, at least in its shape and design, they went home & turned over Montfaccion & Kennet, but without success, & the Duchess had applied to me, since her coming to Town, for some explanation of it."
To the west and east of the house are more buildings to be explored. The refined glass and stone Orangery once housed French orange trees said to be the tallest in England, which in the summer had to be wheeled out via specially concealed doors. In contrast on the opposite side of the house there's a tiny gabled wooden cottage called Le Petit Trianon modelled on Mme de Pompadour's chateau in Versailles.
Beyond is the area known as the Great Garden. The contemporary visitor should do what 18th century guests did by taking a map and plunging into the extensive woodland where the cry of a pheasant only increases the impression that the 21st century has been left far behind.
It was laid out in the early years of the 18th century in a formal French style, designed to make use of the dappled shade from the trees, to create the feeling that you were in a wilderness, albeit a safe and beautiful one. In the spring it's filled with snowdrops, daffodils and primroses.
The paths and rides bisect the woods either in straight lines or in serpentine paths and at almost every turn you glimpse a building or a statue in what would have been a garden 'room' or clearing, a feature set within formal clipped hedging.
In the tranquil Duchess's square there is a statue of a woman reading amongst a tight oval of beech hedge. Down another allee is a tantalising view of an intriguing Chinese Temple; there is even the Dogs' Cemetery, its statue and headstones marking generations of family pets who doubtless would have accompanied the de Grey family on their walks around the Great Garden.