Stancombe Park lies in the secret folds of the last curve of the Cotswold escarpment, before the land falls to the wide valley of the Severn. Here, long ago, two Roman villas were built near natural springs that pour out of the limestone hills. This landscape of wooded slopes and billowing parkland plus two quite different gardens, made about a century and a half apart, have earned Stancombe Park a rare Grade 1 on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens. The Secret Garden made by the Reverend David Edwards around the middle of the 19th century. Local legend has it that the vicar - who married Miss Purnell, the heiress who owned the house - was in love with a gipsy girl whom he used to meet down here. His wife was apparently on the portly side, so was unlikely to follow him down the steep and narrow paths. First you pass a cascade beside a spring that bubbles from an alcove surrounded by moss and ferns.
Then, with the lake on your left, you squeeze between two banks, stepping over the odd gunnera branch, until you reach a small tunnel. It reminds one of Biddulph Grange. The passage into the tunnel is dark, until you notice a narrow slit of a window just before the tunnel turns towards the light. On the day I was there, the special effects were dazzling. Literally. Framed in the narrow opening, the ripples of the lake flashed in the bright sun. Beyond this is another grotto complex where a whalebone Gothic arch and an Egyptian tableau meet in a small courtyard, surrounded by fatsias in tubs. To complete the surreal experience, you emerge on to a path flanked by hedges so close that they squeeze you out like toothpaste from a tube. As you round the lake the Doric temple appears, "Whose scale and dimensions are very far from 18th century," writes David Verey, the architectural historian in the Pevsner guide to Gloucestershire. But, like the rest of Stancombe, its charm lies in its quirkiness. Now restored, with help from English Heritage, the Reverend Edwards' illicit love nest is fabulously romantic and its seclusion makes it a perfect honeymoon hideaway.