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Britain’s best places to see: Mazes

It’s easy to get lost in a historic house – partly because many of them have perfectly manicured mazes in the grounds. See our pick of some of the best mazes to while away an hour… or two… or three…

Blenheim Palace
Oxfordshire

photograph of hedge maze showing two people walking through the maze

Blenheim Palace Maze © Simon Q (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Blenheim Palace’s Marlborough Maze is the second largest symbolic hedge maze in the world. With two wooden bridges to plan your route, it takes up 1.8 acres and is made up of 3,000 yew hedges. Head gardener at the palace Hilary Wood said it took six people one whole week each October to trim and maintain the two miles of hedges making up the maze.

The maze involves cannonballs, trumpets and flags inspired by Grinling Gibbons’s Panoply of Victory roof carvings. Blenheim Palace itself was designed by John Vanbrugh for the first Duke of Marlborough, after his victory against the French at the battle of Blenheim in 1704.

The Marlborough Maze was opened in 1991 and has in it a V sign in honour of Winston Churchill who was born in the palace.

 

Somerleyton Hall
Suffolk

photograph of garden of country house showing entrance to hedge maze

Somerleyton Hall © Karen Roe (CC BY 2.0)

Somerleyton maze was planted in 1846 and created by William Andrews Nesfield. The route out is a mere 800 yards from the centre.

The hall is home to the lord and lady and their children, and visitors to Somerleyton say this gives the place a lived-in feeling.

Set over 12 acres, the garden’s centrepiece is the Nesfield Parterre to the west of the hall, restored in 2014 by Norfolk landscape architect and historian George Carter. My Lady’s Garden next to the maze is being transformed by Lady Somerleyton into a rose garden.

 

Leeds Castle
Kent

photograph of hedge maze amongst trees

The maze © Pablo Godoy (CC BY-NC-ND)

The maze at Leeds Castle has over 2,400 yew trees and was planted in 1988 and designed by architect Vernon Gibberd, in association with Minotaur Designs. When viewed from the centre, parts of the maze mirror a queen’s crown, echoing the idea of Leeds Castle as the queen’s castle. It is set in a square shape, but when seen from above the pattern is circular, which adds to its complexity.

When you reach the middle of the maze you return to the gardens through a grotto of macabre forms and mythical beasts, representing the Underworld, created from shells, minerals and wood, designed by Simon Verity and Diana Reynell in 1987.

Leeds Castle dates back to 1119. In 1278 the castle came to King Edward I and was one of his favourite homes. The castle today dates mostly from the 19th century and is built on islands in a lake formed by the River Len.

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Picton Castle
Pembrokeshire

photograph of exterior of large country house with crenellations

Picton Castle © James Stringer (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Among 40 acres of woodland gardens is the castle maze, along with collections of rhododendrons and azaleas, mature trees, unusual shrubs and wild flowers. There is also a fern walk, fernery, restored dew pond and a herb collection labelled with medicinal remedies.

Picton Castle was built in the 13th Century, between 1295 and 1308 by Sir John Wogan.

 

Hampton Court Palace
Surrey

photograph of interior of hedge maze with path leading off to the left

Hampton Court Maze © William Marnoch (CC BY 2.0)

The maze at Hampton Court Palace was commissioned by William III around 1700 and designed by George London and Henry Wise. It is one third of an acre and is trapezoidal in shape. It is the UK’s oldest surviving hedge maze and was originally planted using hornbeam and later replanted using yew.

The maze is a puzzle maze and it takes an average of 20 minutes to reach the centre. Before its creation, single path mazes were the most popular form of maze in the UK. The single path maze has one path, usually in a spiral shape, winding to a centre point.

Harris, a character in Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889), leads tourists into the maze and they subsequently get lost for hours. “We’ll just go in here, so that you can say you’ve been, but it’s very simple. It’s absurd to call it a maze. You keep on taking the first turning to the right. We’ll just walk around for ten minutes, and then go and get some lunch.”

Hedge mazes flourished in Britain up to the 18th century, but Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown introduced natural landscaping and destroyed many formal garden features. As Royal Gardener for 20 years, he lived next door to the maze at Hampton Court and was ordered not to interfere with it.

The maze was planted as part of a formal garden layout known as the Wilderness. There were at least two mazes originally planted in the Wilderness garden, but the current maze is the only survivor.

Chatsworth
Derbyshire

photograph of well kept country house gardens with hedge maze in the centre

Chatsworth House © Dave Smith (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The garden at Chatsworth House was originally the site for Paxton’s Great Conservatory and is now home to a large yew maze. It was designed by Denis Fisher, Comptroller in 1962 for the 11th Duke of Devonshire, Andrew Cavendish, and is made up of 1,209 English yews.

The house is believed to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

The Hundred Steps, runs uphill from the maze and is aligned on its centre. They were created in the 1980s and Duchess Deborah had a human sundial installed in 1990 at the north end of the maze, after seeing one illustrated in a magazine.

 

Hever Castle
Kent

photograph of exterior of moated castle with topiaries and ivy

Hever Castle © Ernest Adams (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The 100-year-old yew maze is next to the castle forecourt and measures 80 feet by 80 feet. The maze was built in the Edwardian era by William Waldorf Astor, like many wealthy people then, for his own enjoyment. The hedges reach eight feet in height and there is almost a quarter of a mile of pathways inside. It is one of few traditionally designed mazes left in the country.

The water maze at Hever Castle is on a 16-acre island made of concentric stepping stone walkways sitting over water. At intervals the stones tilt and water jets spring into action.

 

Stansted Park
Hampshire

photograph of exterior of large country house

Stansted House © Ben Shade (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This 500-yew-tree maze was planted in 2002 and opened in 2011. It is a circular maze, based on the Labirinto at Villa Pisani, Italy. There is about a kilometre of hedging to be cut every year in the maze and the yew trees are nearly two metres tall. A viewing platform gives views across the maze and over the walled gardens toward the house.

 

Traquair House
Scottish Borders

photograph of large country house as seen from the edge of a hedge maze

Traquair House from the maze © alternatangle (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

At over half an acre, this is Scotland’s biggest hedge maze, planted in 1981. It takes at least a quarter of a mile to reach its centre, and the terrace walls are helpful vantage points.

Originally planted with 1,500 Cyprus trees the maze suffered an extraordinarily harsh winter in 1983 and over two thirds of the trees died. It was replanted with hardier beech trees which added extra colour and interest to the maze.

The maze is at the back of the house where there was originally a parterre garden in the 18th century. It was designed by a Traquair craft worker, John Schofield, and the maze has an unusual layout with no dead ends and four sub-centres.

 

Staunton Country Park
Hampshire

photograph showing glasshouse in garden with planted foliage and pots with red flowering plants

Glasshouses at Staunton Country Park, Havant © Charles D P Miller (CC BY 2.0)

The Golden Jubilee maze was planted in 2002 in the Victorian ornamental farm. It is made up of twists and turns and open and locked gates.

The first gardens on the site were begun by William Garrett who bought the land in 1802.

Staunton Country Park is a Regency landscaped parkland and forest of 1,000 acres. The house has gone but much of the garden survives. Staunton was a horticulturalist and an orientalist and there is a terrace, a shell house, lakes, a Chinese bridge, a crinkle-crankle wall, ornamental farm and a large 19th century greenhouse.

 

Kielder Forest Park
Northumberland

photograph of maze constructed from recycled rock and glass in mesh structure. situated amongst trees.

Minotaur Maze, Kielder Castle © Richard Cooke (CC BY-Sa 2.0)

The Minotaur Maze is a striking modern maze built from basalt and recycled glass. At the centre is a small glittering room made from rocks of green glass. In the maze are a number of special features including a set of stairs taking visitors above the walls so they can plan their route.

The maze was commissioned from architect Nick Coombe and artist Shona Kitchen in 2004. It is surrounded by an old drystone wall and is overlooked by the Kielder Castle. It is built up of gabions, a rugged wall system. The maze opened in 2006 and won RIBA and Civic Trust Awards the following year.

 

Longleat
Wiltshire

photograph of hedge maze with wooden bridges as seen from above

The maze at Longleat © Andrew_Writer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is the longest hedge maze in the world, although not the largest, and was added to the park in 1975. It sits inside the 8,000-acre site at Longleat and covers 1.48 acres with 1.69 miles of winding pathways. Raised bridges provide a lookout over the 16,000 English yew trees, which make up the maze.

 

Glendurgan Garden
Cornwall

photograph of large garden with pond, maze and trees

Glendurgan Garden © Steve Bittinger (CC BY 2.0)

The maze here was planned in the 1820s and planted in 1833 using cherry laurel, known for its dense foliage.  Palm trees mark the four corners of the puzzle and a thatched summerhouse sits in the middle. The maze stretches three quarters of a mile and spirals in tight circles.

The gardens began as the private sanctuary of the Fox family and were passed on to the National Trust in 1962. The maze was built to entertain and occupy Alfred and Sarah Fox’s 12 children and their many cousins.

 

Cliveden
Buckinghamshire

photograph of hedge maze shown from above

Cliveden maze ©National Trust Images/Hannah Purcell www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Made from over 1,000 yew trees, the Cliveden maze is based on an original that was built for the First Viscount Astor in 1894. It is known as Lord Astor’s giant puzzle. Only a few yews survived of the original maze, but a sketch of the maze by Lord Astor, who designed and built the original, was recovered and this meant the maze could be rebuilt. The new maze took two years to create.

 

Woburn Abbey
Bedfordshire

photograph of chinese-style pagoda structure at the centre of a hedge maze in a garden

Woburn Abbey Gardens, Bedfordshire, England | Chinoiserie in English Gardens © ukgardenphotos (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the grounds of the dramatic home of the Bedford family, a former Cistercian abbey which has been the place of residence for the Earls and Dukes since the early 17th century, sits Woburn Abbey’s historic Hornbeam Maze. Designed by the 6th Duke of Bedford in 1831, the circular maze was left to grow over, and reopened in 2004 after extensive restoration.

Your prize for reaching the centre is to bask in glory under The Chinese Pagoda – a small but perfectly formed example of the Chinoiserie fashion in English architecture and design. Based on a 1757 design by Sir William Chambers and built in 1833, the structure is a shining red beacon guiding you to the middle of the maze.

 

Scone Palace
Perthshire

photograph of hedge maze in green and purple foliage with small water fountain in the centre

The Star Maze © Ross G, Strachan Photography (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Murray Star maze is shaped into a five-pointed star and features the Murray family’s crest, the seated family of Scone Palace. The maze has half copper and half green beech trees designed to resemble the Earl of Mansfield’s family tartan, Ancient Murray of Tullibardine.

The maze was designed by international maze designer Adrian Fisher. At its centre is a bronze statue representing the water nymph Arethusa. It was planted in 1991 and covers 1,600 square metres. There are 2,000 beech trees and over 800 metres of paths, and the shortest way to the centre is a mere 30 metres.

 

Castlewellan Forest Park
Northern Ireland

photograph of castle in parkland with red ivy growing up the side

The castle © Ryan Mcdonald (CC BY 2.0)

The Peace Maze at Castlewellan was built to commemorate peace and reconciliation for Northern Ireland and until 2007 it was the largest permanent hedge maze in the world. Work began on it in 1998 and over 4,000 schoolchildren helped to plant the 6,000 yew trees.

 

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