I like mazes. I will visit a garden because it has a maze.
I like their fabulously flirtatious nature, how they test my patience and my insatiable desire to solve problems and dumbfound my logic.
Mazes and labyrinths probably date back to 2500BC in India: labyrinths began as a single path leading to a central point, whereas mazes branch off and present the flies caught in their web with dead ends.
During the 12th and 13th centuries mazes became fashionable in England, initially many being cut out of grass but later designs being fashioned in the recognisable form of full-height clipped hedges. My ideal date would be being transported back to the 14th century and toyed with in a grand maze of sinuous form. I imagine this is why many a nobleman built a maze.
My favourite time to visit a maze is in the pouring rain; not because I’m a glutton for punishment but because it usually means the maze is virtually (if not completely) empty. No parties of squealing schoolchildren. I discovered this when visiting Tatton Park. Wellies and mac on, off I went around the maze. Something about the cool of the rain means that getting lost isn’t quite as frustrating.
Increasingly we see maize mazes and bamboo mazes advertised. However, my favourite maze to date has to be the traditionally-formed Longleat (started in 1975). It is my favourite simply because I couldn’t crack it and on a hot summer day I admit that after over an hour of being lost and once again finding ourselves back at the start, we cheated! And the most disappointing – Hampton Court. My expectations were high but after only two wrong turns I was at the centre. Had to be done though: it is the oldest in Britain (open since 1690).
Capability Brown et al and the introduction of the landscape garden made formal hedges unfashionable, so sadly many a maze was blitzed. Obviously, clipping meter after meter of hedge means that a maze needs a certain amount of upkeep and so many surviving mazes also disappeared during the 20th century as funds were directed elsewhere.
On my hit list is the newly re-created maze at Cliveden (Bucks), consisting of 1,000 yew trees that had been neglected for over 50 years.
My message to all stately house owners: if you have space in your garden and there is even the slightest hint of formality in your garden design, build a maze.
A house with a pleasurable and fascinating garden is a house worth its weight in gold. This is why Cottesbrooke was my favourite house to visit for 2010: the house itself is beautiful and welcoming, somewhere I could live, but THE GARDEN is idyllic and not just the icing on the cake but the fairy dust and more. By contrast, my recent visit to Stourhead started with wandering around a fabulous garden but was met with a rather soggy end when the house failed to embrace the same atmosphere.
This is why I visit ‘house and gardens’ – what is a house without a garden to compliment it, welcome visitors and provide a spot of heady shade and escape from the formality of the house during a summer’s day? How sad I am when I can see the windows of a house at the centre of a garden that I am visiting twinkling at me, but the door is firmly closed: no entry for visitors to see what wonders lay inside a house befitting of a beautiful garden. See here.
My maze ‘must-see’ list
- Longleat (Wiltshire)
- Cilveden (Bucks)
- Chatsworth (Derbyshire)
- Hever Castle water maze (Kent) – we had great fun on this
- Leeds Castle (Kent)
- Hampton Court (London)
- Blenheim Palace, Marlborough Maze (Oxon) – had to have 2 goes at this
- Glastonbury Tor (Somerset)
- Tatton Park (Cheshire)
- Glendurgan Garden (Cornwall)
See here for some maps of mazes and lots more detail.