On the hottest day this year in the south of England, temperatures rose to 30° C. So I took myself off to Painshill Park in Cobham, Surrey an 18th century landscape garden which was originally created by the Honourable Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773. Being only a ten minute drive from my daughter’s house where I was pet-sitting for the week, a walk around the Serpentine Lake and under shady Heritage trees seemed like a good idea, especially with several mystical follies to find. The accessible route is about 1.5 miles but then there is an additional mile or so on the historical route which is steeper and more rugged, but I’m sure you’ll enjoy coming along with me. Just bring some water – it is hot!

Bridge from the car park to the entrance

The garden was designed as a series of ‘moods’ each one leading to the other creating a romantic landscape. Hamilton was a painter as well as a plantsman and was, at the time, in the forefront of the picturesque movement. The landscape was among the earliest to reflect the changing fashion from geometric formality to the naturalistic style. Not much in the way of flowers for me, but none the less a pleasant stroll around a parkland that I suspect will look glorious in a couple of months time dressed in autumn’s glory.

A short climb up to the Fir Walk through the woodland brings you above the vineyard planted on the slopes to the lake. From this path you have lovely views across the landscape. Many of Painshill’s trees are very old and the park has full collection status for the John Bartram Heritage Collection of North American trees and shrubs. From here it is a level walk to the Gothic Temple which affords a ‘living painting‘ view through the pillared windows.

Pathways lead down to the lake shore and the Ruined Abbey and through the peninsula planting of shrubs.

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Ruined Abbey

A Chinese bridge (which I was expecting to be painted red) crosses over the lake at this point and on to Grotto Island where you will find the Crystal Grotto, hundreds of thousands of crystals – calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite – including originals recovered from archaeological works have been used to restore the Grotto. Being slightly claustrophobic I decided against venturing inside, but instead continued my route over the Woollett bridge to the opposite side of the lake, stopping briefly to photograph the numerous ducks, swans and geese that have made their home here.

Chinese Bridge
Chinese Bridge

Following the path around the lake and enjoying the shade of the treeline, you next come to the Five Arch Bridge which has revived Hamilton’s long lake vista which can be viewed from the Gothic Temple or the Turkish Tent. Now that’s what I call a view.

Overview of the lake and park

View of the Five Arch Bridge, Grotto and Gothic Temple from the Turkish Tent
View of the Five Arch Bridge, Grotto and Gothic Temple from the Turkish Tent

At this junction you can cross the bridge and walk back to the starting point alongside the opposite side of the lake or turn left before crossing the bridge and head off on to the Historic Route to look at some of the other follies in the parkland. This route is more uneven and made up of steep inclines and unmade paths, but let’s go and take a look!

The Hermitage is built above the side of a steep slope with views across the countryside with the River Mole below. A Hermit was employed by Hamilton to live here as a recluse with a strict seven year contract. Within weeks he was found drunk in a nearby Cobham inn and never returned. The Gothic Tower was built for the views. If you like you can climb the 99 steps to the top where apparently on a clear day you can see as far as Canary Wharf and Windsor Castle. Given my issue with an Achilles tendon, I passed on the climb, instead made my way across the Elysian Plain to the Temple of Bacchus site which again provides a convenient bench or two with amazing countryside views. Sadly it was at this point where I slipped on the uneven pathway and twisted my ankle, so the rest of the walk back to the car-park was a bit of  painful hobble.

Turkish tent

The Turkish tent is where you get that great long lake vista, it was the last stop of the garden tour before returning across the open parkland and where visitors could rest and take refreshment. A shame there isn’t refreshment provided here now! The core of the tent is, and always has been, a solid building with the original surviving until c1870. This new tent retains the views but the cornice, once made from papier mâché, and the drapes, originally painted canvas, are now recreated in a more robust form.

I wandered down to the Five Arch bridge and decided to cross the bridge and walk back alongside the lake to get a view of the Ruined Abbey and the vineyard from the other side. You can of course retrace the route across Grotto Island or else follow the path to the left of the bridge and up through the woodland. I wanted to stay as level as possible though at this stage as my ankle was swelling alarmingly.

Ruined Abbey
Vineyard reflection
Vineyard reflection

Which brings us back to the start where you will find the toilets, shop and tea-room and also a splendid statue of Bacchus that was originally purchased by Hamiltion in Rome for a sum of £2000. It was housed in the Temple of Bacchus and admired by many including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson when they came to visit in 1786. Sadly it was sold along with the rest of the contents after the death of the next owner and remained a mystery as to its location. The National Trust discovered it in 2001 in Anglesey Abbey. Being too fragile to be outside, this is a replica. Once the temple has been restored it will take pride of place back where it belongs.

Statue of Bacchus
Statue of Bacchus

More lovely walks can be found over at my friend Jo’s place.

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30 thoughts on “Garden Portrait: Painshill Park

  1. Quintessential England, and isn’t it lovely? Though the name is a bit of a sore point in the circumstances, Jude! I could do that Hermit job and stay sober… well, for longer than that, anyway 🙂
    Thanks so much for the link. I love the ruin(and the reflected lady) and the Gothic Tower. I noticed you saying to Draco that you wanted to try Raw again with the new camera. Totally beyond my understanding, but I do love the results he achieves.

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    1. RAW files are very big though so you can’t take the number of images that I do at the moment and you need to process them. BUT RAW captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo unlike a JPEG which compresses information that you can’t get back. I haven’t bothered before because I don’t print images and jpegs are fine for the web (I make my files very small), but I might see what the difference is as I can take both RAW and JPEG at the same time on this camera.

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      1. Definitely not for me! Sounds like you need to get it right first go or spend ages editing. I’m rubbish at that. Prefer to take a couple of shots if in doubt and delete the duff one 🙂

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  2. Jude, I love your header image. I felt like I was there looking over that gorgeous garden with you. I could do that hermit job; just let me have my kindle, some crochet and quilting and my tablet and I’d be happy. Of course I would need internet supplied.

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  3. Ah, Jude, you remind me how wonderful it is there and that it’s ages since I visited despite the park being opposite where my parents live! I did the most wonderful photoshoot for a children’s theatre company there about 8yrs ago now. So many wonderful settings and backdrops 🙂

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      1. No, never been in autumn! Isn’t that awful? I think like you, it’s been a case of having membership for Wisley and the National Trust that that has drawn me to those gardens and parks the most. I’m meeting my best friend at Hatchlands today 🙂 She’s down from Manchester for the weekend and I will finally be able to meet her second born, Daniel, who’s just four months old! We pretty much always go to Wisley so decided to do something different this time. I will have to visit Winkworth Arboretum this autumn 🙂

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      2. Nice walks in Hatchlands, but no garden that I recall, though that may well have changed as it is a few years since I went. I do remember a huge tree! Have a great day and plenty of cuddles 🙂

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      3. Lots of cuddles 🙂 It was lovely! Small garden areas to the side of the house but the grounds are immense. I struggled on some areas with my wheelchair, uneven cobbles in the courtyard and rough tracks across the fields. Next time I go I will borrow their off-road scooter! Wonderful going around the house to see all the pianos and harpsichords but no photography allowed.

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      4. Yes, a lot of these places are not great for wheelchairs or even pushchairs – when will they realise that gravel is not great? I think you need to get one of those off-road wheelchairs, they look pretty amazing! Only garden I recollect was a pretty courtyard at one side with a fountain in the centre? Cherubs? Or am I getting it mixed up with somewhere else? Trouble with these NT places, they often look very much alike.

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      5. There’s a little courtyard garden but also a Gertrude Jekyll garden which is closed at the moment as they’ve had box blight! They do often look very much alike!! Gravel, bark chipping and shale are my nemesis in the wheelchair. All these materials are pretty bad for anyone with mobility issues whether you use a wheelchair, crutches, walker or you walk with a bit of a shuffle. There are so many ways to introduce good access pathways without it impacting on the look and feel of a landscape. It just shows how little these organisations actually consult with the disabled community, despite what they say!

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      6. Good access to the tea-room and shop! I like the trails they provide in Australia – often flat smooth tracks and boardwalks – but then they are not so precious about old things and do love to be outdoors.

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    1. So many gardens in the UK. I doubt I shall ever run out of them! The header view from the Turkish tent was worth the effort of getting up there, though I could have made it easier on myself by just walking up from the bridge! Still the shade in the trees was well received. It was a very hot day!

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  4. So that’s where you came a cropper bless you, are you mended now?
    First glance I thought it was Stourhead, haven’t been for a few years but i think there are similarities. What a lovely, serene place to stroll, I understand what you mean about flowers but there is enough to see there and in autumn it will be fabulous.

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    1. Walking is OK now thanks, though the ankle still feels stiff and painful in the morning. I suppose Painshill is very similar to Stourhead. Both naturalistic parkland, both around a lake, and Stourhead has its classical temples, mystical grottoes, an arch bridge and rare and exotic trees. It was also created in the 1700s so in the same period. I shall have to dig out my photos now and do a post about Stourhead!

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