Today we made our first visit to the beautiful Painshill Park, a magnificent 18th Century landscape garden in Cobham, Surrey. Painshill Park is a family-friendly day out or a great beauty spot if you want to escape from London to the countryside.
Currently, as with most places, you have to pre-book your tickets and they have timed entrance times to reduce the numbers. We went first thing to avoid the crowds.
A brief history of Painshill Park
Painshill Park was created by the Hon. Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773. His pleasure gardens were influenced his two Grand Tours to Italy at the time. He returned from his travels wanting to create a magical garden styled on some of the Renaissance art he had seen. His vision was to create stunning garden landscapes, which he certainly achieved.
To complete his perfect “living painting”, Hamilton included a lot of rather interesting follies in the park. These are all signposted and easy to find.
The historic route at Painshill Park
It’s easy to navigate your way round Painshill Park to take in all the different vistas. However, there are also several way-marked walks, to ensure you don’t miss anything. Follow the red signs for the main historic route, which is approximately 2.5 miles. This route leads to the far end of Painshill Park, taking in all the principal landmarks. There are also 2 shorter accessible routes.
Our walk started on the yellow trail which follows the River Mole alongside the magnificent serpentine lake. From here we had some fantastic morning views of the first folly, the Ruined Abbey, reflected in the water.
Secondly we came to the Mausoleum, which was built by Hamilton as a Roman arch. Originally, this would have had plaques and inscriptions brought back from the Grand Tour. However, we couldn’t get close enough to see in detail.
Next we followed down to the river to see the wooden Water Wheel. Unlike most of the other features, which served no purpose, the wheel, was an essential machine for Painshill Park. It was constructed to collect water from the River Mole to feed into the lake.
The Gothic Tower
The landscape at the far end of Painshill Park is quite different to the elegant grounds surrounding the lake. We followed a woodland path through the Alpine Valley to the Gothic Tower.
This tower is currently shut to visitors, but when it’s open, you can climb the 4 storeys to the top. From here you’ll get great views over Painshill Park (if you ignore the unsightly electricity pylon in front of it!)
The Hidden Hermitage
On your way to the Tower, keep your eye out for The Hidden Hermitage. This small rustic hut is at the edge of the woods looking out over the River Mole and surrounding fields. Legend says that Hamilton employed the Hermit with a contract of 7 years.
However, after only 3 weeks of employment, they found the Hermit drowning his sorrows in one of the local inns and he never returned. This is not altogether surprising when you see the wooden bed and chair which furnished his hut.
The Temple of Bacchus
On our return to the lake, the most prominent landmark is the splendid Temple of Bacchus. This folly houses Hamilton’s statue of Bacchus, which he’d purchased on his European travels.
From a distance we could see a row of Roman statues in between the columns. Disappointingly, on closer inspection we discovered they were just pictures of the statues and the only genuine statue was inside.
Passing by the Turkish Tent, we returned down to the 5 Arch Bridge. This is the most striking of the 3 bridges at Painshill Park.
The Crystal Grotto
By now the Crystal Grotto was now open. The Crystal Grotto is one of the highlights of Painshill Park. You really wouldn’t expect to find such a wondrous, sparkly cavern, complete with glistening stalactites, sitting on its own island within an hour of London. And although the grotto may be manmade, the restoration works have included thousands of crystals, which illuminate the space and give it an authentic shimmer.
I’d previously postponed my visit to Painshill Park to wait for the reopening of the Grotto after reparation works. And I was so glad I did. It really does add something special to the gardens.
Social distancing wasn’t a problem, as only one family could enter at a time, so we had the whole cavern to ourselves. There is a one-way system in place and hand sanitizer at the entrance and exit (even though there was nothing to touch).
The Gothic Temple
We finished our visit to Painshill Park with a walk up the hill to the Gothic Temple. From here you get sweeping views over the lake and all the gardens. It is a real favourite for Instagram shots!
Set over 158 acres, there really are plenty of things to see and do at Painshill. It’s a great day out for people of any age and one of the best gardens in Surrey. As well as the stunning landscapes, you’ll see interesting follies and lots of waterbirds.
In fact, the scenery is so special they have filmed several scenes from the Netflix series, Bridgerton here. Keep your eyes out for the iconic 5-arch bridge and serpentine lake, which both appear in this period drama.
As we’d gone early, it was fairly empty, especially at the end by the Gothic Tower. However, bottlenecks of people caused congestion, especially where toddlers had stopped to admire the Snowfari animal sculptures.
Getting to Painshill Park
By Car: Painshill Park is easily accessible by car on the A3.
By train: You can take a direct train from London to Cobham. From here you can walk (about 35 mins) or take a taxi.
Have you been on a visit to Painshill Park? We’d love to hear your comments below.
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