Mazes to Amaze You
by Simon Heptinstall
There's nothing the British like more than to go and get lost. In grand
gardens of stately homes and castles around Britain you'll find some of the
world's oldest and largest hedge mazes. These elegant horticultural
labyrinths have been playfully confusing visitors for hundreds of years.
This historical fascination is being fuelled by a boom in creating new
mazes. Britain now has mazes of turf, water, brick, stone, wood, coloured
paving tiles, mirrors and glass.
Any exploration of the twists and turns of British mazes should include the
oldest and most famous. The classic maze at Hampton Court Royal Palace by
the Thames in West London was planted more than 300 years ago during the
reign of King William III. He dug up an old orchard planted by Henry VIII
and redesigned the garden in the formal style of the time.
The 1702 Maze is the only remaining part of William's garden. It's Britain's
oldest hedge maze with winding paths amounting to nearly half a mile and
covering a third of an acre. One of Jerome K. Jerome's “Three Men in a Boat”
declared it “very simple...it's absurd to call it a maze,” only to become
completely lost. Inside he met other visitors “who had given up all hope of
ever seeing their home and friends again.”
The Hampton Court maze still swallows 300,000 people a year. If you do
manage to get out, there are also exquisite riverside gardens and the
fabulous Tudor palace to see.
Another great estate 100 miles to the west has become one of the centres of
British maze-making. A visit to Longleat in Wiltshire includes the ancestral
stately home of Lord Bath, Capability Brown landscaped gardens, and a
drive-through animal safari park… plus six mazes.
The newest of them, The Blue Peter Maze was built of timber specially for
children. It was designed by a nine-year-old girl who beat 12,000 entrants
in a competition run by a children’s TV programme.
Other Longleat mazes include the indoor King Arthur's Mirror Maze, the
rose-covered Love Labyrinth, and the intertwining Sun Maze and Lunar box
Serious maze enthusiasts are catered for by the grand Hedge Maze: it has the
world's longest total path length at 1.69 miles. The hedges are made from
16,180 yew trees and are laid out in curves to disorient the walker. It
opened 26 years ago and is so complex that special ‘lift if lost’ direction
panels are incorporated to help you find the way out.
If you're starting to get the taste for delightful disorientation, the third
must-see site is the eccentric Jubilee Park close to the border with Wales
near Symonds Yat in Herefordshire.
Maze-mad brothers Lindsay and Edward Heyes planted The Amazing Hedge Puzzle
Maze to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. It stands
in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Wye Valley and is now
Herefordshire's most popular private visitor attraction.
The octagonal cypress maze has a pagoda at the centre - if you can find it.
There's also a route from the centre to the world's first Maze Museum. This
has hands-on interactive displays and puzzles explaining the history, design
and construction of mazes around the world.
Lindsay is the creator of the museum and an acknowledged maze expert. Edward
meanwhile takes care of the Hedge Maze, personally spending ten weeks doing
all the trimming every year.
Across the border in Mid Wales you'll find a thought-provoking rhododendron
maze on the theme of transport at the fascinating Centre for Alternative
Technology near Machynlleth, in Powys.
You don't have to be crazy about mazes to enjoy the spectacular Hever Castle
in Kent. From the outside the 13th-century double-moated fortress has
changed little since Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn spent her
childhood here. The castle is set in 30 acres of magnificent gardens. A
century ago the wealthy Astor family lived here and planted a yew maze which
visitors can still explore. A more recent addition is the highly-acclaimed
Water Maze on a shallow lake with an island at the centre.
The walkways are made up of curved paths supported above the water on
stilts. To make getting to the island even more difficult, some slabs, when
stepped on, trigger a spray of water. Can you reach the island AND stay dry?
The Forbidden Corner is another modern maze designed for maximum fun. In
this award-winning labryrinth near Leyburn in the heart of the Yorkshire
Dales, visitors follow meandering paths through tunnels, underground
chambers and crenellated follies.
Using clues on your ticket you must find your way round a huge pyramid made
of translucent glass, paths and passages that lead nowhere, extraordinary
statues and a network of underground paths, including very narrow
passageways and a revolving room.
The brainchild of eccentric local millionaire Colin Armstrong OBE was
originally built as a private family folly but due to public demand was
subsequently opened. It has since been voted “The best European folly of the
20th century” and best children’s attraction in Yorkshire. The major problem
is finding your way out of the maze to the toilet - visitors are warned to
go before setting off.
The maze craze continues north of the border in Scotland. A giant new hedge
maze is to be planted in Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden in 2005 in honour
of the late Queen Mother.
Farther north, near Inverness, you can visit Cawdor Castle, which is
mentioned in Shakespeare's Macbeth. Lord Cawdor planted a holly hedge maze
in 1981 in the historic walled garden. He copied a design set in the mosaic
floor of a ruined Roman villa in Portugal.
A long-standing labyrinth on Scotland’s East Coast is renowned for being
difficult. The Hazelhead Park Maze in Aberdeen is a large privet hedge maze
planted in a public park by Sir Henry Alexander in 1935. Don't worry - it
has a hidden 'emergency exit' for those who become desperate to find their
There is lots to discover and explore in Britain -- for further ideas and to
plan your own tour, see VisitBritain’s website
Find your way to the mazes