Painshill Park had been on my London bucket list for a while but until I visited I didn’t realise just how big it was. Comprising of 158 acres, there is plenty to see in this 18th-century landscaped garden. These were my top five highlights from my visit to Painshill:
The late 18th-century Gothic Temple is one of many follies at Painshill (a folly being a building constructed primarily for decoration even though its appearance would suggest it has a practical purpose). It has been painted to look as though it is made of stone but it’s actually built from wood. You get a beautiful view of the Serpentine Lake from the Temple.
The Ruined Abbey
This was the the last folly to be built at Painshill, in 1772. It was designed and built as a ruin, inspired by real abbey ruins like Fountains and Rievaulx.
This is what Painshill is most known for and often crops up on those ‘Places You Won’t Believe Are Actually In London’ style posts. The Crystal Grotto was restored and re-opened in 2013, with hundreds of thousands of crystals being placed by hand. Inverted wooden cones were used as the framework to re-create the stalactite effect of the original folly.
Be sure to check the Crystal Grotto opening times before you visit. Painshill relies on volunteers to steward the Grotto so the opening times vary and are shorter than the park’s main opening hours.
When the original hermitage was constructed in the 18th-century by Charles Hamilton, he started advertising for a hermit to live in the hut. The rules of the contract were quite strict, stating that they would not be allowed to talk, cut their hair, or leave the estate. The man who was hired only lasted 3 weeks in the job before he was found drinking down at the local pub. He was promptly fired and the role was never re-filled.
The building had become derelict by the mid-20th century but was reconstructed in 2004 based on original drawings.
The four storey Gothic Tower was built in the late 1750s. The original tower was damaged by fire in 1973 but was restored in 1989. Inside the tower, a spiral staircase leads to a roof terrace. On a clear day you can spot the London skyline and Windsor Castle, although they are quite far in the distance. Like the Crystal Grotto, the tower is only open for a limited period of time weekends as volunteers are required to keep it open.
- Painshill Park is located near Cobham in Surrey. It’s open every day except Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Check the website for opening times.
- The Gothic Tower and Crystal Grotto are usually open on weekends, but check the opening times in advance as they require volunteers to open.
- Free parking is available on site. If travelling by train the closest stations are Cobham & Stoke d’Abernon or Weybridge. Both are about 5 miles from Painshill so you would need to get a taxi from the train station to the park.
- An adult ticket to the park costs £8. Historic Houses Association members can visit for free. Art Fund members get a 25% discount on the cost of entry.