One of my four goals for our trip to the UK last year was the find my way out of a hedge maze so we headed to the maze at Hampton Court which is a short train ride from London. The Hampton Court Maze isn’t the largest hedge maze in the UK but it is the first one planted in Great Britain, dating from 1690. It’s also reportedly the most famous hedge maze so we figured it would do nicely. Being iconic means that the actual layout of the maze is depicted everywhere even on the sign at the entrance to the maze and, I think, printed on our tickets. We tried not to study it too closely, I mean, spoilers. If you want to see an overhead photograph of the maze there is a good one halfway down this page.
This photo was taken by standing on tippy toe and pointing my camera out towards the center of the maze. Meaning, the hedges were taller than they seem in photos.
In the off season the gardens surrounding Hampton Court are free to explore but the maze itself is about £5. Currently the maze page says there is a sound installation but we heard nothing and didn’t see any evidence of speakers so the off-season tickets might not include it, or we were there on day when it wasn’t working.
That tree seemed so far away while we were in the maze.
We were there in the off season and during a weekday which meant there weren’t many people in the maze so we had whole stretches of time where we could almost feel alone and lost. It was awesome.
We reached the center!
The maze itself doesn’t seem very large from the outside, it covers 1/3rd of an acre and has 1/2 mile of trails inside, but it feels far larger inside. Like magic. Most of the paths are long straight stretches that end in an almost u-turn, which is disorienting. We were there to enjoy being inside the maze though, so we sought out every dead end and checked around every corner and when we found the end of the maze we turned around and found our way back to the entrance just because we wanted to spend as much time as possible inside.
It was, happily, a sunny day so we spent a few hours wandering around the gardens. The most decorative part of the gardens was closed because there was a film crew using it. We couldn’t really complain because they gardens were free.
In the center there you can see famous people. Supposedly.
We saw a lot of filming going on in Dublin and London while we were there. Scott works for a company that gathers movie and tv facts so we kept approaching the guards who were there to keep people like us out and asking, all innocent like, what they were filming. Our secret hope was that they would give us the code name that studios often use to make something sound as boring as possible when in fact Big Stars filming an alley scene for the Next Exciting Huge Thing are just beyond the barriers. To our disappointment all of the guards we talked to were very friendly, apologized that they couldn’t let us get any closer and then excitedly told us all about what was being filmed and which huge stars were right over there. In this case the production was an upcoming movie (tv special?) about Stephen Hawking and the two guards helpfully pointed out that if we stood just here we might capture a glimpse of somebody famous whose name I didn’t write down (sorry). They were young and excited to be working in the industry, it was so adorable I forgave them for ruining our game of being media sleuths.
Early version of Cones of Dunshire? Or just the half of the decorative gardens that weren’t closed for filming?
Hampton Court is a quick train ride from London, unless you are us in which case all the train schedules have been shuffled and instead it will be a strange hour and a half of fiddling with incomprehensible train schedules on your phone while desperately hoping you’re on the correct platform. The train schedules might helpfully suggest you go to a further train station and take a bus, but don’t listen to it! The closer train station is a very doable walk over a bridge and onto the grounds. The court itself looks like it’s well worth the ticket price to get to look around inside but we were there with a purpose: hedge maze and then back to London for fancy dinner reservations.
In the off season the gardens are free to wander but the maze itself is about £5. Even if you don’t have tickets to tour the court there are a few rooms you can access that have exhibits about the history of the gardens and the maze. There is also a gift shop and, I think, a cafe.
There were statues in the decorative gardens all wrapped up. It was incredibly creepy.
I had grand plans of visiting more hedge mazes in England while we were there but from the moment the airplane landed both Scott and myself came down with some a form of head cold that was determined to be the most torturous and the least friendly to getting sleep. So when we were stationed in Bristol for a few weeks I had intended to take a few day trips by springing out of bed and catching a very early train so I could wander a maze, have lunch and be back in time for a relaxing dinner. Instead I spent my days sleeping in because there was no other choice, I needed rest. We had hiking and drinking to do in Scotland and Ireland after all! Seriously though, I was convinced I had pneumonia and was close to checking out how the free healthcare works. For the record, I have not come down with a cold in the many months since we returned from our trip so whatever we survived covered all forms of viruses that swept through the US last winter. How do I train myself to catch and fight all the viruses before my next trip?
Hampton Court Maze and gardens are a perfect side trip from London. A little being outdoors and a bit of puzzle solving and you can be back in time for fancy dinner reservations.