‘Unexpected’ is probably the word that best describes Painshill Park, a stunning 18th century landscape garden in Cobham, Surrey. Just inside the M25, less than an hour drive from London Trafalgar Square, it offers breathtaking views, with lakes, gothic towers and follies, a grotto, vineyards, ruins of an ancient temples and the list continues. Painshill is truly a place like no other and – great about it – it is dog-friendly too, allowing dogs on a short lead (except inside the buildings), which makes it an opportunity for a memorable dog day out. We recently visited Painshill and today we tell you all you need to know about it and why you should pay it a visit.
Dog-friendly day out at Painshill lanscape garden
Painshill is probably the most beautiful park/garden we have visited so far around London. It was created between 1738 and 1773 by Hon. Charles Hamilton, who was inspired by his Grand Tour across Europe and Reinassance. In fact, many of the follies that dot the garden resemble what he had seen during his travels. Historically, the Grand Tour of Europe, through Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, was something wealthy Englishmen did after their studies in the 18th century, and Charles Hamilton must have have very much enjoyed his, as he went on tour twice.
We visited Painshill in Spring, during Easter holidays, with a couple of friends. Arriving at Painshill’s gates (we’ll tell you below how to get there), we crossed the bridge on the river Mole, to find a garden with a white classic statue and a path leading to the visitor’s centre and ticket office.
At the centre we bought our tickets and were given a map of the park to be ready to start our exploration. The map and signs suggested two routes: the Historic Route, which is approximately 2.5 miles (approx. 4.02 km), and the Accessible Route, which is approximately 1.5 miles (approx. 2.41 km) and avoids paths with steep slopes. We opted for the former and noticed that even taking the longer route, there would have been areas of the park we wouldn’t have passed through.
Painshill Park is rich in features, with the Temple of Bacchus, the Vineyard (a small one, which produces sparkling rose’ and sparkling white wine), the Gothic Temple, the Crystal Grotto, the Ruined Abbey, the Waterwheel, the Hermitage, the Gothic Tower, the Five Arch Bridge, the Turkish Tent, the Alpine Valley, the Mausoleum, the Chinese Bridge, and more. Painshill Park is today at its splendor, but it was not always like this. In fact, we learnt that it had been abandoned for years and rediscovered and its restoration started after a trust was founded in 1981. There are photos at the Visitor Centre documenting the transformation.
When we visited, bluebells were blooming, and we found a carpet of cobalt blue flowers on the hill past the entrance. Continuing uphill on the footpath, we found a small vineyard (with not much leaves yet due to the season), waning towards the lake, while the footpath continued on top of the hill, among pine trees.
On the right hand side, behind the pines and bushes, there is the Amphitheatre, a curated lawn with a bronze replica statue of the ‘Rape of the Sabines’ (the original of which is in Florence) on one end, and the Gothic Temple (photo below) on the other side. The Gothic Temple struck us for its beauty. It is a white-painted timber building, taking on the top of the hill, which frames dramatic views of the lake and garden and reveals more and more details as you approach it. The four of us agreed that that was our favourite spot in the whole gardens. The photos don’t give it justice (we plan to go back for more!).
From there, descending the hill there are some old ruins which provide a very unusual frame for the lake. Apparently the ruins look even more beautiful from the other side of the lake.
Continuing on the path, we found some curated gardens on the peninsula, and crossed the five arches Chinese Bridge. Past the bridge, underground, you can visit the Crystal Grotto. As dogs are not allowed inside, two of us waited on a bench outside while the others had a wonder around (as the bench didn’t have any share, it may be not the best on a hot sunny day, but you can find some shade under the trees on the other side of the peninsula, near the Grotto’s exit).
The Crystal Grotto is spectacular and a surreal, with its thousands of crystals made of calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite covering its walls. Some of them are original which were recovered from archaeological works. It is even more impressive if you think that all that is human’s work.
The Mausoleum can go a bit unnoticed. Behind which, in a non-accessible area, dark-coloured cows were grazing. From that point, the landscape started to change significantly and open spaces left room to narrower paths and wood landscapes on the way to the Waterwheel and the Alpine Valley.
We climbed up hill to reach the Gothic Tower, which is open to the public (but not to dogs). Its rooms for some reason were full of ladybirds! The view from the tower was probably not as great as we had expected, as some electrical trallises made it much less romantic and the despite it being a wonderful sunny day, the horizon wasn’t clear enough to see much.
Farther on the Historic Route, stood out the Temple of Bacchus. This was a sparkling white building inspired to ancient Greece, which at the time of our visit was closed to the public. Being it in a peaceful clearing, it was lovely place to stopping for a rest and chat. The Turks Tent was not far, following the path, and was a replica of the original. We found it a bit kitsch, but from therewe enjoyed one of the best views of Painshill: it is located on top of a hill and you can see the gentle valley and lake, as well as the Gothic Temple on the hill just opposite.
Painshill Park is humongous, so visitors were scattered around and we coundn’t say how many people we met along the way. We spent around 5 hours there and it could have been even more if we had brought a picnic. Some families had come with rugs and a full picnic to enjoy sun and setting, much more equipped than us!
What we thought about Painshill and top tips for your visit with dogs
As you may have gauged from the above, we absolutely loved Painshill. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to be a much known destination to Londoners, and there is not much information about it out there either, but it is really a must see! Entrance tickets are reasonably priced (more about them below) and in order to have the best day we’d recommend:
- bringing a picnic and water (picnic rugs are allowed) and take your time to explore and enjoy the most panoramic spots;
- bringing your camera;
- travelling by car (more about this below).
How long to allow for a visit
As Painshill is huge, it is good to take a full half day at least to explore it. If you take the Historic Route and you stop to see all the various follies it will probably take you around 4 hours. It took us a bit more (we stopped to take photos, but walked with a good pace). Though we’d recommend to allow more time if you wish to stop for a rest or a picnic, or wish to explore some bits which are not included in the main route. The best moment to visit is probably in the morning, to have the garden almost to you (visitors scatter in the garden, but you may find a few people at the follies).
Where to eat nearby
After our visit, we decided to eat something out. As the pub which was closer to Painshill Park only allowed dogs in the terrace (very close to the main street), we decided to walk to Cobham village (there are footpaths so it’s safe to do so), and have lunch at dog-friendly pub The Bear, which we would recommend.
Essential information for your dog-friendly visit to Painshill
Dog policy and tips
Dogs are allowed on short leads, i.e. strictly no dogs off-leash in the whole park. However, dogs are banned from the buildings (in particular they can’t access the Crystal Grotto or the Gothic Tower) unless they are service dogs, so we advise you to visit with a friend/partner/family and take turns visiting the buildings. As that is really only a small part of the visit, you will be able to thoroughly enjoy the major part of your tour all together!
Opening times and prices
Painshill is open daily (closed at Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Opening times are 10am to 6pm or dusk if earlier from April to October (with last entry at 4.30pm) and 10am to 4pm November to March (or dusk if earlier).
Tickets are priced at £8 per adults (£8.80 with a voluntary donation that goes towards the restoration works), £7 or £7.70 concessions, £4.10 (or £4.60 with the donation) children 5-16 years, and under 5 go free. Dogs go free too!
How to get there
- Painshill is located in Cobham, Surrey, just off the M25/A3. You can reach it taking the exit of A245 towards Cobham (their website advises that the closest sat nav reference is KT11 1AA). It’s a 50 minute drive from Central London Trafalgar Square (a 25 minute drive if you live in Wimbledon).
- Parking: There is a large car park you can use at near the entrance.
By public transport
- Option 1: London Waterloo (or Clapham Junction) to Esher + bus no. 715 to Cobham and a short walk.
- Option 2: London Vauxhall to Cobham & Stoke d’Abernon train station, and then a 35 minutes walk to Painshill (road with foothpath).
While Painshill is close to London, public transport solutions are not great. On our way out, we trusted the route suggested by Google and got a train from Clapham Junction (but you can take the same one from London Waterloo) to Weybridge, just a 20ish-minute ride. When we arrived the bus we should have taken had just left, so we found ourselves with no other choice but either walk for an hour and 20 minutes on a road we weren’t sure whether had footpaths, or getting a taxi. We opted for an Uber ride, and we were lucky that first of all we found an available car and secondly that the driver was kind enough to accept Argo on board, despite he wasn’t a dog lover.
Having a look at other options for our way back, we found a better solution from Cobham village: the 715 bus from Cobham (stop opposite the Waitrose) to Esher and then a short walk to Esher train station. Tickets for the bus can be purchased on board, but we were advised by locals that we should have had cash at hand. Alternatively, you can travel to Cobham & Stoke d’Abernon station from London Vauxhall and then have a walk to Painshill.
More historic gardens to visit with your dog
After visiting Painshill, the other historic gardens we had previously visited lost a bit of their charm to our eyes. If you want to avoid spoiling the other gardens and palaces, we’d recommend you plan your visits starting in the order below:
- Ham House and Garden: After their 2017 dog-friendly trial (which we had been invited to and we wrote here), Ham House and Garden in Richmond became dog-friendly all-year round this year. Their dog policy is that dogs must stay on a short lead when visiting the Garden and they are not allowed inside the House, while they can enjoy the cafe and the shop. You need to purchase a ticket to enter. Visit it as first, as this is the smallest garden you can visit among the ones we visited so far and probably the one with the least features, despite being an elegant one.
- Hampton Court Palace: while dogs are not allowed in the palace, the internal gardens nor in the maze, you can visit (for free!) the courtyard at the front of the Palace, the Wilderness, the Rose Garden, and the Tiltyard, which is a lovely stroll (all about it in this blog post). In Spring/Summer when the roses are blooming and the flowers are out it’s such a peaceful place to visit!
- Painshill Park: we now wish we had visited all other parks on our list before this one, as it’s going to be very difficult to match this one.