“Two contrary emotions arose in me, fear and desire – fear of the threatening grotto, desire to see whether there are marvellous things in it.”    Leonardo Da Vinci

The same contradiction of feelings rose in me as I studied the noticeboard outside the grotto at Painshill Park, Surrey. Here, outside the bright sunlight sparkled across the lake and immaculately white swans swam in a disjointed line. Inside beckoned darkness and the unknown.

‘We are going to the park for a picnic,’ my friends had said. In my mind I pictured swings and slides interspersed with the occasional thwack of a football.

I never imagined this wondrous landscaped garden created over two hundred and fifty years previously. The perfect landscape of green grass, trees, vineyard and a lake with a variety of bridges. The park teemed with formidable follies such as a Turkish Tent perched on a hill, a Gothic Temple tucked away in the trees  and nestling away by the water’s edge the frontage of an abbey ruin.

For the creator of Painshill Park, Hon. Charles Hamilton (1704- 1786), the folly par excellence was this grotto, the largest and rarest of its kind in the country. Hamilton owned Painshill and as a landscape gardener with experience to rival Capability Brown, he designed the garden, including the grotto, which alone cost over £ 8,000 (now £600,000). He then commissioned the premier grotto maker of the era, Joseph Lane to carry the project to completion.

I had heard murmurings from my friends about the grotto as we walked. ‘Recently restored grotto.’ ‘Took over 15 years to repair.’ ‘The whole roof had caved in.’ I paid scant attention to their words, allowing the briefest image of dark dank caves dripping with water to flash before my eyes before quickly banishing the images.

‘Can we go in?’ exclaimed my son as he rushed back from his ventures around the park. ‘It’s just around the corner,’ he added, knowing us too well.  Us lazy adults had enjoyed the unseasonal warmth and sunshine to rest on the blankets after a hearty lunch (thank you Waitrose!).

Who was I to say no? I’m glad I didn’t!

We ducked into the darkness and slowly our eyes adjusted to the dim light coming in slithers of beams from small openings in the corridor. In front of me unfolded the shimmering crystal display. If ever there was a ‘wow’ moment, this was it. In awe our small group were silenced and as one we twirled  around, appreciating the grotto entrance.

This was just a taster of what was to come, as we ambled carefully through the 60 ft long corridor to the main chamber. I stopped and gasped. My heart leapt with joy at the extraordinary vision surrounding me. A cavern of stalactites glittered from the roof of the cavern, water flowed gently to a pool and water dripped gently down the walls. Light filled the chamber, with beams of sunlight coming through the wall openings as well as light reflected from the serpentine lake. The largest opening was built to allow the light from the setting sun to shine into the chamber. The magical aura was all pervasive.

The stalactites are giant inverted wooden cones placed onto the main wooden superstructure which is the main chamber. The interior was covered in lime plaster, a task that alone took four months.

Hundreds of thousands of crystals were subsequently glued onto the coned stalactites and surrounding walls. The crystals were made from calcite, gypsum, quartz and fluorite and the restorers were lucky enough to be able to use some of the original crystals. Most had to be hand-cut however, this task taking over 9,000 man hours as well as eight months to glue into place. 

The vision for the completed restored grotto relied heavily on a 1776  painting of the grotto by Swedish artist and garden designer (Frederik Magnus Piper) to the King Gustav III of Sweden.  Alas google searches of the painting fell foul of European Data Protection laws.

The grotto is a peaceful haven with the sound of the rippling water an aural delight allowing meditative thoughts to flow. ‘The acoustics were amazing,’ my friends said, as if reading my thoughts. They had attended a violin concert in the grotto chamber last Christmas and couldn’t believe the magical quality of sound.

The one real stalactite
The one real stalactite

Visually alluring was the pool of water into which the water flowed. If relatively calm it became ‘nature’s mirror’ and staring into its shallow depths I was overwhelmed with a deep sense of infinity.

In silent harmony we headed one by one to the dazzling blinding light outside, the peace and quiet remaining within us for a long time after our visit.

Thank you to my friends, I thoroughly enjoyed our day ‘in the park’!

29 thoughts on “CRYSTAL GROTTO

    1. It’s probably about two and a half hours from you, so nearly doable in a day otherwise it’s a lovely part of the world to stay overnight and see one of the other many other attractions in the area. Well worth a visit if you get the chance – I’d wait to a good spring day now though! 😀

    1. Great that this was so timely for you. Are you working on something connected to caves and mines I wonder? I must admit in my ignorance for a few moments I did think it was actually a real grotto! Wishing you a lovely weekend.

    1. Thank you so much for you warm and thoughtful comment Lauren. I find nature is a very healing and a day like this rests as balm on the soul for months or even years. It’s not often you come across such a peaceful serene place with such a mystical aura. Wishing you a good weekend too. 😀

  1. Your post was a ray of sunshine from the rainy weather here in North Carolina…. And your description added so much to the pictures… like poetry!

    1. Thank you so much JC, your kind words have me smiling😊 I always think I’m hopeless at poetry, maybe this can be my version of verse?! I hope the sun rays break through the cloud for you.

  2. Anonymous

    Well, what a fantastic place and you conveyed the atmosphere so well I felt as if I was there. We have so many things in this country of which we are simply unaware until someone like yourself springs such a surprise by bringing them to our attention. The grotto looks fantasic, and the gardens and follies look and sound idylic. Ideal weather too.

    I will be getting my map out and loading the satnav!


    1. I too never cease to be amazed about the variety and ingenuity and beauty of places around us. Thankfully the whole park was restored to its original state, even going to the length of not planting any trees or flowers that would not have been there originally. That involves a lot of research and sending off for specimens from abroad! Fascinating to learn so much. The good weather of course helped make the day absolute heavenly. I like that – map and satnav – belts and braces for you then?!

  3. Mirja

    I can see why you felt it had the “wow” factor. Absolutely amazing.
    And so is your writing; poetic and full of light and dream.

    “The largest opening was built to allow the light from the setting sun to shine into the chamber. The magical aura was all pervasive.”
    What a wonderful thing to behold. Yes, definately a place to go. It is only about 2 hours drive away.
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful day.

    1. Mirja, thank you so much for your kind words, I’m happy if I’ve managed to convey in words the magic of the day as well as having the photos for support! You would so enjoy the peace and beauty of this park so I hope you have a chance to visit. ❤️

    1. I too’ waas mesmerised by the swans Jill and spent nearly the whole picnic watching them peacefully swim up and down the lake. Occasionally one would break off and swim alone a while before joining the others. I’ve never seen so many together before so a wonderful sight. So happy you liked the post.

  4. Peter R

    What an amazing place. The whole park, but especially the grotto. That has got to be on my “must go” list. Is the “abbey ruin” a folly, or is that real? (Pedant mode on) If the real one’s growing up, it’s a stalagmite, not a stalactite. (Pedant mode off).

    1. It is well worth a visit and if I lived close by I would definitely invest in a visitor’s card like my friends have done. The abbey is a folly too, the photo was of its ‘ruined’ front and also ‘perfect’ front, 2D as such. Ha! You are almost right but not, as I didn’t explain this well. It is a real stalactite but one they stuck into the ground to show what a real one looks like. Maybe too precious to try and glue on?

    1. For once I felt the pictures did justice to a place and really capture the stunning serenity. I too looked at all the crystals around us and imagined the effort of gluing each one in place. I wouldn’t have patience for such work! So glad you liked this.

    1. Exactly, just like a beautiful fantasy world, especially after a very normal morning of music lesson and long drive on the M25. That afternoon felt like a mini holiday and the grotto visit was the icing on the cake!

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