Longleat Maze is unusual in that it is three-dimensional. It has six bridges that allow visitors to see the maze from above to appreciate the beauty of its layout and, for those who want an easy option, to plan a way to the middle. You may, of course, prefer to explore on foot, but beware the many dead ends in the 3 km of maze paths.
Created in 1975 from more than 16,000 yew trees, the maze is one of the newest garden features at Longleat. It sits within the celebrated and very different style of the historic garden, which was designed in the mid-1700s by famous landscaper Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. This naturalistic landscape has little changed since then.
History of the maze
The origin of mazes is almost as tortuous as the feature itself. Some suggest it goes back thousands of years to the Ancient Egyptian labyrinths. Turf and stone mazes have existed in northern Europe since at least the Bronze Age.
The idea of hedge mazes developed from these. They started to become popular in Europe during the Renaissance, as part of the formal garden design of the time, and as places for courtiers to escape the strains of royal life.
Some 100 years later, in 1690, the Hampton Court maze was created to mark a celebration. It is the oldest surviving hedge maze in Britain, planted originally with Dutch hornbeam. In the 1960s the hedges were gradually replaced with yew.
The Longleat estate is home to the first safari park outside of Africa. Providing both a conservation resource and an important source of income from visitors for the aristocratic owners, it opened in 1960 with 50 lions. Some reports suggest these were ‘extras’ from the film Born Free.
Today, the park is home to more than 40 different species, including a colony of gorillas and a lake full of sea lions. Longleat Safari Park attracts around 875,000 visitors a year.