Ten Gothic Gardens
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Busbridge Lakes

Surrey may seem unpromising territory for Gothic landscapes. And yet, just outside the centre of Godalming lies Busbridge Lakes, a kind of mini-
Hawkstone,
nearly as much fun as that great folly-filled gorge and even less well-known. Busbridge is only just round the corner from where I live, and it was here that I first
began to suspect that Hawkstone was not a one-off, but that there was such a thing as a Gothic Garden, that it was a type which could be traced in other places
too.

Mr & Mrs Douetil bought the derelict estate of Busbridge in 1966. The great Georgian mansion house had been demolished in 1906, and its replacement (up the hill
away from the gardens) had been sliced off and turned into apartments. The Douetils moved into the stables, gradually making the building habitable, and then
discovering the amazing landscape they'd got into the bargain.

The owner in the 1750s, 60s, and 70s, Philip Webb, was an antiquary and the usual sort of moneyed lunatic. He seems to have recognised the gloomstruck
possibilities of the Busbridge environment, where the stream cuts a deep gorge through the sandstone, leaving rocky outcrops and caves all most amenable to being
tweaked to produce appropriately Romantick and Gothick reflections. Mr Webb's early-19th century successor, Henry Hare Townsend, added his own follies and
arrangements to the landscape. The grotto which houses the spring that feeds the lake is his; the one above it, built originally as a tomb and topped with a bit of
inscribed Roman detritus, is Webb's. But, as ever, what makes a Gothic Garden is not random Gothic follies, but the use of follies to accentuate already-dramatic
surroundings.


Busbriidge Grotto
Busbridge inscription
The Upper Grotto - the tomb intended for Mr Webb's wife and children. Where was he going to go, then?"LEG. II AUG."
Busbridge Hercules
Busbridge boathouseBusbridge bridge
Poor old Hercules on the hilltop was toppled over and smothered in a sea of nettles before the Douetils found him and put him up again.Looking out on the Bottom Lake from the Gothic Boathouse. We were very impressed that somewhere so careless of health-and-safety diktat was open to walk around! A rustick bridge ...
Busbridge folly
Busbridge follyBusbridge Doric Temple
Follies not yet open to the public...A Doric Temple, and the lakes along the valley bottom, provide a gentle and tranquil contrast to all the Gothic gloomth.
But the masterpiece of Busbridge, and a feature which seems to be without any parallel elsewhere, is the magnificent Ghost Walk. This is a thirty-foot deep rift running into the cliff to the south of the gardens, adorned with a Hermit's Cave and a lookout tower on top of the ravine, and entered via an unnecessarily precipitous path at the top, or the wonderful five-fanged arch at the bottom.
Busbridge Ghost Walk
Busbridge arches
Busbridge archesBusbridge bust
I'm sorry the photographs don't really show the Ghost Walk in its glorious reality. It is of course pretty ruinous today - that is, even more than it was originally intended to be. Its niches and alcoves were once filled with statues and busts which loomed palely out of the shadows; only one of these remains, looking doggedly out over the lake, the last remaining guardian - or ghost. On a subsequent visit, we found this bust fallen from its perch onto the ground below.

As at other Gothic Gardens, you can only smile at the off-the-wall genius of the mind responsible for this, and the delightful attempt to encourage such excitingly scary feelings in visitors. Just imagine the happy Georgian dinner-guests of Mr Webb or Mr Townsend being brought up here with lamps and candles, and scaring themselves silly in the dark like a collection of kids!
Busbridge rocksBusbridge rocksThere's much more to do at Busbridge. The lower Grotto is closed to the public at the moment, and around the place one can glimpse all sorts of things which look meaningful. Rocks like these don't just arrange themselves, you know: I suspect we have 'Druidical Remains' here. The set on the right are actually outside the Lakes, in the fishery to the west of the Rustick Bridge, along with other features which look suspiciously like even more follies. However, it all needs money, of course, and Mrs Douetil says the lower bridge has already collapsed twice.
Busbridge Lakes is only open to the public intermittently, around Bank Holidays. It tends to be a bit busy as a result, but not so busy that you can't find a quiet corner or two; in fact, on my first visit, I managed to wander quite a long way and not encounter anyone at all. The Douetils are not only concerned with rescuing their Gothic Garden, but also with breeding rare waterfowl and pheasants; this may seem a distraction, but in fact the shrieks of the peacocks add a certain frisson to the Gothic atmospherics!

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