Revealing the Labyrinth at Stowe

A young lady and old lady sit side by side on a giant wooden swing attached to a tree in the gardens at Stowe

A new area of the garden has recently been restored at Stowe in the west of the garden on the route to the Boycott Pavilions. There’s a Labyrinth with winding paths, 3,500 new shrubs and a secret clearing with a giant swing, huge abacus and skittle alley.

A new area to discover

The Labyrinth was part of the original early eighteenth-century garden designed by William Love but over the years it had become obscured and overgrown. Stowe is fortunate to have the original maps of the garden dating from the 1700s and these showed the layout of the beds, swing and skittle alley. 

What work was involved?

The restoration project started two years ago and began with clearing away many of the self-set trees and undergrowth. The staff team were helped by volunteers and corporate volunteering groups who did sterling work on the bramble bashing. Many of the felled trees have been gathered into habitat piles for insects and mammals that make their home in the deadwood.

Getting stuck in, the team from Nuffield Health lent a helping hand with mulching in the Labyrinth at Stowe
A group of adults bend over with shovels muching at stowe
Getting stuck in, the team from Nuffield Health lent a helping hand with mulching in the Labyrinth at Stowe

For the layout, the gardeners used the original maps and a GPS system to work out where the beds and paths would have been. They then verified their deductions, under the guidance of a historic gardens adviser and archaeologist, by gently scraping the surface of the ground to find the foundations still in place. 

Finding your way through

The gravel and grass paths marked on the eighteenth-century map have been faithfully recreated along with the planting scheme of magnolia, laurel, box, yew, spindle and hazel. Eventually these will grow to above head height and recreate the drama of being lost in a maze and having to find your way out. 

Have a go using the hand pump to refresh your four-legged friends in the Labyrinth at Stowe
An old fashioned metal hand pump with terracotta basin sits in the edge of the grass next to a path in the Labyrinth at Stowe
Have a go using the hand pump to refresh your four-legged friends in the Labyrinth at Stowe

Near the top of the Labyrinth, tucked away in a secret clearing is the skittle alley and abacus. There’s also a hand pump which visitors can work. It fills a basin with water for dogs and helps with drainage of the ground. Within a peaceful circle of mature oak trees there’s also a giant swing. 

The skittles are out in the Labyrinth ready to be enjoyed at Stowe
Wooden skittles stand in formation on the grass
The skittles are out in the Labyrinth ready to be enjoyed at Stowe
" The oaks are the same trees which are shown on our eighteenth-century map. It’s extraordinary to think that they have been here all that time and you can’t help wondering what they have witnessed over the years. I’m really looking forward to seeing this area of the garden restored to life with people enjoying the Labyrinth."

Restoring Stowe – The Landscape Programme

The Labyrinth restoration is part of Restoring Stowe – The Landscape Programme which was launched in 2015. It comprises 54 tasks taking place over five years to return the gardens to their former glory. Reinstating missing statues and opening new areas of the garden to complete the story of Stowe is high on the list of priorities.

Many iconic statues have already been returned thanks to generous donations by private donors and the public. Find out more about the restoration programme here.

The Wrestlers statue sits within the Labyrinth at Stowe
A statue depicts two golden figures of naked men in Grecian style fighting in a wrestling match
The Wrestlers statue sits within the Labyrinth at Stowe