Around the world, mazes have captivated the interests of people who derive a thrill from their labyrinth-like pathways. There's something about winding one's way through a hedge maze or getting 'lost' in the middle of a corn maze, that delights the child in every single one of us. In Britain, these mazes do exist - but there's another type of labyrinth that visitors might be interested in, and it has a long U.K. history.

'Turf mazes,' as they've been referred to, are unique patterns created in the lawn or turf of a piece of land. Without the thrill of high hedges, though, one might be wondering why these turf mazes are worth visiting - and the answer lies in their intriguing history.


What Makes British Turf Mazes So Interesting?

At one point in time, these mazes were very common throughout what's now known as the U.K. Their designs, taken specifically from ancient spirals, were easily recognized in gardens and as they decorated lawns. The bulk of these mazes were found throughout Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, as well as what was once the Germanic Empire, Denmark, and parts of Sweden. As time went on, their popularity dwindled, although there are still eight in existence at the time of writing.

The allure of these mazes was in their appearance before festivals and celebrations. They were created quite intricately with elaborately swirling patterns and could be found throughout town greens. This original labyrinth is one of the oldest forms of the intricate path-making, with the oldest one dating back to 550 AD in County Wicklow, Ireland.

  • Fun Fact: These labyrinth-like details have also been found in various rock carvings, with one in Cornwall estimated to date back to the Bronze Age, as well as the 6th and 17th centuries. The exact dates of many have yet to be determined because they've been re-cut and re-carved over the centuries.

The interest in turf mazes faded but was reignited during the 20th century, which is how many have been preserved to this day.

The Purpose Of Turf Mazes

While a definitive answer to this is not clear, they have been presumed to be used in a variety of ways. The distinct characteristics of these spiraling features were once believed by the British to be used by penitents in cathedrals, but that has yet to be proven certain. With many of these mazes having close proximity to abbeys and churches, there has also been some speculation that there's a religious aspect to them. This, also, has yet to be proven. With their medieval purpose in festivals such as May Day, it's believed they were created out of a celebratory nature, as well.

  • Fun Fact: In the Baltics, these mazes were often believed to trap 'little people' or evil spirits known as smågubbar.

Related: Brochs: The Ancient Skyscrapers of Scotland

Where Can You Find Turf Mazes In Britain Now?

Today, eight mazes remain throughout Britain featuring the classic style of their original medical intricacies.

Breamore, Hampshire

Known as Mizmaze, this labyrinth can be found on a hilltop that's set away from the town. The maze itself has a chalk pattern that's been cut away, revealing 11 circuits within. In the center is a slightly raised mound, and there are two main legends that surround its creation. The first is simple and claims that it was cut away by shepherds who were just looking for a way to pass the time. The second legend claims that it was used by monks at the local abbey, who would crawl around its circles to absolve their sins. Since the maze is on the ground of Breamore House, it's also believed that it was created by the former owners.

  • Size: 84 feet
  • Age: 1783, possibly older

Dalby, Yorkshire

The maze in Dalby is of the smallest and also isn't nearly as old as the others in the British Isles. It's also notoriously challenging to find, as it sits on a hilltop between Brandsby and Dalby. Those who do find it will be face to face with not only views of the surrounding hillsides, but seven rings within the grass maze, as well. Supposedly, it was cut by local workers who had been working on a road near the hillside.

  • Size: 26 feet
  • Age: 1900, possibly as old as 1860

Hilton, Cambridgeshire

This maze is very easy to find as it's situated in the town green, which is in the middle of the town park. Despite its busy location, this maze is one of the oldest and thus, one of the most valued of all the turf mazes in the U.K. The maze itself has been re-cut so many times that it sits at a lower point than the ground surrounding, and may have been created to celebrate the restoration of the Monarchy. This maze is also open to the public 24/7. 

  • Size: 55 feet
  • Age: 1660

Saffron Walden, Essex

Known as just the Maze, this labyrinth is one of the largest and serves as a prime example of how grand one of these turf mazes can be. It's also not very difficult to find and sits just a short way from the Town Common. This maze, and the nearby Bridge End Gardens hedge maze, are visited fairly regularly. Its unique features include a brick walkway that defines the circuits that wind their way to the center of the maze.

  • Size: 132 feet
  • Age: 1699, possibly older

Somerton, Oxfordshire

This maze is on private property and is known as Troy-Town, featuring a circuit design of 15 circles. It's believed that this maze was a component of a garden during the Tudor period, which would have existed as a grand addition to any flora.

  • Size: 60 feet
  • Age: Estimated 16th or 17th century

Winchester, Hampshire

This maze is found on St. Catherine's Hill in Winchester and features quite a unique design. With nine circuits in total, the maze is a rectangle as opposed to having a spherical shape like the others. This maze is known for its incredible views with a somewhat moderate hike to the top of the hillside.

  • Size: 90 feet
  • Age: Mid 17th-century

Wing, Rutland

This maze is known as The Old Maze and is found in the center of the village green of Wing. This maze was created in the traditional medieval style found in most labyrinths of its era and features 11 circuits. It's believed that this maze was once used by runners, as its original - albeit unusual - squiggle design in the center was intended to send maze-runners back to the beginning of the labyrinth. This maze is open 24/7 to visitors.

  • Size: 50 feet
  • Age: 1634

Next: See The Best Roman Ruins In Scotland (North Of Hadrian's Wall)