Places to Go – Cobham and Stoke D’Abernon for Painshill

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Places to Go is a monthly feature for our blog, the series follows former stationmaster Alex Nelson across the UK via train.

In the Second World War, the Railway Executive Committee issued a poster which became famous, asking “Is Your Journey Really Necessary?”   The existing pandemic led to an even starker message: “If you a not a key worker, leave the station immediately.”   Traffic is down 95%, and may never fully recover, as we reach towards a “new normal”. So I have no regrets about writing on a destination you would probably never go to anyway, but if you do, you are in for a treat.

Painshill Park, eighteenth century pleasure grounds, in Cobham, is where the London suburbs give way to the green belt and rural Surrey. Trains run here from London Waterloo on the Southwestern Railway, and although the links to London are good for the regular commuter flow, bus routes crossing between the various radial rail lines are often thin or non-existent. So I was pleased to discover the Chatterbus, a community bus with volunteer drivers, which links the 1.9 miles between Cobham station and Painshill on the way to the local Sainsbury’s store. It runs to a timetable meeting various trains and the route number is the C1.

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As the visitor team told me “Painshill 18th century landscape garden was created between 1738 and 1773, by the Hon. Charles Hamilton. Born in Dublin in 1704, Hamilton, the ninth son and 14th child of the Sixth Earl of Abercorn, embarked on two Grand Tours across Europe before acquiring the land at Painshill. With ancient artefacts in his luggage and Italian romance and natural beauty in his head – along with exotic plants seen on his tours – his vision was to create ‘living paintings’ in a new style of magical garden.”

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Hamilton’s gardens on the north bank of the River Mole contains rolling parkland with many fine vistas. There’s a Gothic Temple, a ruined Abbey, and above all the fantastic (in its original meaning) Crystal Grotto.   The Grotto is a magical, naturalistic cave with shimmering, bubbling water, rough rock and stalactites covered in sparkling crystals.

Many young men of the age of Charles Hamilton completed their education on the Grand Tour. But it was not just about seeing ancient ruins and classical architecture, they also developed an eye for beauty. It led to an appreciation and understanding of the beauty of the landscape, through views, vistas and the play of sunlight and shadow, which underlie many of the English Landscape Gardens. They are 3D works of art.

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In the last few months Painshill has faced myriad of challenges. It has been hit by storms resulting in the River Mole flooding, causing damage, closures and event cancellations. All of this had a severe impact on income to fund their work.Now Painshill is shut to stop the spread of Coronavirus, meaning all income from visitor admissions, tea room sales, weddings and events will be lost. 80% of staff are furloughed, and the battle is on to save the charity. Painshill’s future is extremely fragile, and to survive it will need help.

It has never been clearer that nature and open spaces are incredibly important for people’s well-being and mental health. Painshill is a vital resource for the community.

It is a place where people can enjoy the benefits of exercise and being in nature, amongst trees and landscape and seeing birds. A moment of calm in everyday life. Having enjoyed a visit during 2019, I hope this special place is saved to be enjoyed today and for many generations to come. If you do ever get there, please let me know.

Alex Nelson

It is not advised to travel by rail during this pandemic, however if you are a key worker planning a commute or you wish to browse prices for future trips, make sure you get the cheapest train tickets at