West Wycombe

Our final stop of the trip, West Wycombe, was an unusual one, and I’m lucky my mother indulged me to go there. I had discovered something quite remarkable in my planning research – the same crazy rich 18th century baron responsible for the notorious Hellfire Caves (already on my list of potential places to visit) also owned the estate on which the very first scene of my most cherished favorite movie, Labyrinth, was filmed. (There will be a post on my Girls Underground blog very soon about that – I found the exact spot where Sarah says her opening lines, and it was awesome.) He also had a bunch of those pseudo-Greek temples and Classical statuary that were so popular amongst the elite at the time. Of course, I had to go there.

This is Sir Francis Dashwood. Looks like a fun fellow, eh?

While we waited for the caves to open, we climbed up the hill to see the Mausoleum, another wonderful product of Dashwood’s money and insanity. There’s a 13th century church behind it, because there always seems to be a 13th century church wherever you go in England (seriously, that seems to be all that they did that century – build churches, and amazingly so many have survived and are still in use).

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Then back down to the caves entrance, appropriately grand and kind of intentionally ruined-looking, even if the effect is somewhat marred by the cafe tables and umbrellas outside.

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I dragged my mother into the dark underground passages of the “caves” – really manmade chalk excavations – where the infamous Hellfire Club held their pagan-ish and possible licentious meetings. That is, until one practical joke gone wrong ruined everything. According to a descriptive plaque in the caves:

The Club flourished until 1763 when it broke up owning to political disagreements and the famous baboon incident. John Wilkes had dressed up the baboon, which Sir Henry Vansittart had brought from India, to look like the devil and had hidden it in a box in the Chapel at Medmendham Abbey. When he let it out, the poor animal jumped onto the back of Lord Sandwich, who cried out, “Spare me, gracious devil: thou knowest I was only fooling. I am not half as wicked as I pretended.” Both then rushed out of the chapel in a panic.

I seriously wish I could have partied with these guys.

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The place was filled with cheesy lifesize dioramas with tinned dialogue playing over them (including one featuring Benjamin Franklin, who was apparently friends with these folks and visited), which was fun in its way, but I was really there for one thing: the grand hall. The low-ceilinged passages suddenly open up into a large circular cavern, with niches running along the walls containing statues of Greek gods. In particular, one amazing, moss-covered statue of Dionysos I have long loved – I even have a photo of it on His shrine. And now I have my own photographs.

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There were also statues of Venus, and a great one of Herakles that cast a creepy shadow on the wall behind it.

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Later in the journey through the caves, we were looped around the back of the cavern, and found ourselves looking into it from behind one of the statues of Venus, which was kind of eerie.

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After the caves, we went to see Dashwood’s estate, and to find the spot from Labyrinth. It’s a gorgeous property.

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Temple of Music (you can see the mausoleum rising up behind it)

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two sleeping women bookend the rushing stream

Temple of Venus, with "grotto" room built into the hill below it

Temple of Venus, with “grotto” room built into the hill below it

Temple of Daphne

Temple of Daphne

The house, which was closed that day.

The house, which was closed that day.

sphinx outside the Temple of Diana

sphinx outside the Temple of Diana

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

And, more Bacchus/Dionysos!

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All this on one man’s estate. Impressive. I think I would have liked him.

~ by Dver on May 10, 2013.

5 Responses to “West Wycombe”

  1. Fantastic photos! The lighting of the statues in the cave is quite interesting, to say the least, lol.

  2. I uswd to drive past here on my way to and from university. I always wanted to stop and have a look but the person doing the actual driving wanted to keep trucking.

    Labyrinth is also one of my favourite films. I’m friends with one of the guys that worked on it. His home is filled with props from Labyrin, Star Wars, the Dark Crystal and others.

    I’m doing a lot of research into Persephone at the moment (long story I will one day blog). I’m finding I keep thinking of Sarah and Jareth as Persephone and Hades.

    Nice to have you back, glad you enjoyed good old blighty!

    • Well that makes sense, Persephone being one of the mythical examples of the Girls Underground archetype, and Sarah being the inspiration for the idea in the first place for me. How cool that you know someone who worked on the film! I am rather obsessed with it (clearly – this isn’t even the first time I’ve travelled to find a shooting location, the other one being in upstate NY).

  3. […] is covered in those pseudo-Greek temples to pagan gods so popular at that time amongst the nobles. (I’ve covered that aspect of my visit on my spiritual blog, here.) I just about fell out of my […]

  4. you have a knack for cool photography. i’m dying to see this place!
    khairete
    suz

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