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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
There were also statues of Venus, and a great one of Herakles that cast a creepy shadow on the wall behind it.
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.
After the caves, we went to see Dashwood’s estate, and to find the spot from Labyrinth. It’s a gorgeous property.
And, more Bacchus/Dionysos!
All this on one man’s estate. Impressive. I think I would have liked him.