High on the top of a hill, with views stretching far over the hills and fields of Hampshire and Wiltshire, is the Breamore Mizmaze. Designated a scheduled monument, it is one of only eight surviving medieval turf mazes in England, and one of only two mizmazes. Nearby is the Giant's Grave, a Neolithic longbarrow. Only accessible by foot, visiting these make for a fascinating walk in the countryside, with views over fields and hills as far as you can see and no noise from the modern-day world; it is an idyllic as well as interesting place to visit.
The village of Breamore has a long history with evidence of Bronze Age occupation, a mention in the Doomsday Book, an ancient Priory and a manor house. The Romans were here too; there is a Roman villa open to the public about three miles away in the village of Rockbourne. Here you can see the remains of what was a large courtyard villa that was occupied until the late 5th century AD.
Breamore was the site of a priory of Augustinian Canons founded in the early 12th century, and it is believed that the mizmaze was created by them. The priory was dissolved in 1536, and no trace of it now remains, with Breamore House being built on the same land. Breamore House was completed in 1583 and was an Elizabethan Manor house.
Much of it was destroyed by fire in the 1800s, but it was rebuilt in the same style using salvageable elements and still looks the part, with some magnificent chimneys. It was owned by several historical figures, changing hands frequently due to several of them having their heads chopped off, until it was passed to the current family who have lived there for 9 generations.
The Mizmaze and Giant's Grave are about two miles away from Breamore House, on the top of a hill and surrounded by a copse of yew and hazel trees.
Getting to the Breamore Mizmaze and Giant's Grave
Both places can only be reached on foot.
The walk starts at the church of St. Mary which is considered to be one of the most important Saxon buildings in southern England, and is definitely worth a visit if it is open.
It is also very pretty, with a graveyard filled with interesting old graves and wildflowers.
Near the church is the entrance to Breamore House - you will see a set of gates that look like you aren’t allowed in, but you are as it is a bridle path, so it is a public right of way. (w3w: frames.potential.overpower)
Press the green button by the gates and they will automatically open.
You follow the path past the house and just keep on going; it takes you through some woodland. The path forks at one point in the woods, take the right fork.
The woods are filled with wildlife, which you will hear even if you can't see it. The Breamore Estate is part of a 'Farmer Cluster' to protect the environment on a large scale.
This means doing things such as leaving wider wildlife verges around their farmed fields, growing plants which produce bird seed and encouraging pollinator insects. With regular wildlife monitoring and bird boxes around the estate, the area now has a wide variety of small mammals, birds and reptiles including harvest mice, owls, turtle doves, 35 species of butterfly and 12 species of bumblebee. I've also seen plenty of partridge, pheasant, hares and deer on visits there.
The walk through the woods is a very pleasant one, but if you want to see them at their finest, visit in late April.
The entire woodland floor is a giant carpet of purple, with bluebells stretching away from you as far as the eye can see. It is quite a breathtaking sight and one which impresses, no matter how many bluebells woods you may have seen.
Keep heading uphill, the path leads through open meadows, which positively hum with wildlife and are beautiful to look at, and at the end of which you will see a sign pointing the way to the mizmaze. Follow the path through the trees where you will find the mizmaze in a small clearing.
It is about two miles and is a lovely rural walk.
History of the Breamore Mizmaze
The Breamore Mizmaze is thought to date from the 12th or 13th centuries, with the monks using it for penitential purposes. Supposedly they would crawl along the length of the path to the central mound, all the while reflecting on their sins and saying prayers at specific points.
Turf mazes are hard to date, as by their very nature they must keep being redug, which destroys the archaeological record, and mazes could exist for centuries before they were recorded. The Breamore Maze was first recorded in 1783 but is almost certainly medieval in origin, built by the priory.
A path of turf was formed by cutting down into the chalk and removing the vegetation on either side, rather than the more common method used where a chalk path was created by removing vegetation.
The turf path leads to leads to a central mound. Eleven concentric rings, at a diameter of 84 feet, are bisected into quarters by a Christian cross, very similar in design to the well known labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral.
Today the maze is protected from potential damage caused by footfall within a wooden fence. The mizmaze is surrounded by woodland, and visitors are able to walk all the way around the outside of it under the tree canopy,
This part of the woods are still used by modern-day pagans and it is easy to see why some will view these woods as having spiritual significance, due to the rather intense atmosphere within. It consists mainly of yew trees with low, twisted branches and the ground is covered with thick clumps of dark green moss, distorted trunks and exposed roots.
An online search will lead you to a blog by ghost hunters who visited these woods in 2011, seeing spirits in the woods, hearing voices and feeling taps on the shoulder. We have visited several times and never found anything scary about them, even being there alone in a downpour, but it is understandable why some see them as a place of mystery due to their ethereal ambience.
The Breamore Mizmaze may be one of the oldest still around, but it is part of a long standing tradition that spans from the Iron Age to contemporary times, and being in such an isolated and beautiful spot, it is really worth visiting if you get a chance.
When you leave the mizmaze, follow the line of trees round to the west.
You will cross a stile and end up in a field, in which you will see a large mound (w3w: lecturers.ombudsam.signed). This is fenced off, but you can walk to one side of it without walking on any crops, and you will see the sign. This is the Giant's Grave, an early Neolithic barrow dating from the 37th century BC. It is one of several in this area. Covered in thick brambles and undergrowth, it is sadly in need of some serious maintenance.
Long barrows were used for communal burial of the farming communities who once lived in the area and they were important ritual sites for centuries. The Giant's Grave was originally 65 meters long, although ploughing has destroyed some of it. Most long barrows contain stone or wooden chambers, where the dead would have been buried. It is not known which sort is contained within this one.
The 180 long barrows of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Dorset form the densest and one of the most significant concentrations of monuments of this type in the country Giant's Grave is important as it survives well and, with no evidence of formal excavation, has considerable archaeological potential. Source: Historic England
To show just how important this particular area was in historic times, it was just down by the River Avon in Breamore that the 'Breamore Bucket' was found by a metal detectorist. It was discovered to be one of only 3 in England, a copper Byzantine bucket decorated with a hunting frieze which was made in the 6th century AD at Antioch in ancient Syria.
Further excavations led to the discovery of an important Anglo-Saxon cemetery. This area was later the subject of a Time Team live dig, resulting in further discoveries including six burials with buckets, although not Byzantine.
The bucket can be seen in the museum at nearby Rockbourne Roman Villa.
You can continue your walk on to Whitsbury Castle, half a mile away, or head back the way you came.
VISITING THE BREAMORE MIZMAZE AND GIANT'S GRAVE
How to get to the Breamore Mizmaze and Giant's Grave
Postcode: SP6 2DF
what3words: juror.conveying.gentle (Mizmaze)
Public Transport: Catch a bus from Salisbury or Bournemouth – the X3 – get out in Breamore Village and walk just under the mile up to the house.
Parking: If you are driving, Breamore village is close to the Hampshire-Wiltshire border, on the A338 that runs between Salisbury and Bournemouth. There is no official parking for eith