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GES085 - Witley Wonder

August 2010

Witley Park was a 19th-century house and estate in Surrey, near Haslemere. The estate was developed in 1890 by the fabulously wealthy J. Whitaker Wright, as part of extensive land (approx. 9,000 acres) he purchased in the Haslemere and Hindhead area.

The pre-existing house, originally named Lea Park, was developed into a 32 bedroom mansion, adjacent to artificial lakes and landscaped grounds. In one lake, Whitaker Wright famously built an underwater, glass-roofed billiard room. Whitaker Wright committed suicide and his lands were auctioned, with much of Hindhead Common, W Common, Thursley Common etc. ending up in the hands of the National Trust.

Witley Park was sold to Lord Pirrie, famous for his role in the building of the RMS Titanic. The Lea Park mansion was burned down in 1952. The park remains, but it is a private home and not open to the public. Source: Wikipedia

The billiards room sits under a statue you can't see on the map, but is between the end of the path leading down to the lake, and the small platform in the lake directly in front of the path.

This was down to GE031 who mainly organised the trip, and a full on West Country Boys explore. GE031 came down in GE033's car with GE032 in tow. I came from London on my trusty Vespa. The ride was a little scary in places, as Vespa's don't see very well in the dark outside cities. I got to the lane that leads to W Park, and was literally just about to text, when GE031 sent a text saying they were in a pub in Milford. F**k, i'd just past there a few minutes a go. So I turned around and headed back, finding them all stood at the bar. I'd met GE033 before, and GE032 was a new face, a rather folically interesting face with an impressively arranged set of facial foilage. We caught up, and time rang at the bar, so it was off to W Park. I followed the others in the car, and Glenn pulled up after a short ride through woods in a National Trust car park for W Common.

The others all squeezed into their wetsuits, and occassionaly ducked down as a car drove by. GE033 & GE031 paranoid in case they were suspected of dogging. I don't own a wetsuit, so had decided to hardcore it and just go in shorts. GE033 had kindly brought a small inflatable boat, which I carried in order to transport my stuff across the lake. All set, we left.

GE031 lead the way, and we tip toed past the gatehouse, and onto a path through the woods. A few checks on my gps iPhone showed where we were and made things easier for spotting the point of entry to the estate. Our torches were mostly off or covered with hands to minimal light to see the path, so it was a careful walk. Eventually we reached the point GE031 felt was the entry point, so we cut through the trees and down to a ditch next to a wall. It was about 170cms high at this point, and the old slowly rusting barbed wire had been pulled off the wall by previous explorers most likely. All over and lights off, we walked down to a road in the estate, and then onto a grass path that lead off around the lake. With a clear sky above your eyes can see more than you think once they adjust to the dark. I followed the back of Glenn and his red wetsuit from a short distance. If he disappeared down a hole or something, I would have time to stop!

On spotting a small hut on the lake, we realised we'd gone too far, and walked back about 25m. We then tried to find a suitable way down to the waters edge. It wasn't easy as there were reads and brambles and all sorts to contend with. We found another spot and I waded through in my wellies, and found a patch suitable for getting into the lake. GE031 and GE033 hopped straight into the lake, and wandered out. They appeared as ghostly dark human shapes in the water was they waded out past waist height and then disappeared. I went back to the path to get my stuff and the boat. And set about inflating it. The pump was too noisy, so I had to do it by mouth. Pumped, I packed up all my stuff, and stripped off to my shorts. I passed the boat down to GE032 and he held it while I passed my stuff to him to put in it. He then set off, as I climbed down into the water. It wasn't cold at all, quite mild. I waded out with the boat and once past the trees lowering themselves into the lake, I rested on the back of the boat and began to use breast stroke leg movements for relatively silent propulsion.

It was a bit unnerving at first, but after awhile I got used to the situation. I could see the path leading down to the water quite clearly. And what looked like various objects in the water. The eyes play tricks on you over distance when you're in the water, and at night doubly so. I caught a glimpse of a small red light flash every minute or so coming from one of the other West Country boys, and headed for that. Eventually I could clearly see 3 silhouette's stood up ahead of me. I hoped it was the others. As I got closer they helped me get my stuff and the boat out of the water. It was a good feeling to have made it to the platform. It was now around 1am. I asked the all important question, "is it open?" However no one had checked, so GE031 & GE032 descended down the spiral staircase, popping torches on at the bottom. Word came up, "It's open!". Whoop!

We all descended down and found a room with pillars and circular light vents in the ceiling. Everyone started setting up cameras, generally sorting themselves out, and erm, opening cans of Pimms!

I then set off with Sammy Fisheye into the tunnel that leads to the Billiards Dome room. I kept an eye out for pirs, and thankfully there were none. My first shot of the dome came out the best I thought.

And then one from the side

My inquisitive nature lead me to go up the longer passage to the stairs that twist up to the surface on the lake. Keeping my eyes out and carefully creeping along, I checked for pirs, but thankfully none. I grabbed a shot of the back of the door, and came back down.

GE033 grabs a photo in the long corridor from land to the Billiards room.

It was then time for silly antics. We set up all our high lumen torches on the ground, and formed various poses. Here Mark toasts his Pimms to the side of GE033 and GE031 in balaclava with Pimms. Personally I think Pimms owe us some money for these publicity shots.

It was then time to pack up and get above ground/water again. I had seen GE033's cool night shot of the lake, and wanted some of that action.

A shot of the lake side houses.

The bottom end of the lake with the overflow gently roaring at the bottom somewhere.

And the statue before the house lawns. The Dome sits under the statue.

And with that the others lowered themselves into the water. I put the boat in a little too hard and it started to float off, but Mark swam to the rescue. All my stuff in as well as some of GE031s. And I got down into the initially chilly water. GE031 was adamant he wanted to swim with the boat, so I swam to the side a bit, carefully watching my bag precariously sat on top. The water was actually really pleasant to swim in, not too cold, but enough to keep one wanting to be active.

We eventually got back to the area we thought we had disembarked from, but in the end couldn't find it. So we opted to wade (we were up to our waists) around the edge to find somewhere else. The bottom of the lake here was a sort of silty mud, thankfully i didn't step on anything sharp. Luckily for me they found somewhere with lots of stingers, oh barefoot me's joy! I precariously stepped from the water onto land and put each wellie on. Then helped ferry everything over the nettles and brambles to the grass path. It was now spitting with rain, and I quickly tried to change, while the others deflated the boat.

We then set off again in the dark until we got to the road, there it was up a bank and over the wall. All jumped down and passed each others stuff to one another, and we put our lights on and walked through the woods triumphant. Back at the car park we all changed and sorted ourselves out. People laughing and joking about things on the 28DL Members section I had no idea about! And with handshakes all round and a body full of adrenalin, it was off into the night back to London. I mostly had the road to myself, apart from one scary stretch past Guildford where a lorry seemed to have been watching 'Duel' recently. I got to bed at 4.30am, and was up at 8.30am. The adrenalin of what we'd achieved lasted until around 3pm, when i began to tire.

Many thanks to GE031, GE033and GE032 for a really great night.