Far from any neatly trimmed lawns, a clan of gnomes lurks under the surface of England's deepest lake: Wastwater, in Cumbria. This steep-walled, glacier-carved basin in North West England boasts remarkably clear water but few natural features to entice sub-aquatic sightseers beyond some cliffs, pinnacles and rare freshwater sponges. So scuba enthusiasts have created their own secret garden of statues posed on the muddy bottom.
Divers can take the plunge for free at Wastwater's sub-aquatic gnome garden but must request permission from the National Trust ranger. The trip to Wastwater certainly has enough challenges to qualify as a heroic journey, from the twisty mountain access roads to lugging gear across the shore (The National Trust strictly limits motorized boat traffic on this three-mile-long trough in Lake District National Park). Oh, and the chilly water, of course — the 39 F kind that can serve up an ice-cream headache on first contact.
The kitschy ornaments landed in hot water, though, after three divers died in the mid-1990s. While the accidents were typical of deep descents and unrelated to the gnomes, police did a precautionary purge of the plastic sirens and their little picket fence, too.
Over the next 15 years, the gnomes sneaked out of hiding and back into the lake — and visitors have stayed safe. This time around, divers planted the fairytale figurines at shallower depths starting at as little as 52 feet, a level more safely accessible to inexperienced divers (the ribbon lake maxes out around 260 feet, twice the recreational diving limit).
Not quite ready to jump in and meet the little people of the Lake District? About 400 miles to the south, The Gnome Reserve in North Devon shelters more than 1,000 sculptures, from pottery pixies to white-bearded "Disneyfied" dwarves. (It bills itself as perfect for children and "also for adults whose sophistication can have robbed them of a freshness of vision.")
Lest anyone miss out on family-photo embarrassment, the attraction loans human-sized pointy hats and fishing poles to guests (£3.75 adult, £3.25 child, open daily, 10 a.m.—6 p.m., from March 21 to Halloween).
by Amanda Castleman
Top: Wastwater, England's biggest lake, is home to an underwater gnome garden planted by scuba divers. (Photo by Andy Stephenson via Wikimedia Commons)
Right: Garden gnomes hold a fishing contest at the Gnome Reserve in North Devon, England. (Photo copyright Lewis Clarke, licensed for reuse under Creative Commons License via www.geograph.org.uk)