Overlooking the picturesque harbour of Portree, on the Isle of Skye, stands a little tower. It was built in the 1830s by Dr Alexander Macleod, a much-admired man who was known locally as An Dotair Ban, the fair-haired doctor. As well as practicing medicine, Macleod (1788-1854) was also employed as a factor to look after local estates and was respected as an engineer and land-improver.
Robert Elam bought the Woodhouse Grove estate at the end of the 18th century and set about improving his new home and laying-out new pleasure grounds. On a wooded mount, overlooking this new landscape, he erected a tall stone belvedere which survives today.
Lady Amabel Yorke was the elder daughter of Philip Yorke, 2nd Earl of Hardwicke, and his wife Jemima Campbell, 2nd Marchioness Grey, 4th Baroness Lucas. Their family seats were Wrest Park, Bedfordshire, and Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire, both of which had parks that were remodelled by Capability Brown with Amabel being privy to the design decisions. She was, then, rather well-informed on matters of landscape gardening, and her 37 volumes of diaries contain countless accounts of visits to the seats of her friends and family, where she sometimes notes follies and garden ornaments.
Islay House was known as Kilarrow House until the middle of the eighteenth century. It was given its new name by Donald Campbell the Younger after he remodelled the house in the 1760s. Four lookout towers were built on the island, and the two known simply as the East and West towers, survive today in the park.
High above the valley of the River Tilt, within the policies of Blair Castle, sits this beautifully designed and situated eye-catcher. A walk through woodland brings one to the folly and, turning, a wonderful panorama is revealed.
High on the fell above the town of Penrith stands a square stone turret which marks the site of the town’s ancient beacon. For centuries the beacon network provided an early warning system: fires burning on high ground announced the approach of the enemy. In less troubled times the little tower became a summerhouse, eye-catcher, and belvedere for the Lonsdale family of nearby Lowther Castle. Today it is a popular destination for walkers, and a symbol of the town.
On a knoll in the former park of Conishead Priory, near Ulverston in Cumbria, (formerly Lancashire) stands this solitary tower. It was once part of a much larger folly, known as the Old Castle, which many took for a genuine ancient monument. Thomas Braddyll (1730-1776) erected it as an ornament to be seen from his seat at Conishead Priory.
The Folly Flâneuse is busy pottering around the country in search of temples and towers to fill these pages. Meanwhile, here is a brief look at two very different landscape features: one on a miniature scale and one monumental, one in a tranquil English garden, and one on a Bulgarian hilltop.
On high ground in Weston Park, ancestral seat of the earls of Bradford, stands this prospect tower. Although Weston Park is in Staffordshire, the knoll on which the tower stands is just over the border into Shropshire, and it was formerly home to another monument, allegedly built for the most repulsive of reasons.
The hamlet of Racton, in a quiet corner of West Sussex, is little more than a church and a cluster of cottages. What catches the eye is the dramatic ruin, with tapering central tower, that stands above the settlement. This is the belvedere erected by George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, as an ornament to his Stansted Park estate.