Studley Royal, near Ripon, stays comfortably in the upper reaches of the list of most-visited National Trust properties, helped by the fact that the landscape garden features that epitome of eye-catchers, Fountains Abbey. But only a few miles away from Studley’s shops and scones is Hackfall, a tranquil vale* which is sublime, romantic and wild – and totally devoid of facilities. Both were created in the 18th century by the Aislabie family of Studley.
Exploring the tranquil ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, near Masham, ones eye is drawn up to a village on the skyline. Hazarding a guess at the location, The Folly Flâneuse arrived at the fascinating little hamlet of Thornton Steward.
Last week’s brief post on the sham Druid’s Temple, near Masham, was something of a preamble to The Folly Flâneuse sharing this wonderful letter written by Barbara Jones in 1949. Jones is, of course, the doyenne of folly-spotters, and in this missive she shares the ups and downs of researching for the first edition of Follies & Grottoes. It is a delight to read: camping at the Druid’s Temple, finding Hackfall, and best of all a run-in with the formidable Captain Fordyce, Agent to Lord Hothfield at Skipton Castle. Here’s the unadulterated letter in full:
‘The desire for knowledge and the love of mystery are two of the most powerful human impulses and Stonehenge satisfies both at once. That is why it has never lost its hold over our imagination or our curiosity’.
So wrote Rosemary Hill in her erudite and entertaining history of Britain’s most enigmatic ancient monument. If people were enthralled with this famous site in Wiltshire, how did they react when they found just such a monument in a quiet corner of Yorkshire?
A great stumbling block in the understanding of follies is the attempt to define what exactly one is. Must it be useless? Wildly expensive? Weird? One of my favourite summaries comes from Barbara Jones, the first person to study the genre in depth in Follies and Grottoes, published by Constable 65 years ago today
She wrote that a folly ‘is built for pleasure, and pleasure is personal, difficult to define.’