If you, like me, are someone who is always happy to travel a few miles further in search of things unusual, then I have something rather special for you.  Here within this virtual page lies a rich collection of buildings that exist for no reason whatsoever.  A folly is an architectural concept of a place built just because you can.  And that’s a mighty fine reason to create something magnificent.  So here’s my quick tour of some of the most fabulous follies in England, well worth your time and exploration.

What’s A Folly?  And Why Should I Visit?

We’ve noted that a folly is a building constructed purely for decoration, and which serves no purpose.  The name has all the connotations of silliness associated with the French word folie, but the older meaning of the word is something of delight.  That fantastic mixture of frivolity and pleasure really captures the essence of what makes a folly.

“A popular name for any costly structure considered to have shown folly in the builder” Oxford English Dictionary

Normally follies have no purpose other than ornament, or their true purpose is disguised.  They are often eccentric in design or construction.  This can involve an element of fakery, including the creation of sham ruins.

The fashion for follies crept across landscape gardens in France and England from the eighteenth century.  Here you could find anything from mock-Roman temples to pyramids and ruined abbeys.  In some instances, the buildings were constructed for altruistic reasons.  They provided employment for artisans and laborers when there was no other work available.

Finding Follies_ Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities

As for why you should visit, well follies are some of the most amazing constructions with interesting histories that you could find.  Until I visited Farington Folly recently, I hadn’t realised quite how many other follies had captured my attention over the years I’ve been exploring.  Here’s my guide to the most fascinating, fabulous and frolicsome follies you can discover in England.

Beckford’s Tower, Bath

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Beckford's Tower

Originally known as Lansdown Tower, you’ll find Beckford’s Tower on Lansdown Hill just outside Bath in Somerset.  This is a listed building, and appears – along with its adjoining cemetery – on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens Of Special Historic Interest in England.  Having got that rather lengthy and splendid accolade captured, I can go on to tell you that the tower was originally built for William Thomas Beckford.

Beckford was a novelist, critic and art collector.  He used the tower as a library and a retreat, a concept which makes me deeply jealous.  The cupola at the top acted as a belvedere providing views across the countryside.  The Italianate building at the bottom of the tower housed drawing rooms, and the grounds between the tower and Beckford’s house were landscaped to create an area known as Beckford’s Ride.

The tower and its lands were donated to the local parish on Beckford’s death, and the cemetery was created, with a drawing room being converted into a chapel.  Following damage by fire and the closure of the cemetery, the site was eventually taken over by the Bath Preservation Trust.  There has been extensive renovation, and a museum now exists on the site, displaying the furniture originally made for the Tower. There is also a fascinating collection illustrating Beckford’s life as a writer and collector.  You can find out more about the tower here.

Broadway Tower, Broadway, The Cotswolds

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Broadway Tower

If you’ve ever visited the Cotswolds and stopped off at the honeyed stone beauty that is the village of Broadway in Worcestershire, you can’t fail to have noticed Broadway Tower dominating the skyline on the hill.  This particular folly has an absolutely fascinating history.

Conceived as a Saxon Tower, the idea came from Capability Brown, and the design from James Wyatt in 1794.  Lady Coventry knew that Broadway Hill was a beacon hill, where fires were lit on special occasions.  She wondered if a beacon there could be seen from her house in Worcester, more than 20 miles away.  And, rather than having a fire lit on the hill as you or I might have done, she sponsored the construction of the folly to test this out.

The Tower has had an arty career, being home to a printing press, and then a country retreat for artists including William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, who rented it together in the 1880s.  The love of Broadway Tower caused William Morris to found the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

The Tower has also had a civic role.  In the late 1950s it monitored nuclear fallout in England, with an underground Royal Observer Corps bunker being built 50 yards away.  Staffed continuously from 1961, this was one of the last Cold War bunkers constructed.  Although it was officially stood down in 1991, it is one of a scant few facilities that remain fully equipped.  Near the tower you’ll find a memorial to the crew of a Whitley bomber that crashed there during a training mission in June 1943.

Faringdon Folly, Faringdon

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Faringdon Folly

This, the folly I discovered most recently, was the one that got me thinking about other follies I’d seen.  Faringdon is a magnificent tower, created as a birthday present for the lover of Lord Berners: author, composer, and keeper of a rather wild literary and musical salon in Oxfordshire.  At Faringdon, the pigeons were dyed in pastel colours, horses were invited to afternoon tea, and I spied a sign, several meters up the Tower, imploring visitors (with good eyesight, I assume) not to feed the giraffes.

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Faringdon Folly

The route to Faringdon Folly takes you up a leafy path, tunelled with trees, until the vista opens up, and you suddenly spot the tower.  The Trust now responsible for its upkeep has created a wonderful and wonderous surrounding for the tower, full of toadstool rings, wooden sculpture and an enchanting wildflower meadow.  This is truly a magical place to explore.  Bring a picnic, perch on a toadstool, and watch the world become a happier and more vibrant place in this lovely setting.

Black Castle, Bristol

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Black Castle

Although there are many great examples of architecture amongst England’s public houses, relatively few are actually disguising themselves as castles.  In the Bristol suburb of Brislington, you can stop off for a pint or a coffee at the rather magnificent Black Castle.

It was built in 1745 as a castle folly, and may originally have been a stable block and laundry for the local businessman William Reeve at nearby Mount Pleasant (now Arno’s Court).  The Black Castle is a symmetrical Gothic Revival building, with circular towers at each corner and a central courtyard.

Much of the stonework is believed to have come from the city’s medieval gates, and also the demolished St Werburgh’s church.  Now you can have lunch and a drink at the Castle while pondering the history of your rather unexpected surroundings.

Rushton Triangular Lodge, Northamptonshire

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Rushton Triangular Lodge

One of the most immediately recognisable follies, Rushton Triangular Lodge is now in the care of English Heritage, and is a Grade I listed building.  It was designed and constructed by Sir Thomas Tresham between 1593-1597, making it a very early folly.

The folly has a fascinating history, and shows that a folly does not have to be frivolous, but can reflect strong beliefs.  Sir Thomas Tresham was a Roman Catholic imprisoned for 15 years in the late sixteenth century for refusing to become a Protestant.  On his release, he designed the Lodge as a symbol of his faith, using the number three in its construction to represent the Holy Trinity.  The Lodge has three walls 33 feet long, each with three triangular windows and three gargoyles.  The building has three floors and a triangular chimney.  Running round the building on each facade are three Latin texts, each 33 letters long.

The trefoil shape used for some windows was the emblem of the Tresham family.  There is a great deal more symbolism using the number three throughout, and the whole building is a fascinating example of the Elizabethan love of allegory.  Pevsner, the renowned architectural historian, thought it so important that it was chosen for the front cover of the first edition of his local guide.  You can find details of how to visit Rushton Triangular Lodge here.

Flounders’ Folly, Callow Hill, Shropshire

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Flounders Folly, Shropshire

Perched on Callow Hill between the towns of Ludlow and Craven Arms in Shropshire, you’ll find Flounders’ Folly.  At 80 feet tall, you can clearly see it from the A49 that links Shrewsbury and Hereford.  This is walking country, and you’ll find the folly mentioned in many walking guides to Wenlock Edge.

The tower dates from 1838, and was erected by Benjamin Flounders to mark the boundaries between four large estates, or possibly to commemorate his 70th birthday.  After his death, it slowly fell into disrepair, and the castellated top collapsed in the 1980s.  Ownership of the Tower changed hands several times – including the actress Julie Christie – and it was eventually bought by what is now the Flounders Folly Trust.  It was reopened and can now be visited at least once a month.  From the top you can see the Shropshire Hills, Wenlock Edge, the Long Mynd, Clee Hill, Mortimer Forest, the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains and the Malverns.  In short, many beautiful places can be spotted from its height.

Follies Over The Borders: The Dunmore Pineapple

It has to be said that the building of follies is not just an English whim.  Some spectacular follies can be found across the Scottish and Welsh borders.  In Scotland, you’ll find the glorious Dunmore Pineapple, described as the most bizarre building in Scotland.  In truth, the building at Dunmore Park near Airth, Stirlingshire, is a celebration of one of the products grown in the hothouse formerly sited on its ground floor.  Where we now see stucco, there was once an expanse of glass.  Pineapples grew within the giant pineapple that contained them.  What a superb idea!

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Dunmore Pineapple

The Pineapple is now owned by the Landmark Trust, and you can rent it as your accommodation for a visit to the area.    I absolutely loved the comment of a previous guest: “Hooray for The Pineapple, prickly and proud”.  If that was you, I doff my cap.  You entirely get this folly thing.

A Village of Follies: Portmeirion, Wales

It has to be said that if you really want to see the concept taken to extreme, then we need to head across the border to Wales.  Here you get not just a building but a whole town full of follies.  Welcome to Portmeirion, immortalised in the 1960s cult TV series The Prisoner.

Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities - Portmeirion

Portmeirion is in Gwynedd, North Wales, near Porthmadog, and was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in the style of an Italian village.  It took 50 years to create.  There is some dispute as to whether it was modeled on Portofino, although the inspiration was acknowledged to be Mediterranean.  The site is run as a hotel.  Various buildings are used as rental cottages, shops, a cafe, a tea room and a restaurant.  Portmeirion served well to inspire Noel Coward to write a chunk of Blythe Spirit there.  Musician Jools Holland took it as a design inspiration for his home studio. There’s an annual convention here for fans of The Prisoner.

More Hidden and Unusual Treasures

If I’ve persuaded you of the benefits of exploring England’s hidden travel treasures, then you’ll find more unique, unusual and beautiful spots to discover.  I’ve talked more about Faringdon and its delights in the Vale of White Horse, and you can find all kinds of other British destinations under the Britain tab to your right.

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Finding Follies_ Traveling In Search Of England's Eccentricities

Author: Bernie

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18 thoughts on “Finding Follies: Traveling In Search Of England’s Eccentricities

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. I had no idea about follies. Really, the English language is so full of interesting terms. Also, the architecture is fantastic! I’d love to explore the English countryside someday.

    Posted on June 17, 2018 at 7:45 am
    1. I love to understand how language develops, and the concept of follies is fascinating. The architecture certainly is beautiful, and until I thought about it, I hadn’t realised just how many follies I’d seen. Plus lots of other odd buildings, that aren’t strictly follies, but are still very unusual, like A La Ronde (as round you would expect from the name, but with an octagonal centre) in Devon. I’d love to have included it, but as it was built as a house, it’s not really a folly.

      Posted on June 19, 2018 at 7:00 pm
  2. Bernie, your blog reveals something new every time I visit, and it will be one of my sources of inspiration on my next trip to England. I knew about buildings constructed purely for decoration, I guess Ludwig II of Bavaria built some in his lifetime (the Venus Grotto?), but I never knew there is an official name for them in English language. I’ve been to both Bath and Bristol and haven’t seen neither of the follies, perhaps next time I visit. When I was an art history student, one of the compulsory books was Pevsner’s An Outline of European Architecture, but I never knew he wrote guides on British buildings! That is such a cool thing to know, thanks for the revelation! 🙂

    Posted on June 17, 2018 at 5:00 pm
    1. Thank you – that’s lovely to hear. 🙂 What a fascinating subject to have studied, and I had no idea Pevsner had got into an art history syllabus, but it makes perfect sense. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve spent very little time in Bavaria, but I need to go and explore more, especially for follies.

      Posted on June 19, 2018 at 6:57 pm
  3. So many beautiful buildings! England certainly isn’t short of a few follies! We would love to check some of these out ourselves as they look amazing!

    Posted on June 18, 2018 at 4:15 am
    1. I wonder if I should start to visit the follies I haven’t yet seen. That would certainly be a labour of love.

      Posted on June 19, 2018 at 7:02 pm
  4. I love searching out such places too! If you’re up in the Cheshire area some time, I can certainly recommend a visit to my favourite folly: Mow Cop, perched on a hill on the Staffordshire border. Also check out the nearby rock formation of the Old Man of Mow.
    Great post.

    Posted on June 19, 2018 at 4:22 pm
    1. Oooh – I love Mow Cop – that’s not too far from me! I nearly included it, but the piece was getting so long, I thought I’d better contain myself a bit. I’ve not seen the Old Man of Mow, so that’s a great reason to go back and explore again. 🙂

      Posted on June 19, 2018 at 6:53 pm
      1. Most definitely! I hope you get back there soon. And I look forward to reading Best UK follies part 2 👌😛

        Posted on August 24, 2018 at 9:13 am
  5. Haha, I’m from England, and I actually never knew what the real meaning of ‘folly’ was ! I would never have guessed

    Posted on June 21, 2018 at 3:52 am
  6. This is a unique subject that you have written about. Gives a fresh perspective to these follies. Each of them has a unique character and some really intriguing stories associated with them. I was riveted by the look of the Dunmore Pineapple, it looks so beautiful and unique.

    Posted on June 21, 2018 at 11:27 am
    1. It’s an amazing building, isn’t it? I have a real yen to stay there. I’m even revving up for the big step climb that is Faringdon at some point in the future. 36 stairs to my home bedroom is nothing compared to its 104 steps to the top!

      Posted on June 21, 2018 at 7:28 pm
  7. I never knew of follies before reading your post. Even no idea, that are just for ornamental or decorative purpose. You have listed beautiful part of England which not many people know about it. A true offbeat locations.

    Posted on June 22, 2018 at 4:03 am
  8. As soon as I saw the word Folly I wondered what it meant and I never knew that there so such a term, very interesting. I have been to a couple of these Follies above like Broadway Tower and Portmeirion and found them interesting. I would love to go to Dunmore Park and Rushton Triangular Lodge, they are now on my list.

    Posted on June 22, 2018 at 5:47 am
  9. Oooooh…. this is so fun!!! I would definitely love to search more follies:) I’ve been to some that you mentioned here BUT The Dunmore Pineapple is now on my list. So prickly and marvelous!!! WOuld lvoe to see it one day. Thank you for sharing. xoxo

    Posted on June 22, 2018 at 3:37 pm
  10. This was really interesting! I learnt something today, i never heard of a Folly before and there are so many in that part of the world, Rushton Triangular Lodge is my favorite. Great pics too!

    Posted on June 24, 2018 at 3:44 pm
  11. Love this post so much! I am definitely one of those people that likes to discover the weird and wonderful when on a journey, so great to read about these “eccentricities” that are a bit closer to home 🙂 I’m hoping to go and photograph a folly on Tuesday – until the other week, I had no idea what one even was haha! x

    Posted on July 1, 2018 at 2:18 pm
    1. Ooh – where are you heading? Hope you have a great trip. There are so many beautifully weird and wonderful spots out there, and I’m definitely of a mind to find more follies.

      Posted on July 1, 2018 at 3:53 pm