Ever been on a walk and stumbled across a tower in the middle of nowhere and wondered why on Earth it’s there in the first place? If the answer is yes, then the chances are you’ve come face-to-face with one of the thousands of structures dotted around the place known as a folly.
Follies are small buildings that were built – often by very rich men – to be seen. During the 18th century no self-respecting English or French landscape garden would be seen dead without one, and the more outlandish the better. As a consequence, follies were often designed and built to look like Roman or Chinese temples, Gothic abbeys and even Egyptian pyramids and Japanese pagodas.
It’s thought that many follies were built by rich eccentrics to show off to neighbours and visitors, but they could also have symbolic purpose, such as the Temple of Philosophy in Ermenonville, France, which was left purposely unfinished to suggest that knowledge is never-ending, or the Temple of Modern Virtues at Stowe which was deliberately ruined to signify the decay of contemporary morals.
Some of the best follies, though, are the ones that you can climb – what better way to make the most of your hike than to get up high and enjoy the view? Here are five of our favourites.
Photo credit to Broadway Tower
Location: Broadway Hill, near the village of Broadway, Worcestershire
Date built: 1798
Who built it: The tower was planned and built by renowned landscape designer Capability Brown and architect James Wyatt for the wife of George William, the 6th Earl of Coventry.
Why was it built: The tower was built on a ‘beacon’ hill, where beacons were lit on special occasions. Lady Coventry was curious to know if a beacon on this hill could be seen from her house in Worcester, 35 kilometres away. So, she did what any self-respecting 18th century Lady would do – she commissioned a folly. The beacon could easily be seen.
Interesting facts: Broadway Tower is almost 20 metres high and on a good day you can see 16 counties from the top. Over the years it has been home to the printing press of Sir Thomas Phillipps (who owned 110 books by the age of six), and served as a country retreat for artists such as William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones. The tower features a range of architectural elements, such as turrets, battlements and gargoyles.
Additional info: admission fee £5 (adult), £3.00 (child 6-16), free (child 0-6), concession £4.50
Useful links: https://broadwaytower.co.uk/
Boot’s Folly or Strines Tower or Sugworth Tower
Location: Strines, outside Sheffield off the A57 to Manchester
Date built: 1927
Who built it: Charles Boot
Why was it built: A relative newcomer to the folly world, Boot’s Folly was the brainchild of civil engineer Charles Boot, who moved into nearby Sugworth Hall in the early 1900s. Various stories exist about his reasons for building it, including the theory that it allowed him to see High Bradfield churchyard, where his wife was buried. Another suggests it was a way of providing work for the Hall’s men during the early days of the Depression.
Interesting facts: The square tower is almost 14 metres high with a castellated top and flagpole. It was built from leftover stone used to build the nearby Bents House and once had a spiral staircase to the top. Apparently this was removed, though, after a cow climbed up and got stuck. There are beautiful views of Strines Reservoir and Bradfield Dale. Nearby Brunswick Chapel was bombed during the Second World War and Boot was responsible for making it safe.
Additional info: there’s no admission fee
Useful links: To see a series of beautiful pictures of the folly, visit Derelict Places
Photo by Tony Hisgett
Location: Birmingham, England
Date built: 1758
Who built it: John Perrott
Why was it built: Built for the wealthy landowner John Perrott, the folly was created as a viewing tower within his country estate. Like Boot’s Folly, several stories surround the tower, including the theory that it allowed him to see his wife’s grave. Another suggests that it was a good vantage point for hunting animals. Most likely, he wanted to show off to his mates.
Interesting facts: Today, the folly towers over local residential and business housing and is also known as the Monument, or the Observatory. In the 19th century is was used as one of the world’s first weather stations by meteorologist and chronologist Abraham Follett Osler. The folly continued to be used as a weather recording station until the late 20th century. The 30-metre-high tower has panoramic views of Birmingham and the surrounding countryside, and is believed to have had a significant influence on The Lord of the Rings author J. R. R. Tolkien, who lived nearby as a child.
Additional info: The tower is being carefully restored and hosts regular events and exhibitions.
Useful links: http://www.follyproject.org
St. Michael’s Tower and Glastonbury Tor
Photo by Andrew M
Location: Glastonbury, England
Date built: 15th century (present tower).
Who built it: No one really knows. Remains of a 5th century fort have been found on the Tor, which was replaced by the medieval St. Michael's Church. This was largely destroyed by an earthquake in 1275 and a second church was built in the 1360s, surviving Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. What remains is the 15th Century St. Michael's Tower.
Why was it built: unlike our other towers, this one was built for spiritual reasons. Glastonbury Tor is considered one of the most spiritual sites in the UK and is said to be a major intersection of lay lines. The monastery and church were closely associated with Glastonbury Abbey and medieval pilgrims made the steep climb up the Tor with hard peas in their shoes to show penance.
Interesting facts: Glastonbury Tor is shrouded in legend, many of them connected with King Arthur, and the tower is said to be his final resting place. Views from the top of the 150-metre hill take in the Isle of Avalon, Glastonbury itself and Somerset. It is also believed to be home to a goddess. The Tor is encircled by seven levels of terrace that have been dated to Neolithic times. Many believe that they are some sort of labyrinth or a maze corresponding to a magical diagram.
Additional info: the site is managed by the National Trust and there is free access to the public at all times.
Photo credit to The National Wallace Monument
Location: Stirling, Scotland
Date built: 1861-69
Who built it: Edinburgh-born architect J. T. Rochead
Why was it built: as a monument commemorating Scottish hero Sir William Wallace, one of the main leaders in the war of Scottish Independence and immortalised (not entirely accurately) on film by Mel Gibson in Braveheart. It is one of 20 dotted acround Scotland and was the result of an architectural competition. A total of 106 entries were received, including Rochead’s winning design.
Interesting facts: The 67-metre-high tower provides expansive views of the Ochil Hills and the Forth Valley and a number of artefacts that are thought to have belonged to Wallace are on display. These include the Wallace Sword, a 1.63-metre long sword weighing almost three kilograms. The tower also has a 246-step spiral staircase to the viewing gallery.
Additional info: adult entry costs £9.99, children £6.25. Opening times vary throughout the year.
Useful links: http://www.nationalwallacemonument.com