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Scotland Magazine Issue 6
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Follies and rogue architecture
ALISTER G. FIRTH HAS TRAVELLED AROUND SCOTLAND IN SEARCH OF CURIOSITIES TO PHOTOGRAPH. HERE ARE A FEW OF HIS DISCOVERIES
It was the great landscape designers and architects of the 17th and 18th centuries who came up with the idea of creating follies to embellish the gardens they created and the houses they built. When the sons of wealthy families returned from the Grand Tour, they not only brought back with them the spoils of their adventures through Europe, but ideas as well. They were inspired by the Coliseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens, and every respectable country estate needed to have a small ruin, a piece of created antiquity to catch the eye.
The trend continued through the 19th and 20th centuries, and rural Scotland today is resplendent with quirky, eccentric distractions. Photographer Alister G. Firth has captured a selection for our perusal.
LORD CARMICHAEL’S FIGURES
The picturesque village of Skirling, a few miles from Biggar on the A72 to Peebles, was the seat of Baron Carmichael of Skirling, who became the first Governor of Bengal in 1912. He gave the village a selection of wrought iron figures depicting animals and flowers. Carmichael’s house, built in 1908, is now a five-star bed and breakfast, and there is also a selection of these figures over the house and boundary fence.
HUNDY MUNDY, BERWICKSHIRE
A great name for a folly eye-catcher at Mellerstain House, home of the Earls of Haddington. Situated on the north / south axis of the house, this two-dimensional, turreted gothic archway dating from 1770 has smaller than normal openings in the stonework to give the impression of a larger structure when viewed from the house. The stone was allegedly taken from a nearby Pictish tower.
In 1834, Scotland’s national hero William Wallace had a memorial erected to him in the middle of a wood close to Dryburgh Abbey by the 12th Earl of Buchan. Perhaps a little fanciful, it stands 22ft high and depicts Wallace in Roman dress.
Standing in the corner of a churchyard south of Kelso is a small castellated tower with arrow slits. It was possibly constructed as a watch tower to guard the cemetery from grave robbers, but given the size of the village and graveyard it would have been uneconomic to build and man it, so it was perhaps thought that its mere existence would deter intruders.
WATERLOO MONUMENT, PENIEL
HEUGH, NEAR JEDBURGH
A 777ft-high tower celebrating the Duke of Wellington’s great victory against Napoleon Bonepart at Waterloo in 1815 dominates the landscape around the town of Jedburgh. The woodland is supposed to have been laid out in the formation of the opposing armies.
THE BARON’S FOLLY AT
FARNINGTON HOUSE, NEAR
Within the grounds of Farnington House stands a small gothic tower known as Baron’s Folly or Littledean Tower, erected to provide a romantic focal point .
DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY
During the 1980s, an arts grant of £1,500 was awarded towards improving the Lincluden area on the outskirts of Dumfries. Local school children decided that a rhinoceros on the top of the bus shelter on Kilmarnock Road would be fun. With the assistance of local artist Robbie Coleman, the first rhino was sculpted and put in place. It attracted a lot of attention, was never vandalised and remained in place until recently when road works necessitated the removal of the bus shelter. With work was completed, it was agreed to build a mock shelter that would be set back from the road, but still visible to passing motorists. The rhino has therefore been relocated, and this time is accompanied by a baby rhino.
North of Dumfries, a road leads up to Glenkiln Reservoir amid lonely hills and dramatic scenery. Here the Keswick family, associated with the one-time Hong Kong-based company Jardine Matheson, have created a sculpture park. It includes Henry Moore’s Standing Figure, his Glenkiln Cross on Bennan Hill; and overlooking Glenkiln Reservoir sit his King and Queen. John the Baptist by Auguste Rodin proclaims from a rock. Other works include pieces by the environmental sculptor Andy Goldsworthy.
COW PLACE, BORGUE,
Avital feature of a large farming estate was the dairy, and whilst it was a working building, because it could be seen from the main house it was often given Gothic treatment to make it more visually appealing. A variety of model dairies were built towards the late 19th century and early 20th century, and at Borgue, Cow Place was constructed for a Manchester businessman called James Brown. The large Gothic building was constructed with care around a large baronial tower designated to become a water tower, but it was found useless for the purpose. Local legend has it that Farmer Brown’s 12 cows were tethered with chains of silver and thus the building was to earn the nickname of Cow Place. Brown was also responsible for the tiny Gothic church complete with a mock turret at nearby Kirk Andrews.
The Hermitage at Dunkeld was a gift to the 2nd Duke of Atholl from his nephew in the 18th century and it is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland. There is a mile-long walk along the River Braan which runs through ancient woodland to a folly built in 1758 called Ossian’s Hall, which is close to Ossian’s Cave. There is a waterfall, gorge and little bridge, all of which superbly reflects the late 18th century taste for the picturesque.
THE WHIM, BLAIR ATHOLL, PERTHSHIRE
Based on a drawing by the 2nd Duke of Atholl, the Whim on the estate of Blair Castle is another example of the kind of picturesque indulgence that was so fashionable during the 18th century. It stands in the rolling landscape of northern Perthshire as it climbs towards the Grampian mountains to the north east.