..........of druids, follies, and hermits.
If youre travelling through Yorkshire and you happen to find yourself near the small town of Ripon, head to the north west and the winding lanes should take you gradually up into the hills somewhere near Leighton reservoir, nestled amongst the moors and forests of the yorkshire dales. If you have a good map, (or meet a local who will actually talk to you) you should be able to find your way to the druids temple.
The druids temple is the best example of a Georgian folly ive ever seen. Wealthy land owners in the 1700's and 1800's had a bit of an obsession for building follies and many of them had a keen interest in antiquities too, which resulted in some fantastic creations, but none so interesting and atmospheric as this lovely place. Ive always had a keen interest in prehistory and megaliths in particular, but knowing this is a 200 year old 'fake' makes it no less fascinating, in fact it has far more atmosphere than many of the neolithic sites ive visited.
What is a fake anyway ? is it 'fake' simply because its not as old as the 'originals' it's meant to emulate ? If so, were neolithic temples fake when they were new ?
All i know about the history of the druids temple is that it was built over a period of about 50 years between the 1780's and 1830's, and the story goes that it was built by the land owner William Danby to give work to local unemployed labourers. I dont know how true this is, but he was supposedly well liked by his tenants, and opened his land up to public access. Plenty of modern landowners could learn a thing or two from him then.
There is also a story that he agreed to pay an annual fee and food for life to anyone who could live as a hermit in the temple for seven years, speak to no-one, and allow his hair and beard to grow, but the longest anyone lasted was four and a half years. this itself is fairly remarkable considering how wet and cold it can be up in the hills above Masham in winter (and summer).
The temple itself is obviously inspired by Stonehenge and other ancient neolithic temples, which were often thought of as 'druidic'. There are also quite a few smaller additions such as dolmens and standing stones dotted around the area and the whole place is set in and surrounded by mature and very atmospheric conifer forest.
It's not an easy place to find and that adds to the feel of the place. The journey is part of the adventure after all.
A depiction of Merlin the druid, by Alan Lee.
Upon the hearth the fire is red,
Beneath the roof there is a bed;
But not yet weary are our feet,
Still round the corner we may meet
A sudden tree or standing stone
That none have seen but we alone.
Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today,
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the hidden paths that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.