The Temple Folly – Wensleydale

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Site Details:

The Temple Folly, an 18th-century Grade II listed structure, stands as a testament to the architectural whimsy of the period. Nestled in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, this folly is situated on the north side of the road from Leyburn to Hawes, near West Witton. Its history is intertwined with the picturesque landscape of Wensleydale, a region renowned for its scenic beauty and historical depth. The folly itself is an octagonal building, offering panoramic views of the surrounding dales and serving as a unique landmark within the park.

Historically, follies were built for their decorative appeal rather than practical use, often embodying the romanticism of the era. The Temple Folly is no exception, with its design likely intended to evoke the classical grandeur of ancient temples. While the exact reasons for its construction remain a matter of speculation, it is clear that such structures were a symbol of status and taste for the landowners of the time.

The Temple Folly's location is also of historical significance. The area to the west of West Witton was once under the influence of the Knights Templar, a medieval Christian military order. The Templars held lands in this region, and the name 'Temple' may derive from their presence. In the 13th century, the area was known for its parkland, stocked with deer and used for hunting. Over time, the Templars' influence waned, and following their suppression, the lands eventually passed to the Knights Hospitaller.

In the 19th century, the folly gained renewed attention when the foundations of a chapel, believed to be associated with the Templars, were discovered nearby. This chapel, dedicated to Our Lady and St. Catherine, added a layer of religious and historical intrigue to the site. The discovery of these remains highlighted the folly's connection to the area's medieval past and the enduring legacy of the Templars in North Yorkshire.

Today, the Temple Folly is not only a historical curiosity but also a part of the local heritage that continues to captivate visitors. Its preservation as a listed building ensures that it remains an integral piece of the cultural tapestry of the Yorkshire Dales. For those interested in the architectural follies of England, the Temple Folly offers a unique glimpse into the past, where romanticism and reverence for classical antiquity shaped the landscape. It stands as a silent observer to the changing times, from the medieval era of the Knights Templar to the present day, reminding us of the rich tapestry of history that is woven into the countryside of North Yorkshire.

Site Visit Notes:

Surrounded by a high wall amidst an overgrown garden, a dilapidated summer house stands on a small knoll. This Summer House belonged to Swinithwaite Hall, a mile down the road, being built in 1792 for Mr. T.J. Anderson. The Architect was John Foss, of Richmond. The building (for those intrepid enough to get close to it) has an octagonal base with a fine bas relief of a pointer above the door. Inside a staircase leads to a domed octagonal chamber, which apparently still possesses most of its fine plasterwork. A balcony runs around the outside. Lonely and neglected, the traffic to Aysgarth rumbles by and the building stands forlorn.

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