John Walker's Electronic House

Adventure #3: Brown’s Folly

by on Jun.08, 2006, under Photos

If there’s one place I haven’t wasted, it’s Brown’s Folly. It’s my favourite place in the area, and I’ve taken everyone I can to visit. But every single time forgotten to take a camera and torch. Well this time I sure did take a camera – my crappy old senile useless one, and it lived up to its reputation. So excuse the photographs – they are the best the mad old bucket could manage. I forgot to bring a torch. New Camera is in the post. There are exciting plans for Old Camera. But tonight was its swansong, and it arsed it up royally.

I discovered Brown’s Folly early on during my time living in Winsley. I had been chatting with the fantastic vicar of the church I had worked for, preparing for some work for an essay, and he had given me some of the history of the village. That evening I decided to have a drive around, still having a car back then, to explore a bit more. I drove through Conkwell, purely because the name makes me laugh, and discovered that Conkwell is the sort of place you know you’ve been through by discovering you’re not in it any more. I think it’s a single farm and some trees. My meandering about led me all over for a good while, and then eventually to a tiny narrow road leading up an incredibly steep hill. I think I still had my Micra back then, which was barely capable of going along flat roads, let alone this astonishing climb. Forget all the hills I’ve mentioned in the last couple of days – this one is the mightiest of them all. ROARING up in first gear the tin machine finally made it, and I noticed that on the right there was a dirt carpark and signs of some manner of paths to walk. I made a mental note to come back during daylight.

A few weeks later, with a pleasingly spare afternoon, I drove myself to it once more, which is quite an achievement in itself for someone with my total lack of sense. The area is on Farleigh Rise (nowhere near Farleigh Hungerford, I should add), just above Bathford. I had no idea what it might offer, and I could not have been more rewarded.

Since I have been at least ten times, taking all who dare venture near to show them the fantastic series of bizarre delights it has to offer, in all weathers. And never remembered a camera because I am a massive idiot. But I’ve been there in the snow (New Year’s Morning) and in the rain in Spring and in the crunchy Autumn, and most of all, in the blazing sunshine. Tonight was the latter.

Driven by the lovely Jo, we followed the usual path from the carpark to pass everything in the order I first discovered it. And by discovered it, I mean: walked along the pre-made path following the nature trail signs. The very first thing is to walk through the woods, which is always a fantastic way to spend time, but rarely better than when discovering a quick nip from the main path (to the left, preferably – to the right is a terrifying drop to your grizzly death) reveals the existence of caves! CAVES! The area was one of innumerous sites around Bath used as a quarry for mining Bathstone, and it turns out has quite elaborate and accessible mines below.

beware: bats!

The caves are supposed to be protected with locked metal fences across their entrances, apart from the one above which has no tunnels. However, gates are either broken or entirely missing, and some swinging freely with no locks. More peculiar is one cave which can be climbed inside has a sign on the inside telling you about the various species of bats that live in them. These excellent inhabitants give Brown’s Folly the status of a Special Site of Scientific Interest.

There are a number of caves dotted along the route through the wood, which eventually ends in a gleaming gap of sunlight.

When I was a teenager I went on a number of week-long hikes with friends in various hilly areas, generally dragging along at the back and complaining that my legs hurt. And we encountered a lot of kissing gates, at which it is of course traditional to kiss whomsoever you might be with. Being all boys, and not enamoured by the idea of kissing one another, we invented the sub-tradition of kissing the gate itself. It’s something I’ve carried with me ever since, and something that reminds me to email Greg back – sorry if you’re reading – and find myself feeling obliged to kiss the unpleasant tasting metal of every kissing gate I pass.

Going through this kissing gate (American readers see here) takes you out into what I’ve always thought of as Teletubby Land. The switch from woods to rolling hills is peculiarly immediate, with the most incredibly breathtaking view on your right.

The brilliant plan by Jo and me was to have a barbecue on the hills, so with a disposable tray bbq and carrier bag of meat and bread we sat in front of the incredible vista and cooked. Tummies sated the third and final stage of Brown’s Folly was next. The folly itself.

The first time I visited I was already incredibly pleased to have found somewhere so very gorgeous, and so very interesting. So when walking up the steep path to see what was higher up and seeing this:


I was a little surprised.

(I love that in this picture it looks as though the tower roams silently through the woods, sliding up behind people and then probably frying them with its evil laser).

The tower was built by the owner of the local quarry, Wade Brown, in 1848. As with any folly, it serves no purpose at all, and in this case was built by Brown to provide work for people during a time of depression. It was then renovated in 1907 by Sir Charles Hobhouse who then owned the estate, who apparently used it as a hunting lodge. None of this information can be gleaned at the folly itself – it’s an utterly anonymous building. And I like that about it. It seems fitting for its purposeless existence to be left unexplained to those who might stumble upon it.

The walls are blank (but for the small stone engraving reading “WB 1848 / CH 1907”) from ground to the very top (perhaps 40ft high) where there are four windows, but for a door. When I first visited the door was shut, with apparently no means of opening it. Rusted metal, it has extra blocks and bars all over its edges, and while there’s a pull handle, it appears to be on the same side as what look like the hinges. I pushed and pulled, shoulder-barged and rattled, but it seemed quite stuck. And then, not really knowing why, I gave it a firm kick (it’s a tough metal door, not fragile at all – a kick was not going to worry it) and it burst open. The hinges were on the opposite side, and the pull handle meant for pushing. (The door is fine, by the way. It is simply slightly bigger than its own frame and wedges. Pulling it shut again renders it equally stuck).

Inside the floor is covered by the broken remains of what must have once been the platform near the top, cages that once blocked the windows, ragged blue tarp, and a few dozen empty lager cans. It’s a sad state. Looking up is far more rewarding, however, as you see the stone steps that are mounted in the walls themselves, and not held up by any other means.

You remind me of the babe

Looking like they were designed by David Bowie’s goblin minions, they are in a bad state, crumbling threateningly and without handrails for most the way up. But that wasn’t enough to stop me then, and it’s not enough to stop me now. How could anyone resist? Climbing up is terrifying, not being sure if the steps will hold, and with nothing to balance yourself. I’m not sure why I should suddenly feel so imbalanced when stood on a two foot wide step, simply because it’s thirty feet high. I don’t suddenly lurch sideways during the majority of my life, so it seems strange that I should feel so wobbly in such circumstance. But it’s worth it. As mentioned, the viewing platform is at the bottom of the tower in pieces, with only two steel girders remaining besides the steps. But the walls are at least foot and a half thick, and the window sill makes a surprisingly safe-feeling ledge to rest on.

The view from the top is absolutely wonderful, and the tower itself is intricately beautiful.

The folly is very magical, if somewhat dilapidated. Exploring the bricks around the ground level reveals stone-carved graffiti dating back to the 19th century, and all the way up until, well, the time I took my youth group there and they added their own with surrounding chalk. It would be a shame to see it restored, as its decay is beautiful, but it would be nice to see it at least cared for. It’s hard to wish too hard for that though, because any attention would surely lead to its being sealed off as the enormously dangerous safety hazard it clearly is, or worse, “fixed” until it became a plexiglassed monstrosity of tourism hell.

So here’s my campain: Don’t Save Brown’s Folly.

I made my way back down to where Jo was staring at the view from the hillside. It had produced a sunset, creating a fitting end for the third adventure.

3 Comments for this entry

  • km

    as you know, i love photographing urban decay. i must say this decay is beautiful as well. and, of course, gold star for your bowie reference :) i suppose it was worth the wait for the story.

  • Steve W

    “to the right is a terrifying drop to your grizzly death”

    Why, are there bears at the bottom? Fantastic.

  • Tediworrier

    not any more ……..wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee splatttt!

    Anyway, She-Whom-You-Would-Do-Well-To-Obey said you weren’t to climb to the top

    “urban decay”…. huh?
    Now THAT would have been a good name!