Hidden Gems, our series of columns in conjunction with Visit Harrogate, looks at places of interest here on our doorstep. Here, James Perris the Druid’s Temple at Ilton, near Masham, a mini-Stonehenge folly built in the 19th century.
Located just a few miles west of Thornborough Henges, when first stumbling upon the Druid’s Temple on the 20,000-acre Swinton Park Estate at Ilton, near Masham, you could be forgiven for thinking it was another legacy of the neolithic age.
In fact, it is relatively youthful – a folly built less than 200 years ago with construction completed in 1820.
The construction of this mini-Stonehenge was commissioned by William Danby (1752-1833) who lived at Swinton Park, the country house which has been operated as a hotel since 2001.
Danby, a scholar and writer, was also a philanthropist and it is said the Druid’s Temple was his effort to help alleviate unemployment among labourers in the area who were paid a shilling a day to build the folly.
The temple sits hidden in a private forest on the estate, east of Leighton Reservoir, and is around 100ft long and 50ft wide (30x15m).
The giant oval structure includes a large stone table, altar stone and a sheltered cave.
Legend has it Danby offered a salary for someone to live at the site for seven years as a hermit but no-one passed the challenge –including one possibly apocryphal figure who managed four-and-a-half years before giving up.
In modern times, it is a popular place where walkers might stop for a flask of tea and a sandwich and a place for pagans to make a pilgrimmage, particularly on celestially significant dates such as the summer solstice.
The site also lends its name to the “glamping” holiday accommodation site, Bivouac at Druid’s Temple , whose wooden shacks sit in the woodland and meadow yurts close by. Perhaps if such amenities had been available two centuries ago, someone might have found it that bit easier to meet Danby’s seven-year hermit challenge.
While not an authentic neolithic monument, the Druid’s Temple is archictecturally a significant folly in its own right. And though it may never have been used by ancient tribes the temple still holds considerable charm where visitors are sure to find a certain magic in the air.