A country walk through rolling countryside and wonderful landscapes is one of the ever popular things to do in England. Sometimes, though, you may want to spend a day out in the countryside doing something bit more challenging and diverting - yet perhaps not as much of a challenge as rock climbing or scrambling. The Hawkstone Park Follies, one of the more eccentric attractions in England, is the perfect way to spend several hours when you are in that kind of mood.
Landscape Architecture Gone Berserk
The 18th century, when the Hawkstone Park Follies were being created, was an age of ambitious landscape garden projects. It was the heyday of Launcelot "Capability" Brown, designer of the parkland at Blenheim Palace,Stowe Landscape Gardens and Longleat House among others.
Wealthy landowners of the time thought nothing of creating lakes, even moving mountains to shape the natural environment to their fantasies or to express their ideas. For the Hill family that meant covering a dramatic sandstone and gritstone ledge, that rose several hundred feet above the surrounding countryside, with grottos, monuments and faux ruins to stimulate their guests' "visual and spiritual senses."
Paths wound through four hills, with curiosities designed to astonish and inspire. At one point, the family even supported a hermit who offered words of wisdom to visitors, one of whom was Samuel Johnson. After a walk in 1774, Dr. Johnson was beside himself with praise, comparing Hawkstone favorably with the Derbyshire Peak District:
"It excells Dovedale, by the extent of its prospects, the awfulness of its shades, the horrors of its precipices, the verdures of its hollows and the loftiness of its rocks. The ideas which it forces upon the mind are the sublime, the dreadful and the vast. Above, is inaccessible altitude, below, is horrible profundity."
In 1783, Sir Richard Hill decided the public should be admitted to his private park and published a guide. By the time he died, in 1809, the Hawkstone Follies were one of the most popular - and earliest - tourist attractions in England.
A Change in Fortunes
By the early 20th century, family fortunes had disappeared and the estate had changed hands several times. The landscape about which Dr. Johnson had waxed lyrical (while complaining that the walk was rather hard going) was overgrown and forgotten.
Then, in 1990, new owners took on the task of revealing this eccentric landscape once more. After investing £4 million and three years on restoration, the park was reopened to visitors in 1993. It is now Grade 1 listed on the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, maintained by English Heritage.