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Cotswold Ways Walk: Exploring the delightful follies of Faringdon

PUBLISHED: 14:43 08 October 2018 | UPDATED: 14:43 08 October 2018

Folly Park Lake

Folly Park Lake

Kevan Manwaring

If a bit of English eccentricity is your thing, spend an enjoyable afternoon exploring the delightful follies of Faringdon

In 1930 a remarkable man moved to Faringdon in deepest Oxfordshire. Little would the town have suspected how their new resident would bring a touch of the surreal to their quiet corner of England.

The new owner of the splendid domicile, Faringdon House, was Gerald Hugh Tyrwhitt-Wilson, 14th Baron Berners (1884-1950), a cultured fellow of singular humour and talents, recently returned from a over decade abroad attached to the British Embassies of Constantinople, Paris and Rome (before taking a sabbatical to focus on his composition). He was at the age of 46 already an accomplished writer, painter and composer. Stravinsky thought him the finest British composer of the century, and Diaghilev commissioned him to compose the score for the ‘Triumph of Neptune’.

Sculpture at Folly HillSculpture at Folly Hill

Overcoming the death of his mother, Lord Berners made Faringdon House the centre of a sparkling social scene, playing host to the glitterati of the arts and intelligentsia of the 1920s and 30s. His guest list included the likes of Aldous Huxley, HG Wells, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell, Nancy Mitford, Stravinsky, Diaghilev, Diana Mosley, Cecil Beaton, Evelyn Waugh, Duff Coopers, John & Penelope Betjeman, Elsa Schiaparelli… Berners’ themed parties were renowned. He played the role of Lord of Misrule exceptionally well.

Berners bought the wooded hilltop to the south of the town, and then to tease the local people built Folly Tower. The architect he commissioned detested the Gothic style, so Berners made him add a Gothic embellishment to its crown. In 1935, Robert Heber-Percy, Lord Berners companion, was given the Folly Tower as a birthday present, and Berners’ descendant bequeathed it to the town (leaving a fine legacy of Scots Pine). Now run by the Faringdon Folly Tower Trust, it is a popular park where surreal sculptures can be discovered. On the bimonthly open days, visitors can ascend the tower and enjoy a pigeon-eyed view of the world. Berners had a great sense of fun, a strain of English absurdism which makes him practically a proto-Python. Many of his antics would not have looked out of place in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He famously had the local pigeons dyed pink. Around the town he had installed nonsensical signs such as ‘This is not a notice’. On the side of his tower, halfway up, the eagle-eyed can spot ‘Do not feed the giraffes’. Berners invited Dali to stay with him, and the Spanish surrealist notoriously walked around the market square in a diving suit, which a lovely statue commemorates. Berners genius was to transform a quiet corner of England into a playground of the imagination. Take the air around Faringdon and you too may find yourself suddenly possessed with strange ideas and an irrepressible sense of fun.

The Old Stable Block, FaringdonThe Old Stable Block, Faringdon

The walk:

1. Exit Gloucester Street carpark at bottom end, via Mews next to pub. Turn left to the charming Market Place. Enjoy the curious shops and cafes (if, like Oscar Wilde, you cannot resist temptation). The Faringdon Coffee House is particularly fabulous.

2. Heading up hill, turn left up Church Street towards the church. Spot the diving suit statue by the stone seats opposite (in front of Tourist Information Centre).

3. Enter churchyard. Explore church and grounds. Exit from path eastwards, further up road.

4. Continue up road until the photogenic coach-house and then take a left down Radcot Road.

5. Keep walking down Radcot Road until you see the splendid statue in the corner of the grounds of Faringdon House. Standing on a pillbox, ‘Egypt’, by the Italian-born French sculptor Baron Carlo Marochetti, was originally commissioned for the Great Exhibitions of 1851 and 1854.

6. Now return back up the road towards the town, turning left along Church Street again.

7. Head passed the houses and take the track (Church Lane) which becomes eventually a footpath.

8. Enjoy the views across the fields. There is an iron bench if you need to take a breather. A good place for a cuppa.

9. Continue on until the pretty cottage in the corner of the field, turn right here and follow drive way up to road.

10. Carefully cross London Street.

11. Make your way through the trees until you come to the path which ascends to Faringdon Folly.

12. Enjoy the view from the Folly. Explore the sculptures hidden amongst the trees.

13. When you’re ready, leave Folly Hill on roughly the opposite side from where you entered (in a southwest direction) descending towards the town.

14. At road, turn left up Stanford Road.

15. Cross road at Nursery View, and descend through the houses to the park.

16. Continue through park, past Folly Park Lake (arrived at through a short tunnel of trees).

17. Exit park at back of houses onto Clements Lane.

18. Turn left onto Palmer Road, then right onto Park Road (A417).

19. Just past Old Sawmills Road on your right, take The Hobble footpath between the buildings.

20. Emerging onto Southampton Street, follow this back to the Market Place (crossing Ferndale Street).

21. Return to carpark (maybe via Tourist Information Centre; café or pub!).

Essentials:

Distance: 2 miles.

Duration: 90 mins-2 hrs.

Level: Easy. gentle climb to Folly Hill.

Parking: Gloucester Street carpark.

Toilets: Carpark.

Pub: There are several fine hostelries in town – take your pick!

Café: Faringdon Coffee House, 4B Market Place, SN7 7HL.

Kevan Manwaring is a Stroud-based writer and storyteller. He is the author of Oxfordshire Folk Tales and Northamptonshire Folk Tales, a contributor to English Folk Tales and editor of Ballad Tales, all from the History Press. He teaches creative writing for the Open University and the Stroud area.

Find Kevan on Twitter! @bardicacademic

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