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.
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.
Stones litter the winding avenue to the Temple Druid. As the path ends an enormous oval of standing dark stones rises from the low clearing, shadows sweeping across them. The hollow in the center is filled with rough-hewn boulders. Did an ancient roof once lie over the circle? Did the wild bearded pagans make sacrifices on the stones?
No, no they did not.
The Swinton Druids Temple is a modern folly, built in the 1820s on the orders of William Danby, the eccentric owner of the Swinton Estate. As an inventive solution to local unemployment, he decided to pay workers a shilling a day to prop up stones to create his own personal little Stonehenge.
What is curious is that it is not discussed in early tourist guides and there seems to be no mention in contemporary letters, diaries, or newspapers. Did Danby deliberately keep it hushed up to add to its lure, or was it just too far out of the way for genteel tourists to visit?
In creating the Druid’s Temple on his Swinton Park estate he was displaying his credentials as a man of the enlightenment. During the 18th century, there was a movement away from a view of the past in which untamed men erected dolmens and henges whilst mythological creatures skipped at their feet. In its place came a reverence for the creators of such monuments as a civilized people, early pioneers in such fields as geometry, astrology and architecture.
Once the task was complete, Danby set out a challenge, offering a salary for someone to live at the site for seven years as a hermit. No one passed the test, not even one possibly apocryphal figure who managed four and a half years before giving up.
Today the artfully arranged stone circle is visited by new-age pagans as a pilgrimage on the summer solstice, and by visitors to Swinton as a stopping spot for a quiet cup of tea.
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.