Picture Post: Summer solstice sunshine at Druid’s Temple on the Swinton Estate near Masham

Picture: Tony Johnson. Words: John Blow.

The Druid's Temple at the Swinton Estate by Tony Johnson. Technical details: Nikon D850 with a 28-70mm lens, shot with the exposure 1/160th of a second at  f8, 400 ISO.
The Druid's Temple at the Swinton Estate by Tony Johnson. Technical details: Nikon D850 with a 28-70mm lens, shot with the exposure 1/160th of a second at f8, 400 ISO.

Its origins – more recent than they first appear – are still something of a mystery.

But the Druid’s Temple on the Swinton Estate at Ilton near Masham continues to be a source of intrigue for visitors to North Yorkshire – especially on occasions like today’s Summer Solstice.

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Not a lot is officially known about the construction of what is actually a folly, but it is believed to have been built in the late 1700s or 1800s from an idea by William Danby, owner of Swinton Estate and nearby Swinton Park. It is rumoured that a hermit lived there for many years, according to the estate, which says “its mystical connections are probably fairly tenuous, as it was built at a time when there was a great deal of interest in Druidism as part of the emerging Romantic period”.

Another story is that the ‘Yorkshire Stonehenge’ was built to help lift locals out of unemployment, with Danby paying workers a shilling a day. The site contains a main temple along with numerous stone formations dotted around the woodland, within which there are a number of other standing stones, making the area an appealing one to walkers.

But it also led to what must be one of the House of Lords’ more peculiar interventions.

During a debate about the countryside in June 2000, Baroness Masham of Ilton said: “A few miles from Masham, on the estate, is a realistic copy of a druid temple, with all the stones, including the sacrificial stone, in the correct positions. One Sunday afternoon, my secretary was going for a walk with a friend when she found a pig’s head sitting on the altar, which gave her a terrific shock. It is thought that there has been devil worship there.

"On another occasion, I had to leave home early one morning. Just outside Masham, I found a small group of Leeds University students who had spent the night at the druids temple. They were cold and frightened. With the night shadows and the country noises, such as owls hooting, they had fled. As I was going towards Leeds, I gave them a lift. They told me that they had had a terrible experience.”

Technical details: Nikon D850 with a 28-70mm lens, shot with the exposure 1/160th of a second at f8, 400 ISO.