Like other men, it could be said my husband has many follies and, in his case, like other men, he did not necessarily declare them all before we married. Not all follies are visible but quite a few of Geordie’s are right in front of me.

Jackdaws Castle

Jackdaws Castle, across the lawns from the Library, was built by Geordie’s ancestor in 1743 and Dan’s Lodge, originally called Andover Lodge, was built around the same time. The Temple of Diana, which can be seen on the left as you drive out of the park, is from the end of the 18th century along with the Etruscan Temple, Heaven’s Gate and The Grotto. Others have disappeared into history.

The Temple of Diana

Strolling through the gardens and parkland here, you are always walking in other people’s footsteps: admiring the sweeping landscape, wandering idly down a winding drive or path, encountering a surprising view and going forwards with interest to find out where it leads. Gardens, parks and landscapes are embedded in the English psyche and, in the past, as today, the green lawns and trees, or the romantic wildness of nature, give us a sense of peace and inspiration.

Grotto Lodge – now a holiday cottage

Highclere’s follies, Geordie’s follies, are architectural buildings of interest not just because of what they are, but because of their position in the landscape. They were designed as a sort of punctuation point, either to enhance a particular view, or to suggest a place to pause in order to admire the beauty of the setting. Mock roman temples, symbolising classical virtues, were particularly popular in eighteenth-century English landscape design but very few follies were completely without practical purpose, even if that purpose is not entirely clear today. Some were picnic spots, some incorporated store rooms, some acted as rooms for trysts or hobbies such as watercolour painting.

In a time when immediate gratification of whims and desires was becoming the norm amongst the wealthy aristocracy of Europe, Geordie’s ancestor, Robert Herbert, wanted to create an instant park to impress his family and friends. Given how long trees take to grow, he decided to build some twelve follies in a framed and planned landscape thus illustrating his prestige and success, and proposing his excellent taste. Highclere House was considered an exquisite Gentleman’s residence, facing south with gardens and follies to amuse, set in the middle of a rural idyll.

The imagination of the 18th century in England was largely inspired by classical architecture and poetry, in particular Virgil’s Eclogues, where he wrote of a natural idyll where no work was needed – Et in arcadia ego – and it was this that the 18th century gentleman tried to transform into a lifestyle.

The Etruscan Temple

Jackdaw’s Castle was built from reclaimed pillars brought down from Devonshire House in London which had burnt down. It is constructed as a classical symmetrical temple raised on a mound so that it was on the same level as the long room which used to be the east side of the red brick house which was Highclere three hundred years ago.

Heaven’s Gate, a red brick arch on Siddown Hill, was originally built so quickly (within two weeks) that it fell down. No one was hurt and it was then again re-built in 1747. It was a mile and a half off from the house at the end of a double planted avenue on a direct line of sight from the imposing Tudor gatehouse. It was likely named for William Shakespeare’s sonnet No.29.

At the head of an old deer run lies Dans Lodge, which is now just a ruin but decorative in its own way. The Rotunda is no more but originally it was a pillared circular temple to the east of the house. Now only the marks of the remains can be distinguished in the ground. The pillars were probably removed and reused by Robert’s nephew when he created the Temple of Diana in about 1790.

The landscape architect William Kent is considered responsible for many of the more structured parks in this country:

“{William Kent} leaped the fence, and saw that all nature was a garden. He felt the delicious contrast of hill and valley changing imperceptibly into each other, tasted the beauty of the gentle swell, or concave scoop, and remarked how loose groves crowned an easy eminence with happy ornament…”

Fortunately for my husband, and the ensuing repair bills, Capability Brown’s plans of 1771 swept away perhaps six of the follies and the previous landscape lies now more in my imagination than in fact. There are not even many surviving records or maps of it. These days, Highclere has some ornaments – the remaining follies, some new serpentine walks through wild flower meadows, a reinstated allée and the background Brownian park which inspires, I hope in all, a sense of a journey in time and place. It is enough.