37 monuments in 30 days, and what I learned along the way.
Monday 14 March 2016
Sitting on the edge of a field in rural Wiltshire, it might be the last thing you’d expect to find. Colin’s Barn – affectionately known by some as the Hobbit House – is a peculiar little place.
Built between 1989 and 1999, the complex features a cluster of separate structures fitted with wooden doors, lofts, dovecotes, and ornate stained glass windows. An upper floor was sparsely furnished with a cot; providing its owner with a place to sleep during lambing season, when he needed to be closer to the flock.
This stonewalled oddity was created by Colin: Colin Stokes that is, a local sheep farmer and stained glass artist. What started out as a shelter for storing his hay gradually evolved into a far more elaborate project.
“I just got a bit carried away,” he’d later tell the press.
The place is quite a remarkable treasure, though since 2000 it has been more or less abandoned. Colin moved to a farm in Scotland, when a quarry was opened nearby and heavy vehicles began crawling up and down these once-peaceful lanes.
There’s another story floating about, suggesting that Colin Stokes fell out with the local council over his lack of planning permission; though according to the artist himself, it’s no more than fiction.
I went looking for Colin’s Barn one day, on a road trip with a couple of friends (that same day we stopped by the stone circles at Stanton Drew). Finding co-ordinates didn’t take long. The place is well-documented on photography forums, where users have taken to calling it the Hobbit House.
(The inner geek in me has issues with that name – seeing as how Tolkien’s Hobbit holes were exclusively subterranean structures whereas Colin’s Barn is not. Nevertheless, I’ll admit that the title does have a suitably rustic ring to it.)
We parked on a road nearby. The reports I’d read suggested that the current owner, based in a nearby farmhouse, didn’t take kindly to trespassers on his land. I was picturing a fierce old farmer with a dog at his heels. We opted to go cross-country, sneaking up on the place through hedgerows rather than parking in plain sight right beside the barn.
The land was partially flooded – I found out quite by surprise, as I made a dash across the first open field for the cover of the hedges. I ran headlong into a marsh, but kept on going until I arrived, sodden and squelching, into a clearing beneath the bushes. My friends crossed behind me, then keeping low we followed the hedge in the direction of our co-ordinates.
By the time I spied the handful of stone turrets rising on the far side of the bushes, I realised I could hear voices too. We crept closer, slowly, trying to work out what to prepare for… though we needn’t have been so stealthy. Reaching the thicket of shrubs at the rear side of the structure, I made out a couple of youths in baseball caps and tracksuits wandering in and out of Colin’s Barn.
There were four of them, all teenagers. Seeing as they’d parked their car right in front of the buildings, there didn’t seem to be much point in subtlety anymore. I popped out of the bushes to introduce myself and soon enough the four of us, and four of them, were exploring Colin’s Barn together.
Our new companions – with their suped-up car, their caps and fags and bling – seemed out of place in this fantastical, rambling dream built up out of stone. Yet here they were, on a road trip out of town to see something wonderful. The eight of us explored the Hobbit House with childlike delight, and I couldn’t help but feel that Colin would have approved.
“It’s a bit different, innit?” one of the others said to me, as he gently eased open the door to a turreted tower.
“It certainly is,” I agreed.
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