A couple of weeks ago I was on the Dorset coast visiting the most extraordinary Victorian folly I have ever seen. Durlston Head Castle is a mock baronial style castle built for a Victorian industrialist, George Burt, who made his money in construction. The Durlston estate was developed as a Victorian tourist attraction with the castle at the centre housing a restaurant and refreshment rooms for the visitors.
There was an educative as well as an entertainment intent to Durlston. The side wall of the castle features a sundial and two stone tablets inscribed with various statistics such as clock times and tides around the world. South of the castle is a huge globe, one of the largest stone globes in the world, built in 1887. The grounds are landscaped with zig zag paths, streams, drives, shrubberies and pleasure gardens containing special ornamental planting: tamarisks, rhododendrons, fuschias, Pampas grass, holly, yews and variegated laurels. I particularly loved the stone plaques scattered about the grounds that are carved with quotations from the Bible and from Shakespeare.
Along the coast path are the Tilly Whim Caves, limestone quarries that stopped working in 1812 but were opened by George Burt as a tourist attraction. Access to the caves was down a set of steps and along a passageway. There are stone benches close to the entrance. The caves opened out onto a shelf above the sea where there is an inscription from The Tempest carved into the rock face. Sadly the caves are now closed because rock falls make them dangerous so we were unable to venture down.
Victorian visitors also came to Durlston to see the fossils and to enjoy the sea views from the terraces. We had a splendid walk along the coast path on a very stormy day, then retired to the battlements of the castle to admire the windswept view much as the original visitors would have done!
©2012 Nicola Cornick. All Rights Reserved..
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