One of the strangest places I've ever visited, it fascinates people all over the world and has been called the Hobbit House, Castle of the Dwarves, the Stone Age Disney Castle...yet it's real name is very down to earth – Colin's Barn.
Colin Stokes first began work on the building with the intention of using it literally as a barn for his animals. He kept rare breed sheep and goats here on his little farm just inside Wiltshire and his creative – and talented – mind thought they deserved something a bit fancy. Learning the skills of dry stone walling as he went, Colin added more and more features over the years, getting in his words “a bit carried away”, until the miniature castle we have today took shape. The whole of the exterior is entirely dry stone, with no mortar or cement anywhere and stands as a testament to this man's skills and vision. Turrets, towers and gateways were expertly built up over the course of a decade, architectural features which were of no use to his sheep but satisfied Colin's creative urges.
The interior is like a rustic cottage from centuries ago but does feature some fabulous stained glass windows that feature pretty designs reflecting nature and country life. Stokes was also a very good glass artist and the local church actually boasts a window made and donated by him. Two sculpted friezes are in the “parlour”, one of which has spawned a lot of rumours and wild stories suggesting that “satanic” rituals took place here. It features the head of a goat above crafted foliage and in reality was simply in tribute to his old breed goats that lived in the barn. If people have gone in long after Colin's day and carried out such rites then there is no evidence of it now, and a couple of of the videos I have seen of “paranormal vigils” claiming to be in contact with things living here are misguided at best and disrespectful to Colin's memory at worse.
To the unitiated, yes, Colin's Barn does look like the perfect place for such activities but I certainly didn't feel any kind of atmosphere like that when I visited. A few empty cider bottles were dotted about but thankfully there is no damage, graffitti or litter here. This is probably because the place is very hard to locate and get to! Nature is gradually encroaching more and more and I hope the current landowners do something about this. Colin Stokes sold up and moved to Scotland when quarrying work began near his land and the constant noise from the trucks disturbed his peace. The foot and mouth outbreak sadly decimated his herds and he passed away a few years ago. Some claim he left because of rows over planning permission for the barn but this isn't true. You'd never know it was there among the trees, especially during the warmer months, and if anything it should stand permanently as a work of art.
I think Colin Stokes was one of the last of a dying breed – the British eccentric – and his barn stands as an enchanting monument to this tradition. Far more than a mere folly built on a whim for some wealthy aristocrat, this building was created single handedly by it's owner and has a real sense of strangeness about it, it belongs here but also belongs in another time, place, even another world. Colin's Barn has become a part of the folkloric landscape of Mercia, an oft-talked about but little seen place of legend, and I hope that it stands for centuries to come to entice and enchant those who search for and experience it.