I sit alone at one end of the folly next to six grape hyacinths and a solitary dandelion. I choose the spot because I admire the small bravery of their colours against endless green. Actually, as I acclimatise, I realise other paints are present: clumps of yellow and white daffodils encircle a spindly tree like a floral wagon train. And like the sporadic existence of random daffs I recently spotted along the lonelier parts of the Kennet and Avon Canal, I wonder who planted them and why. Meanwhile, a sparse and close at hand patch of celandines turns faces to the unexpected warmth of the April sun.
Creech Folly, also known less enigmatically as Grange Arch, was constructed in 1746. In some ways it looks newer. Two hundred and something years of dirt and age are not immediately obvious, although other bygone remnants may be present: earlier, I tried to perch in a recess set in the main arch. It looks like the kind of stone seating area that might have been kindly and conveniently placed for those that have trudged up the incline to escape the pounding of Bindon Hill firing range. But, as I sit down, an older noise, one of the scuttling variety, sends me jumping back into the Purbeck air before body and folly have a chance to know each other in a physical sense.
I look behind. Nothing. Had I been in the other country, I might have anticipated a large lizard. I’m not in France. I’m on top of the Jurassic coastline where hawks and pterodactyls are floating dreamlike on ancient thermals over sheep-ridden downs between the folly and the endless sea. Here roamed dinosaurs leaving fossilised footprints and other Anning-like leftovers, useful for upcycling as handy evidence for world heritage funding.
Here was Paul Nash, wandering about and around with his pencils, paints and photographic equipment. Commissioned by Betjeman, on behalf of Shell, his fossil-ridden Dorset Guide pre-empted re-loved Jurassic reinventions by about fifty years; even though he, ironically, iconically and contemporaneously wrote in the footsteps of Hardy. When he wasn’t constructing what was to become the rarest of the Shell County Guides, and imposing his own brand of surrealism upon the already and still surreal Dorset, Nash was either behaving badly or taking tea at the Grand Hotel in Swanage. His was the first representation I ever saw, and the first knowledge I possessed of Creech Folly. The absurdity that Nash depicted made me want visit instantly.
Later, I acquired an original etching of the folly by John Liddell, an outstanding printmaker. Unlike much of his work set in Poole, Liddle depicted Creech Folly in deserved colour. Interestingly, he placed a horned ram in front of the edifice which somehow makes the picture seem much older than it is and gives the erroneous impression that he arrived on the hill before Nash.
More recently, someone else was here for reasons unknown. They failed to place old age/new age votive streamers in bushes, leave candle stubs at the folly’s feet or even build piles of enigmatic but boring stones. Somehow, nonetheless, the unknown presence managed to get a beribboned garland to sit at the top of a hawthorn tree, at a height impossible to attain by natural means. How and why did they do that? What story waits to be recorded here?