NS4276 : Ruins of the Folly Castle

taken 8 years ago, near to Bellsmyre, West Dunbartonshire, Great Britain

Ruins of the Folly Castle
Ruins of the Folly Castle
See NS4276 : Footbridge over the Overtoun Burn for the context of the area shown here, and NS4276 : Former site of the Folly Castle for another view.

In the nineteenth century, "Mr James White of Overtoun ... caused a tower to be built in a romantic situation on a beetling cliff overlooking a burn nigh to Overtoun House. This erection represents a ruined, ivy-covered keep .... Into this picturesque building the laird of Overtoun was allowed to introduce the bishop's stone of remembrance. ... The pediment of the memorial stone forms the lintel of the doorway; the remainder, except the epitaph, which was of marble and is destroyed, was built into the back wall" [Donald MacLeod, "Dumbarton Ancient and Modern" (1893)].

There is very little information readily available about the folly, so it is probably worth saying more about it here. It has been referred to as the "Folly Castle"; that is as good a name as any, and I will use that name in what follows. The reference to the "bishop's stone" will also be explained below.

For the author of "Dumbarton Ancient and Modern", quoted above, see NS4075 : The gravestone of Donald MacLeod; the book contains an illustration of the Folly Castle (it also shows the bishop's memorial on which, see below and gives the text of its inscription).

For James White, see NS6065 : Statue of James White of Overtoun and NS4076 : The White Memorial. It was for him that NS4276 : Overtoun House was built. He was the father of John Campbell White, who became Lord Overtoun, and who was responsible for many other changes and improvements to the Overtoun Estate; see LinkExternal link

I have not come across any work that gives the precise position of the folly, but the spot shown in my photograph is what I consider to be the probable location. It is situated at the head of a crag overlooking the Overtoun Burn (the burn which flows past Overtoun House). An "Overtoun Nature Trail" booklet (c.1980) does not show the exact position of the folly, but it does give enough information to show that it was located to the east of the burn, and somewhere to the north of the house; the booklet also states that the folly was "demolished some years ago when it became dangerous" (circa 1970).

In addition, large-scale OS mapping shows a small, almost square, unroofed structure here until at least 1970 (note that OS maps would not necessarily reflect the demolition of this small structure right away); the structure on the map is not labelled, but it would be an appropriate representation of the folly as it appears in the illustration in MacLeod's book.

The same early OS maps also show a cluster of other structures to the east; however, these were on level ground, not on a "beetling cliff", and they were certainly not overlooking the burn (as it happens, these other structures were a walled garden and related buildings).

There is now little to see on the ground here; there are the faint footings of a more or less square structure, although the remains are not very clearly distinguishable from the underlying crag. There are also some pieces of stone rubble lying around; a few such fragments can be seen near the centre of the photograph (see NS4276 : Rubble from the Folly Castle for a closer view). My impression, from the faint traces, was that the entrance had been towards the SSE (and therefore almost facing Overtoun House), but it is hard to be certain.

The memorial stone mentioned above was that of William Scrogie, Bishop of Argyll. The stone had been well-travelled before it ended up in the Folly Castle. Originally, it stood beside Dumbarton Parish Church, where it was at the SW end of the church; it was either attached to or located near the building. The church was demolished in 1810 so that a new church could be built on the same site (see LinkExternal link for more on this), and, for its own protection, the bishop's memorial was therefore removed from the parish kirkyard.

Sheriff Humphrey Walter Campbell (for whom, see NS4076 : Memorial to the Campbells of Barnhill) had the memorial's components removed to his house in Dumbarton's High Street. Afterwards, he had them taken to his new residence, College Park House (no longer extant see NS3975 : Dumbarton Municipal Buildings). Later, when he had NS4175 : Crosslet House built (see also NS4076 : Memorial to the Campbells of Barnhill), he had the pieces of the memorial brought there.

James White of Overtoun, who had the Folly Castle built, was a relative of the Sheriff (Humphrey's brother, Sheriff Alexander Campbell of Barnhill, was the father of James' wife, Fanny Campbell again, see NS4076 : Memorial to the Campbells of Barnhill for the details), and, as noted in the extract quoted at the start of this article, James was given permission to incorporate the bishop's memorial in the folly.

The inscription on the bishop's memorial was destroyed even before it was built into the folly, but it had been as follows (note that "Raffan" is Rathven in NJ4465).

"Here lyes the Body / of / William Scrogie / Bishop of Argyle
To this great Man gave Birth and learned Parts
Kind Aberdeen, the Mother of good Arts.
Raffan was happy, in his first Employ;
We here did long his godly Pains enjoy.
The Mitre call'd him hence unto Argyle,
Which honour'd was, by this great Bishop's Stile.
Having perform'd all Duties, he did cease,
From all his Labours, and depart in Peace,
His Soul above possesseth heav'nly Joys,
His Body here, till resurrection, lies.
Former site of Folly Castle
James White of Overtoun had a folly castle, in the form of a ruined ivy-covered tower, built on a small crag overlooking the Overtoun Burn. The memorial stone of Bishop Scrogie of Argyll was built into the folly, which was demolished c.1970. See also Overtoun House: LinkExternal link
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NS4276, 210 images   (more nearby )
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Date Taken
Friday, 23 December, 2011   (more nearby)
Monday, 2 January, 2012
Geographical Context
Historic sites and artefacts  Derelict, Disused 
Ruin (from Tags)
Subject Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4251 7639 [10m precision]
WGS84: 55:57.2784N 4:31.4420W
Camera Location
OSGB36: geotagged! NS 4250 7639
View Direction
EAST (about 90 degrees)
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