An illustrated guide to urban exploration in the Russian capital.
12 December 2022
Sitting on the edge of a field in rural Wiltshire, Colin’s Barn – affectionately known by some as the Hobbit House – is a peculiar little place. It is a unique folly, a work of obsessive craftsmanship which feels deserving of more attention: a brown tourist sign pointing to a car park, and an information board for visitors, for example. Instead though – at least when I saw it – the building was hidden from public view, and with no apparent measures being taken to protect it from decline.
Built between 1989 and 1999, the site features a cluster of separate structures fitted with wooden doors, lofts, dovecotes, and ornately decorated windows. This stonewalled oddity was created by Colin Stokes, a local sheep farmer and stained glass artist. What originally started out as a shelter for storing hay gradually evolved into a far more elaborate project. Later, an upper floor was sparsely furnished with a cot, providing Colin with a place to sleep during lambing season, when he needed to be closer to the flock.
“I just got a bit carried away,” he’d later tell the press.
After 2000, Colin’s Barn was 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 out there, suggesting that Colin Stokes fell out with the local council over his lack of planning permission; though according to the artist himself, that’s not the case.
I went looking for Colin’s Barn one day, on a road trip with a couple of friends. 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 (a name which, to be honest, frustrates my inner-nerd considering Tolkien’s Hobbit holes were exclusively subterranean structures whereas Colin’s Barn is not.)
We parked on the road nearby. The land was marshy after recent rains, and my sports shoes (a poor choice) were already sodden and squelching by the time I spotted a series of stone turrets rising beyond hedgerows ahead. There were voices coming from Colin’s Barn too, and as we came around the corner we met their owners – four youths in baseball caps and tracksuits. They were teenagers from the nearby town, and had driven out here to admire Colin’s creation.
Colin’s Barn instills a real sense of wonder in visitors. We all explored it together, gently easing open the doors to turrets and ruined dovecots to peer into each new space, eyes wide with childish delight. The love that was poured into this place is infectious, making it hard not to smile as you admire Colin’s work.
Regarding the design, Colin Stokes told reporters: “I didn’t draw any plans before hand – it just grew organically. I took inspiration from buildings that I had seen during my life that looked like they were part of their surroundings. I like buildings to look like they belong.”
Our visit to Colin’s Barn happened back in 2014. Its condition was fair, the stonework was holding up well after 14 years of abandonment, though many of the interior furnishings and decorative elements were showing signs of decline. However, it has been reported that since 25 February 2021, Colin’s Barn has been listed as a Grade II heritage building. Up until now, it’s been something of a hidden treasure, tucked away on private land as it gradually starts to fall apart – but this recognition should hopefully guarantee its preservation, and maybe one day, Colin’s Barn might officially start welcoming the wide-eyed, appreciative visitors that it so very much deserves.