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Mitchell's Fold  (C) Graham Farrell

Mitchell’s Fold (C) Graham Farrell

If you’re in The Midlands and contemplating a “bronze age outing” this Easter, there’s no need to go far. You could visit Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, high on the heathland of Stapeley Hill in West Shropshire. You’ll need to be fairly fit as it’s a bit of a climb but well worth it for the wonderful views it commands. Friend of The Journal Tish Farrell provides lots of information about this fascinating place here and here.

We received awful news yesterday afternoon from Emma Alsop on the Peak District Prehistory facebook group of yet another paint attack on a stone circle. This time its the latest in a long history of vandalism on the Nine Ladies of Stanton Moor.

Copyright Emma Allsop

Copyright Emma Alsop

She reports green and yellow paint on every stone, evidence of which you can clearly see in the photos. She also said “There are also newly scattered ashes round the circle (someone’s remains I presume)”. Hopefully the person who left that there may be able to help work out when this was done.

Copyright Emma Allsop

Copyright Emma Alsop

We have passed the information on to the relevant authorities. If you have any information which may help, please comment below and we will pass it on.

Update:
We have now visited and taken pictures of the damage to all of the stones – see here

Never say never! Following January’s bad news for Duddo Stone Circle it seems that there has been a re-think!

Duddo Stone Circle [CreativeCommons/EwenRennie]

Duddo Stone Circle [CreativeCommons/EwenRennie]

Northumberland County Council planning officers had recommended approval for two wind turbines close to the monument but now they are advising the Council to throw out the plans – on the back of a recent decision to allow another turbine to be erected in the area.

The case will be of interest to those campaigning on behalf of Oswestry Hill Fort in two particular ways. The Inspector had said – and the planners had advised the Council – that the development “would not cause substantial harm to the setting and significance” of the monument but now the planners are telling the Council “The proposed turbines in conjunction with the recently approved Shoreswood wind turbine will cause substantial harm to the setting of the Duddo Stones Scheduled Ancient Monument.”

Oh, and the Council has listened! They’ve thrown the two turbines out! And that really is the end…

they did it

Seven weeks from today it’ll be Spring!

Mitchell's Fold Stone Circle, Shropshire,  in early Spring

Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle, Shropshire, in early Spring

Remember our article a couple of weeks ago, What on earth is going on at Duddo Stone Circle? Well now we know, it’s setting IS going to be damaged.

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Duddo Stone Circle.

Mrs Clare Dakin, who allows the public to visit the stones on her land, spoke of her anger at the decision to allow the wind turbine.  She said: “I am absolutely furious and devastated. The amount of effort we have put in, not only to open the stones up to the public, we have gone to great effort to make it a place for people to enjoy and appreciate. What is the point in working hard to keep the place special?

What point indeed, when a family that embraces the Big Society ideal of taking responsibility for their local monument ends up unable to protect it? Particularly in view of the basis of the Inspector’s decision. He said the turbines would “cause some harm to the setting” of the stones but that it would be “less than substantial harm” - which is no basis at all. Most people thought it WOULD be substantial harm so how can it be judged otherwise?

Anyway, the lucky winners, power company 3R Energy Solutions declined to comment. Maybe they were feeling shy, even though they haven’t been up to now. So let’s supply their comment for them: Hooray, the system came up trumps!

The very essence of stone circles is their “setting” so you’d think the surroundings of the most complete and dramatically situated Northumbrian stone circle would be sacrosanct.

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Duddo Stone Circle

But perhaps not. A wind turbine planning application has been made there  and not for the first time. A previous attempt was rejected and another is currently subject to appeal. This third, current plan is to build two turbines with tip heights of 34.5m just 1.8km away from the monument. The Parish Council and local residents have objected saying it would cause “a significant adverse visual impact on the stones” but here’s something very strange:  County Council planning officers are recommending the County Council approve the scheme on the grounds that:

“The turbines would not be intrusive in views approaching the monument from the south (via the signed route) and would not interrupt the open views to the north (across the Tweed), north-west (Lammermuir Hills), west (Eildon Hills) and south-west (Cheviots) which inform an understanding of the setting and significance of the monument. The proposed development would therefore not cause ‘substantial harm’ to the setting and significance of Duddo Stone Circle.”

What chance do the Parish Council and local people have against that expert-sounding opinion and what chance is there that the County Council will listen to them rather than the experts? Well every chance actually, if they reflect that in truth the planning officers know diddly squat about why the circle was built just there or which views were significant. No-one does! So they’ve no business guessing and then advising the Council accordingly. Only the Parish Council and the local residents have it exactly right: “the proposal will have a significant adverse visual impact on the stones“.

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Curiouser and Curiouser!!!

curious
This matter was due to have been determined by the County Council last Tuesday night but it has just emerged that it wasn’t.  A council spokesperson said it had been deferred because “comments from Duddo Parish Council had not been included in the committee report due to an oversight” !! 

Hopefully, the delay will be beneficial as the planning officers can now amend their report to make clear that their own advice was based on pure speculation whereas the objections of the Parish Council are based on pure fact!

Fact

When it comes to folklore memes at ancient sites, there are several stories which occur again and again around the country. But at most sites, these stories are singular. Stanton Drew in Somerset is a little bit different. A complex of features, known collectively as ‘The Weddings’ including the second largest stone circle in England, two further circles, an avenue, cove and nearby quoit (or remains of one) all add up to a rich vein, not only of a archaeology, but also associated folklore.

The Great Circle, looking South © Alan S.

The Great Circle, looking South © Alan S.

To the north of the three circles is Hautville’s Quoit. All that now remains is an unremarkable piece of a capstone by a hedge, which was once reputed to weigh up to 30 tons, but which has been broken up over the years for road building material. The stone was said to have been cast down off the nearby Maes Knoll, an Iron Age hillfort to the North, by the giant Sir John Hautville in bygone days. A feature known as the Tump, in the hillfort is supposedly made of earth dumped from the spade of another giant, who forgot why he was carrying it.

To the south west is the Cove, three large stones, one of which is fallen. These are supposedly the petrified remains of a bride, groom and preacher, turned to stone after their wedding celebrations continued overnight into the Sabbath.

The Cove, looking east toward Stanton Drew church. &Copy; Alan S.

The Cove, looking east toward Stanton Drew church. © Alan S.

Between these two are three stone circles; a small one to the southwest near to the Cove, the Great Circle consisting mainly of recumbent stones, and a northeastern circle. The stones in these circles are reputedly the wedding guests similarly petrified for dancing on the Sabbath, the musicians making up the Avenue in the  northeast sharing a similar fate.

And finally, any attempts to count the stones on site are fraught with danger as a dire (but unspecified) fate apparently awaits anyone who is successful in this endeavour.

Given the location, with the River Chew to the north, and the local church being a short distance away in the soutwest, the only commonly recurrent theme that appears to be missing here is the one where the stones  go down to the river to take a drink. Maybe the dancers just weren’t thirsty?

But does any other site have such a range of folklore attached to it?

FactIt is well known that the vast majority of stone circles in the British Isles are not actually circles. In fact, there are very few that are truly ‘circular’ in the sense of having a regular, circular ground plan. The shapes can vary from circular, through regular ovals to ovoid, to flattened version of any of these. But there is one form of stone circle that doesn’t fit into any of these categories, that of the ‘Four Poster’.

Goatstones © Chris Collyer  - http://www.stone-circles.org.uk

Goatstones © Chris Collyer – http://www.stone-circles.org.uk

Four Poster ‘circles’, as their name suggests usually consist of just four uprights, laid on the plan of a circle, sometimes with a fifth recumbent stone. The majority of this type can be found in Scotland, though there are several examples throughout England and some in Ireland. The stones in a true Four Poster are generally placed at the cardinal compass points. Those that have been dated were constructed in the Bronze Age. The English Heritage Monument Class definition describes them thus:

A four-poster stone circle is a rectangular or sub-rectangular setting of four or five stones which are, or were once, upright. The corner stones of the rectangle are usually placed on the perimeter of a good circle, aligned on the cardinal points and are graded in height. The rectangle varies considerably in size from 13m squred to 345m squared. Four-poster stone circles may be recognised in the field as ruined standing structures or from antiquarian sketches. Other components which may be present are cupmarks on one or more of the stones, outlying standing stones, and a mound or cairn within the stone setting.

Four-poster stone circles vary considerably in size, the area enclosed by the rectangle varying from 13m squared to 345m squared. Some appear to have been laid out as a rectangle, others as a circle and some as both. It is the circumferential siting of the stones of four-posters that justifies the otherwise paradoxical use of “circle” for what appears to be a square or rectangle.

Possible examples in Ireland can be found described under ‘Labbamolaga’ and ‘Lettergorman’ on the Irish Megaliths web site.  There are also various entries on the Modern Antiquarian and Megalithic Portal web sites describing many of the Scottish circles, many of which are extant in Perthshire. Aubrey Burl, in his book “The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, and Brittany” is convinced that the Irish versions of the four-poster model have their design origins in Scotland. The dates for the examples in Perthshire are somewhat earlier than those in SW Ireland, bearing out the possible migration south of the building tradition for this type of ‘stone circle’.

Lettergorman (North), County Cork. © AlanS

Lettergorman (North), County Cork. © AlanS

So, the answer to the question in the title: “When is a stone circle not a stone circle?” would appear to be “When it’s a square!”

There’s a proposal for a new Stonehenge to be built just 6k from the original as a “homage” to it and as a major tourist attraction. It will be built using different-coloured stones from around the world and will last thousands of years. The entire structure will be polished and set into a floor of white quartz granite and surrounded by a white stone wall and will give “an opportunity to experience what our ancestors experienced when they went to the original one”! In addition there will be yurt huts for visitors to stay in, a planetarium and an observatory…..

It will cost £50 million but the organisers aren’t supplying the money. Private investment is currently being sought, with organisers expecting the attraction to make back the outlay within 6-10 years of it opening.

A cynical person has suggested it’s all flim-flam mixed up with the adjacent 1250-house development site that Wiltshire Council has proposed – and that once that’s in someone’s bag the whole Stonehenge thing will disappear and be replaced with a childrens’ play area. We don’t think that though, obviously.

castle

It is strange to think of a time when a monument as beautiful as Castlerigg stone circle was virtually unknown beyond Cumbria. For some reason it wasn’t mentioned by the early antiquarians William Camden (1551–1623) or John Aubrey (1626–97) despite both having visited the area to study megalithic monuments and it subsequently fell to William Stukeley to “discover” it…..

“For a mile before we came to Keswick, on an eminence in the middle of a great concavity of those rude hills, and not far from the banks of the river Greata, I observed another Celtic work, very intire: it is 100 foot in diameter, and consists of forty stones, some very large. At the east end of it is a grave, made of such other stones, in number about ten: this is placed in the very east point of the circle, and within it: there is not a stone wanting, though some are removed a little out of their first station: they call it the Carsles, and, corruptly I suppose, Castle-rig.”

The above is believed to be the earliest account of Castlerigg, having been published in Itinerarium Curiosum in 1776, 11 years after Stukeley’s death and 51 after his visit. In the subsequent decades it increasingly came to the attention of the wider public and inspired the writings of both Coleridge (who visited in the company of Wordsworth) … “a Druidical circle [where] the mountains stand one behind the other, in orderly array as if evoked by and attentive to the assembly of white-vested wizards” (1799) and Keats “Scarce images of life, one here, one there,/Lay vast and edgeways; like a dismal cirque/Of Druid stones, upon a forlorn moor…” (1819)

By 1843 it appeared in “The Wonders of the World in Nature, Art and Mind” by Robert Sears which drew on an earlier description by Ann Radcliffe (a pioneer and populariser of the Gothic novel): “There is, perhaps, not a single object in the scene that interrupts the solemn tone of feeling impressed by its general character of profound solitude, greatness, and awful wildness.”

In 1883 the significance of Castlerigg was formally recognised at a national level when it became one of the first ancient monuments to be scheduled. In 1913, following a public fundraising campaign, the field in which it stands was purchased and then donated to the National Trust. Today it attracts thousands of tourists and is the most visited stone circle in Cumbria – and, in the eyes of some, the most magnificent one in England.

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