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Having visited the Rollrights last weekend we thought we’d show a few changes, good and bad, that have happened there since the previous articles we did in May and June 2005.
On the downside the visitors’ hut has gone, burned down by a vandal. But on a happier note there is now a superb witch near the King Stone…..
In 2005 a unique new pram and wheelchair-friendly pathway had just been laid from the King’s men to the Whispering Knights…
Now, it has matured and blends in. (Note, it remains grassy not muddy despite it being winter. Might something like it be suitable for use at places such as Stonehenge and Avebury?)
In 2005 the previous year’s catastrophic paint attack was yet to be addressed…
now, there is scant evidence of it. Even the largest lichen, reportedly many hundreds of years old, now looks relatively unscathed….
In 2005 a number of notable people attended the opening of the new facilities including George Lambrick and Aubrey Burl, as shown in this photo by Heritage Action’s Jane Tomlinson
Also in attendance that day were Morris Men, King Arthur Pendragon and the local MP, one David Cameron. Sadly we don’t have a picture of the latter. If we did it would be kind of unique and we could caption it “Cameron supports heritage preservation” and everyone would laugh heartily!
In the end though we can report that thanks to the Rollright Trust, not Mr Cameron, the stones remain in good hands and good shape….
A Wicked Witch….
(David Gosling’s sculpture of the witch who turned the King into the King Stone)
A Musical Witch
…. and a lurking Wedding Witch (maybe!)
Not for the first time the setting of Duddo Stone Circle, said to be the most complete and dramatically situated of Northumbrian stone circles, has been under threat from a proposal to build a wind turbine.
Scottish company 3R Energy Solutons want to build a 74-metre, 800 kilowatt machine on farmland at Shoreswood, south of Berwick but the proposal has just been unanimously rejected by county councillors, following advice from the County Archaeologist that it would result in “significant and unacceptable” impact on the setting of the monument which is less than two miles away.
Case officer Frances Wilkinson said: “It is considered that the proposal would have a very damaging effect on the appreciation of the Duddo Stone Circle from the main approach and that its setting would not be preserved. Significant weight does need to be given to the benefits of the proposal, however, the harm to the setting of the Duddo Stone Circle SAM (scheduled ancient monument) is considered to outweigh these benefits. The proposal is consequently considered to be unacceptable.”
However, this is unlikely to be the end of the matter as the developer has said it will be lodging an appeal. Given that the balance between the need for energy and the need to preserve heritage comes down to personal opinion there is no certainty that the Inspector won’t reverse the decision.
The Four Stones are situated in the centre of the Radnor Valley or Walton Basin in Powys, an area surrounded by hills and exceptionally rich in prehistoric heritage including two cursuses, six standing stones and the largest neolithic enclosure in Britain. Small wonder that the area attracted the attention of Alfred Watkins and indeed the monument and its surroundings were central to the development of his theories about ley lines.
Watkins suggested that six lines could be drawn from The Four Stones and he was particularly impressed by one he believed could be drawn from the Stones up to the churchyard of St Stephen’s in Old Radnor…..
The church and churchyard contain several features that have been cited as pointing to possible pre-christian usage including a massive font hewn from an erratic bolder that some say may have been used in prehistory, traces of a round churchyard and possible standing stones built into its boundary wall. Most intriguing of all is this stone, carved as a gravestone in the twentieth century but of unknown previous origin.
Nowadays there’s no direct line of sight from that stone to The Four Stones down in the valley as a modern house has been built at the crucial point. It is quite likely there could have been previously though – here is the view from a few yards nearer the church….
The trouble is, considerable zoom had to be used on that image and “in the flesh” you would need the eyes of a hawk to spot the monument – even if there were no intervening trees (which is quite an assumption in itself). The essence of the theories proposed by Watkins (the original ones, not the New Age interpretations!) was that sites could be seen, one from another. However, while St Stephen’s church can certainly be easily seen from The Stones it’s less certain that any prehistoric structures around it would have been – and it is clear to all who look that The Stones themselves would be very hard to spot in the opposite direction.
Last month, we set our first ever prize competition: to name 12 stone circles in England from images taken from Google Earth.
Unfortunately, no-one managed a full set of correct answers. So to put you all out of your misery, the correct answers are:
Circle 1 – Boscawen-Un, Cornwall We thought the circular hedge and central stone may have been a give-away here, and were right. The largest number of correct answers.
Circle 2 – Fernworthy, Devon Much trickier, and only a few people got this one right.
Circle 3 – Stanton Drew, Avon The dual circle was the main clue here.
Circle 4 – The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire Another easier one, the closely packed stones and closeness of the road being good clues.
Circle 5 – Arbor Low, Derbyshire The classic ‘clock-face’ of the fallen stones made this another easy one to identify.
Circle 6 – Castlerigg, Cumbria The internal cairn was a good clue, but offset by the presence of a visitor, which some thought may have been a stone.
Circle 7 – Swinside Sunkenkirk, Cumbria This caught quite a few people out, despite the nearby track and tightness of the stones to each other.
Circle 8 – Mitchell’s Fold, Shropshire The most difficult one. Very few identified this.
Circle 9 – Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire Recently reconstructed, and featured in a recent article.
Circle 10 – Scorhill, Devon We thought the sets of three stones might be a clue here, but only a couple of people got it.
Circle 11 – Stannon, Cornwall Another difficult one, with no real visual clues. This caught a lot of people out!
Circle 12 – Long Meg, Cumbria Another easy one, and a popular answer. the road through and the outlier stone (Meg herself) were the main clues here.
And the winner is…
…to be drawn at the Megameet in Avebury next month. A total of six names will go into the hat for the prize of a £20 Amazon voucher, those being the people that got most answers right (10/12). The prospective winners have been notified of their inclusion in the draw, and we hope they will be able to attend in person on the day. Many thanks to all those that took part, and commiserations to those whose names will not be going into the draw.
All images taken from, and copyright of, Google Earth.
We’ve not had a competition here on the Heritage Journal before, but that’s all about to change! Shown below, courtesy of Google Earth, are pictures of twelve stone circles in the British Isles, as seen from above. Quite simply, your task is to name all twelve.
All correct answers received to our email address (See our Contact Us page for the address) before publication of the answers next month, will be entered into a prize draw. The winner will receive a prize of our choosing. The editors’ decision is final, no warranty implied or intended, blah, blah, blah.
…and that’s all there is to it! How many can you name? Don’t forget to email us your answers.
All images taken from, and copyright of, Google Earth.
Police are probing the destruction of a Pagan stone circle in Lampeter, South West Wales. The University of Lampeter is well-known for its theological courses and there is speculation that the attack could be religiously motivated.
The site is used as a meeting place for the 75 members of the university’s Pagan Society, whose members have said the damage is “heart-breaking”. They have called for the vandals to be “caught and punished”….. but not , so far as we know, for them to be burned at the stake.
Which is surely game, set and match to the Pagans!
(See also our previous article, Pope warns against Paganism).
Possibly one of the most well known ancient monuments in Cornwall, the Hurlers, near Minions (north of Liskeard) is an enigmatic complex, first mentioned by historian John Norden, who visited them around 1584. Situated on the moor NW of the village (with a large car park handily situated nearby), there are three stone circles next to each other, two standing stones (the Pipers) nearby, and countless barrows and cairns including the famous Rillaton Barrow where the gold cup was found. Another stone circle lies a mile away on Craddock Moor to the northwest, and the Cheesewring natural formation is a similar distance away to the north. In addition, the area is littered with earthworks from the remains of post-medieval mining in the area and care must be taken on the uneven ground. Two miles to the south is the Trethevy Quoit site.
Dating from the Bronze Age, the three circles lie close to each other and are roughly aligned in a NNE direction. Like many other circles, these stones have the reputation of being uncountable. The northerly circle has 15 stones remaining from a likely 24 original, four of these are now fallen. The circle, approximately 38 yards in diameter is the most circular of the three rings. The middle ring is less true and has a diameter varying between 46 and 49 yards. Just over half of the original 29 stones remain standing in this circle. The southern circle is the smallest, and most incomplete with only 9 of its original stones remaining in a circle of 34 yards diameter. A short distance west of this circle are the Pipers, a pair of 6-7 feet tall standing stones..
Unusually, the granite stones of the central circle show signs of having been smoothed by hammering, the quartz crystals from the work having been spread over the interior of the central circle. The inner faces of the stones are smooth and regular and most of the stones are flat topped and graded so that the tallest stones are to the south, which may support the idea of a processional route through the circles leading towards the north.
There is an interesting account of a 1935 excavation and restoration of the centre circle in the Prehistoric Society archive (PDF file)
Of course, the fact that there are three rings, in a slightly out of alignment line, immediately draws comparison with the main stars of Orion’s Belt. In fact, many alignments have been postulated from the site, it is a particular feature of the monuments in this area that they tend to ‘refer to’ significant tors and horizon features, especially the tor enclosure on Stowes Hill and the group of large barrows on Caradon Hill. Astronomical alignments have also been noted.
The origin of the name has a story behind it, as you’d expect by now in common with many other Cornish circles.
Many centuries ago the game of hurling was popular in Cornwall, as it still is today. The villagers around St. Cleer loved the game and would play whenever they could, even on Sundays. Despite the disapproving lectures of the local saint and priest, St. Cleer himself, they continued to play for the honour of their village and a game was set for a Sunday against the villagers of St. Ives. St. Cleer went in search of his flock and found them in the midst of a hotly contested match. He ordered them to cease their game and respect the Sabbath but they told him to return to his prayers. Angered, he raised his staff and pronounced in solemn tones that since they preferred their game to the worship of God they must stay there forever more as a lesson to others. He lowered his staff and the players were instantly turned to stone, doomed to hurl forever on the wastes of Craddock Moor.
More briefly, in 1610, the historian William Camden wrote:
The neighbouring inhabitants terme them Hurlers, as being by devout and godly error perswaded that they had been men sometime transformed into stones, for profaning the Lord’s Day with hurling the ball.
Of course, this story is a nonsense. St. Cleer lived sometime between 700 and 900 CE. He preached and built a church on the edge of Bodmin moor – today’s village is named after him, and contains a Holy Well and ancient crosses. The stones of course, predate the saint by two to three thousand years! And what were the nearby Pipers doing, playing at what was clearly a sports event?
Note: This completes for now this mini-series on Cornish Stone Circles, although we know there are many more that have not yet been covered. But we hope this has given a flavour of the variety of circles to be experienced in this corner of the country.
The Stripple Stones sit on private land on the south slope of Hawks Tor in Bodmin Moor, north of the A30. There is no public right of way to the stones. The monument itself consists of a stone circle approximately 47 yards in diameter (the second largest in Cornwall), with a fallen central stone. The whole is enclosed within a henge monument some 58 yards wide, making the monument somewhat unique in Cornwall – it is the only circle in the county built within a henge.
The henge itself has been severely mutilated by cattle, particularly in the north. There is an entrance to the SW, in line with the nearby Trippet Stones circle. A modern field boundary dissects the ditch and bank to the NE. The central stone is 12 feet long by 5 feet at the widest point, but has been split in three places in the past – the drilling marks are quite evident. Only four stones remain standing within the circle, with eleven others fallen. William Lukis (1885) suggested that with an average spacing of 12 feet (3.7 m), there would have been as many as thirty seven original stones, whilst Aubrey Burl (2005) has suggested a possible total of only twenty eight stones.
A 1905 excavation by H. St. George Gray found that most of the large stones were only set in shallow holes around four feet deep, presumably leading to their current state – especially as grazing cattle use the standing pillars as rubbing posts, evidence of which is quite clear here in the worn ground around their base. Four postholes were found surrounding the central stone which was offset fourteen feet from the centre of the circle.
Burl has speculated that when set upright and looking towards 3 bulges that exist in the outer henge, the Mayday sunset, the Equinox sunrise and the major Northern moonrise would all have been visible, supporting the idea that such stone circles had astronomical and calendrical uses.
As for the name, Burl (in A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany) states that the origin is unknown, but is suggestive of ‘brazen behaviour and subsequent ossification’ – a common theme as we’ve seen with other circles in the county.
Duloe is both the smallest and largest stone circle in Cornwall. Hidden away in a field, accessed via a driveway between some cottages some 60 yards north of the church gate, the circle consists of 8 stones in an elongated oval just 37×39 feet in diameter. The stones used are some of the largest found in Cornish circles (the largest here is some 8 feet high), and consist mainly of gleaming white quartz.
Although actually oval in shape, this ‘circle’ was first recorded in the C14th, but only fully recognised as an important ancient site in the early C19th. Murray’s Handbook for Devon and Cornwall (1856) describes the circle:
“A hedge bisects it, one stone lies prostrate in the ditch, five only stand upright, and three appear to be wanting to complete the circle. The stones, which are rough and unhewn, are principally composed of white quartz, and one is about 9 ft. in height.“
In 1861 a modern hedge which dissected the circle was removed but the restoration, which unearthed a ribbon-handled funereal urn, sadly also dislodged and broke the largest stone. However, two further original stones were recovered from the hedge and replaced in the circle.
Lukis and Borlase in their 1885 Prehistoric Stone Monuments of the British Isles: Volume 1, Cornwall (Society of Antiquaries) described the circle thusly:
“a remarkable monument, on account of the great size of its stones. It is situated in a grass-field, close to the village of Duloe, and is 36 feet 6 inches in diameter. Seven stones are erect and one is prostrate. They are placed at distances of from 8 to 12 feet apart, and are all blocks of quartz; the highest stone is 8 feet 8 inches high, and 7 feet 6 inches in greatest width. The lowest is three feet. The fallen stone, the largest of the circle, has been artificially split into two parts, and is partially buried in a pit, which appears to have been excavated when it was thrown down for the purpose of converting it into building materials or gate-posts. The ground on which the monument stands is level. The monument is so small and differs so much in character from all other circles, that it is probably the enclosing ring of a cairn which has been entirely removed.“
The intruiging thought that this may have been a cairn or barrow is interesting, and to some extent the existence of the urn, which contained human remains, gives this theory some weight as circles as a rule not usually contain funerary remains. There are no known outlyer upright stones either, which are usually present in many other Cornish circles. The 8 stones also (roughly) represent the points of the compass, so there is possibly also an archeoastronomical element to it’s use.
When discussing the definition of a stone circle, to see whether Duloe fits the description, the Victoria County History states:
“The question immediately arises What is a stone circle ? And in trying to answer it we can hardly do better than accept the definition given by the late William Copeland Borlase, F.S.A., that when the stones are set up on end, at some distance apart, and enclose a level piece of ground, it constitutes a ‘stone circle’, but when the stones are set on their edges, contiguous to each other, and enclose a rock, mounds, or an area of uneven ground, it is a ‘ring barrow’ and sepulchral in character. Most of the Cornish circles belong to the former class, but whether they are sepulchral or not is still an open question, and though one indeed, that at Duloe, appears to be undoubtedly sepulchral, for the rest such evidence as there is points to a ceremonial use rather than to burial.”
The circle can be clearly seen on a Google Maps satellite image.