The Medway Megaliths consist of two clusters of sites either side of the River Medway in Kent. These sites are the only groups of megaliths in eastern England. They all date from between 2500 and 1700 BCE and are largely the remains of burial chambers and long barrows. We’ll start our tour with the eastern group, the western group will be covered in part 2 of this tour.

The easiest approach to the eastern group is to head south on the A229 from Bluebell Hill (Junction 3 of the M2 motorway) towards Maidstone. Take the first exit slip which loops under the main road to become Rochester Road. After the crossroads, park in the lay-by on the right at National Grid Ref TQ747606. You now have some walking to do. Continue west until you come to a road junction. At this junction, a footpath heads to the north and to the southeast. Both paths lead directly to two of the sites in this area. Turn right onto the northern path, which heads up a gentle hill.

You are now on the Pilgrim’s Way, a trackway much more ancient than Chaucer’s Tales. Some 300 yards up this track, there is a break in the hedge on your left. Go through the gap to see Kit’s Coty House.

Kit’s Coty House (TQ745609)

Kit's Coty House

Kit's Coty House © Chris Brooks

The remains of this long barrow stand forlorn, graffitti’ed , and fenced in. Originally, the barrow would have extended to the west, but all that remains are three upright stones with a horizontal capstone which rises to a height of nearly 10 feet. Another stone, known as the General’s Stone, once stood at the west end of the barrow, but this was destroyed by explosives in 1867.

Samuel Pepys, the famous naval administrator and diarist, once visited here and described the site site thusly:

“Three great stones standing upright and a great round one lying on them, of great bigness, although not so big as those on Salisbury Plain. But certainly it is a thing of great antiquity, and I am mightily glad to see it.”

Kit’s Coty has the distinction of being one of the first sites in Britain to become a Scheduled Ancient Monument (1885), and a few years later metal railings were placed around the stones for protection. Unfortunately the rest of the barrow seems to have been omitted from the scheduling, being outside the fence, and was subsequently ploughed away. Several stones possibly uncovered by this ploughing can be found scattered in nearby woodland to the southwest. There is the briefest suggestion of a rise in the ground to show the barrow’s previous extent, approx 75 yards long.

Return to the trackway and retrace your steps down to the road junction. Take the middle of the three roads (immediately opposite) and walk down it for 200 yards, taking care of the traffic which can be fast and dangerous here. A small fenced pathway will be found on the left, with a kissing gate leading to the Countless Stones.

Little Kits Coty House, or The Countless Stones (TQ 744604)

Little Kit's Coty House

Little Kit's Coty House © Chris Brooks

Sitting under the buzzing electric pylons nearby – so many old sites seem to have pylons near them – is a pile of stones, the ruin of another neolithic chambered tomb, known variously as Little Kit’s Coty, Lower Kit’s Coty or The Countless Stones. This is reported to have been demolished sometime in the 17th century, and as the name suggests, there are various folk tales of difficulties in counting the stones here. All I can personally vouch is that there 19 or 20 stones visible. Evidence from an evaluation suggests that the monument did not occupy one end of an elongated mound as at Kit’s Coty House to the north.

Countless Stones by Stukeley

Itinerarium Curiosum 1776 © William Stukeley, M.D. F.R. & A.S.

William Stukely attempted a reconstruction of the site in plan in 1722 based on information from a correspondent who remembered the monument before its destruction (circa 1690). One recent interpretation of the site based on Stukeley’s plan was as follows:

“Stand to the east, looking back over the stones and along the access path. The closest stones [the mouth of the chamber] were all pushed over to the north, ie, to the right. The capstones lay tangled between the uprights on either side. The rear of what Stukely described as a semi-circular chamber was pushed in and to the right”

For the third site on our list, return to the road and cross to the other side, taking care of the traffic once again. Find a gap in the hedge, and almost immediately in front, some distance away is the Coffin Stone.

The Coffin Stone (TQ740606)

Coffin Stone

Coffin Stone © Creative Commons via Wikipedia

This stone is a thick slab, some 14 feet long, 6 feet wide and 2 feet thick. Other nearby stones, and the discovery of a considerable quantity of human bones near these stones in 1836, including at least two skulls, suggests that this may have also been a neolithic burial chamber. Sadly, the site only identified as a natural feature and is not currently scheduled. The stone stands on private property and is not publicly accessible, but can be plainly seen in the satellite view on Google Maps. The farmhouse to the south is Tottington Farm, and nearby is a spring head, where several other large sarsens can be found. An interesting article on the Tottington Sarsens is available for download from the Kent Archaeolical Society .

For the last site, return to the road junction and take the southeast track of the Pilgrim’s Way. This is the longest part of the walk, and the track across to the A229 is often very muddy here. An alternative is to return to the car, return to the A229 southbound and exit at the next sliproad, parking near to the caravan dealership. Again, see Google Maps satellite view for details. The Pilgrim’s Way crosses under the A229 and tracks alongside the caravan dealership and on to cross the high speed train line via a new bridge. A short distance after the train line, a large stone can be found on the left hand side of the path. This is the White Horse Stone.

White Horse Stone (TQ753603)

White Horse Stone

White Horse Stone © Alan S

This large stone, approx 9 feet by 4 feet, and some 2 feet thick, is accompaning by several smaller stones streching in a line for some 30 feet. It is more correctly called the Upper White Horse Stone. The accompanying nearby Lower stone is long gone, and the Upper stone has inherited the legends and stories of its lost companion. Identification of the stone as part of a Neolithic burial chamber is condidered highly speculative. During works for the high speed rail link, a Neolithic long house and undefined bronze age timber circle plus a late bronze/ early iron age settlement were found in the area, and the site of Smythe’s Megalith (or Warren Farm Chamber – nothing now remains to be seen) is only 200 or so yards away to the northwest.

This concludes the first part of our journey around the Medway Megaliths, readers are encouraged to carry out some internet research for more information and history of the individual sites listed above. Part 2 coming soon!