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When thinking about megaliths in Oxfordshire, one complex springs immediately to mind – the Rollrights. This article is not about those famous stones, but about some of the ‘other’ less known, ancient stones of Oxfordshire.

Our journey will begin on the A44 from Oxford, heading north out of Woodstock, the home of Blenheim Palace. Six miles from Woodstock is the village of Enstone, just after a petrol station on the left is the B4022 signposted to Charlbury. Turn left here. As you emerge from the tree cover, turn left at the first junction and park immediately – there is room on both sides of the road to pull off. Behind and to your right is the first site of the day, which you probably didn’t spot as you were concentrating on parking!

Hoar Stone, Enstone (SP378237)

Hoar Stone, Enstone. © Alan S

Hidden among the trees in a low walled enclosure, are the remains of the Hoar Stone chamber tomb. These old stones are almost invisible, stained green with moss and lichen to match the surrounding trees. Despite the closeness of the road, there is a very calm and serene atmosphere here, a pleasant place to stop and rest for a while.

Local stories suggest these stones were erected in memory of a General Hoar in the Civil War – the largest stone is known as the ‘Old General’ but they are obviously much older than that! Another legend, common elsewhere, suggests that they are a man, his horse and his dog, turned to stone for some unnamed ‘evil’ deed. The stones have been dated to the Early Neolithic, three upright orthostats survive but there may originally have been a surrounding ring cairn.

Turn the car around and turn left onto the B4022, taking a minor right fork for Spelsbury, then turning left at the junction for Taston and the next stop on this brief journey. Parking is difficult in this tiny village, but if you find the village, you’ll see the Thor Stone near the remains of the village cross – the stone is located to the north east of the village green on a roadside verge.

Thor Stone, Taston (SP359220)

Thor Stone, Taston. © Alan S.

This 7 feet high stone leans against a garden wall, described on The Modern Antiquarian as “leaning nonchalently as if waiting for a rural bus service that was discontinued years before.” In the year 1278, the village of Taston was recorded as ‘Thorstan’, so it’s possible that the village derives its name from the stone itself.

There are various thoughts as to the origin of the stone; it was cast down as a lightening bolt by the God Thor, Bringer of Storms, it was part of a stone circle – the remnants of which were used to make the village cross base, or that it is the last surviving stone from a burial chamber. The English Heritage Register of Scheduled Monuments blandly describes it as “a prehistoric standing stone”. The stone is the same limestone as found at the Hoar Stone visited earlier.

Whilst in Taston, it’s worthwhile noting both the cross base and pillar mentioned above, and a Victorian Gothic memorial well, just down the lane.

From the village, return the way you entered, and continue along Taston Road, westwards through Spelsbury toward Chadlington. After half a mile, take the unsignposted road on the right, north through the hamlet of Dean. Just after leaving the hamlet there is a small layby on the right, a short distance before a side lane on the left. Park where possible and walk down the side lane. At the bend in the lane, a public footpath leads north off to the right. Take this footpath, which passes the Hawk Stone at the far end of the second field.

Hawk Stone, Dean (SP339235)

Hawk Stone, Dean. © Alan S

This pitted pillar of limestone sits close to the northern edge of a crop field. A public footpath passes to the west of the stone, some 35 yards away, which affords a good view. Tractor tracks may afford a closer view if you’re lucky!

Of the same oolitic limestone as the Rollright Stones, the Hawk Stone stands just over 7 feet high and has a worn cleft at the top. There could be as much as another 2-3 feet of the stone below ground to supply stability. Local legend states that witches were dragged here and  fixed via chains through the holes, to be burnt. The cleft is where the chains have worn away the soft limestone during the witches’ attempts to escape the ordeal.

There is a school of thought that this megalith could be the remains of a burial chamber, but no other orthostats have been found in the vicinity to support this. Again, the English Heritage Register of Scheduled Monuments description states “a single prehistoric standing stone”.

Stay awhile to soak up the views, and when you’re ready, return to the car for the next leg of the tour. Carry on north, out of Dean until the junction with the B4026. Turn left to Chipping Norton. At Chipping Norton, turn left again onto the B4450 and follow the road to Churchill village. Park in the village near to the church.

Churchill Stones (SP282240)

There can be little doubt that the area around present-day Churchill was important in prehistory. There are tumuli to the northeast, southeast and southwest of the village, a possible chamber tomb lies at the entrance to the Vicarage, and the church grounds include the remnants of a possible stone circle. Nearby, a possible prehistoric cup-marked stone is to be found at the base of the cross in Sarsden churchyard. There is a Churchill Heritage Centre in Hastings Road.

Churchill Village Stones. © Alan S.

But for this visit we should concentrate firstly on the Church Stones. Once again using the local oolitic limestone, these large blocks bound the southern side of the churchyard near the steps, and the shapes and wear patterns look remarkably similar to those seen at the Rollrights. Just to the north, near the Memorial Fountain, there are several kerbstones of the same kind. Are all these stones the remains of a now lost stone circle?

Churchill Chamber Tomb. © Alan S.

Returning south of the church (note the collection of grotesque stone heads surrounding the tower), take the left hand fork to Sarsden. A sadly out of print booklet, ‘The Old Stones of Rollright and District’ by Bennett and Wilson suggests that the several stones at the entrance to the Vicarage (SP284239) could be the remains of a chambered tomb, and although very overgrown and jumbled, it’s possible to see that the suggestion has some merit. Whilst not currently scheduled, these stones are surely worth a closer look by the scheduling authorities?

So, an enigmatic end to a tour that has been neccessarily brief, taking in some spectacular but lesser known sites. To assist your tour, a  Google Map is available showing the sites mentioned above. For more information on these and many other Oxfordshire Stones in the immediate area, Celia Haddon’s web site is a good place to start, along of course with The Modern Antiquarian (see the links menu, left).


March 2011

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