The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

The Great Circle, North East Circle & Avenues

Stone Circle


They say size isn't everything. Stanton Drew's Great Circle may have the second largest diameter in the country, but (on this occasion at least) it left me unmoved and I found much more to interest me in the smaller circles and the views of the surrounding landscape.

The large circle and its smaller cousin to the NE are close to the river Chew, at a point where it gets rather sinuous. Ideally I would have liked to start down by the river and walked up to the circles, up along the avenues – this is surely the direction in which the complex was meant to be approached? Not only do the avenues point you this way, but the EH magnetometer survey (linked to by Chris Collyer on the main page) revealed that the original (huge) Neolithic henge had its entrance in this direction.

If you walk as far as the fence will let you by the north east circle, you will realise that the circles are situated on quite a slope. You need to walk uphill (and curiously, not straight uphill, but across the slope to the smaller circle) to process up the avenues to the circles. It would not be easy – in fact, I think it would be impossible in the case of the great circle – to see what was going on in there until you got closer. Maybe this is deliberate. There's much to be said for conducting your affairs with an element of mystery and hiddenness (think Christian rood-screens etc). Imagine the imposing effect when the timber circles stood there (see below).

The small north east circle is (and I mean this) fantastic. Not only has it managed to retain its complete quota of stones (eight), it seems to be the most perfectly and pleasingly proportioned circle I have ever visited. The stones are huge compared to the space they enclose. They create an extremely agreeable space. My distinguished companion Nigel seemed to nurture similar warm thoughts towards these stones.
The EH magnetometer survey showed that there had been four holes in the centre of this circle – were these 'ritual pits' or the sockets for more stones, now disappeared?
{I spotted this particular circle from a plane when flying into land at Bristol airport: something you may also like to try to take your mind off your nausea}

Staring you in the face from this circle is Maes Knoll, a distinctively shaped flat-topped hill and Iron Age fort. On its left end we could see a bump (known as the 'tump'?). How much of the hill's shape is natural and how much man-made I don't know, but it surely drew the eye from Stanton Drew even in the Neolithic. I'd like to think Hautville's Quoit and the hill are in a direct line with the circle, but I fear having looked at the map this isn't true. [However, since this I've read that the the great and NE circles line up with the Cove, and the Great and SW circles line up with the Quoit]. Folklore says the Quoit was thrown from Maes Knoll, which at least connects the sites in local consciousness.

Although I didn't exercise my imagination enough to appreciate it, the main 'arena' of the Great Circle must have looked outrageous in its heyday. Nine concentric circles of pits (up to 95m in diameter) were found by the magnetometer survey. Each pit was 1-2m in diameter and it is thought that at least some of them contained massive wooden posts, as at Woodhenge. Perhaps they formed part of a building, or maybe the area was open to the sky. Whatever, the pit circles are the largest and most numerous found anywhere so far. Later of course the stones were put up at the perimeter of the circle, and that is all we can see today.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
16th August 2004ce
Edited 28th July 2006ce

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