|Summer is upon me and I have the unbeatable prospect of three whole weeks off work, leave saved up over the course of what has been a long, tiring winter. The plan is to have some walking days in the Brecon Beacons, where I've been spending most Saturdays since March, before we head off to summer hols in West Penwith. But a visit to Cerrig Duon on Saturday makes me re-evaluate. I lay on my back in the centre of the lovely, mini-lithic circle and watched the clouds, and remembered why I was attracted to this lark in the first place – stone circles.
My first megalithic epiphany happened in November 1997, when my girlfriend and I had our first holiday together – a barely-afforded week in the Peak District, staying in the lovely village of Youlgreave. One of our walks took us to Arbor Low (looks interesting on the map, wonder what's there?) and inadvertently set the scene for an obsessive fascination with all things prehistoric. Cerrig Duon brought all this back and I decided to spend the walking days set aside to visit stone circles instead. Living in Cheltenham and not having a car makes stone circle visits a little challenging, but Google Earth TMA-thingy, filtered for circles, makes a plan easier. So, I decide that I'll go north, south-east and south-west and see where I can get to by train, bus and inevitably feet.
Monday morning 7 June, early start to get the train to Derby, then another to Matlock. From there it's a bus ride to Bakewell, a little town I really like but haven't visited for too long. I'm tempted by the puddings, but figure that they wouldn't necessarily survive in the rucksack until I got home. Instead I pop into the excellent bookshop (where I bought my first Burl paperback, back in 1997) and get a postcard of Nine Ladies to send home. Then it's another bus, this time to Stanton-in-the-Peak. As the bus turns off the A6 after Haddon Hall, I feel a little pang that it's not going to Youlgreave (must go back), but instead it's heading uphill towards Stanton. To be honest, this is a definite plus, as it's a fair slog up the road into the village. I get off by the church and head east, into familiar territory. No cars parked on the verge at the northern entrance to the Moor, that's a good sign. No cows in the fields north of the Moor proper, that's an even better one (I'm wary of cows, sadly).
Into the trees and I realise I've left the archaeological plan of the Moor behind, damn. Hopefully I can remember the whereabouts of the main sites.
Stanton Moor North, a well-preserved embanked circle (or is it a ring-cairn?) is northernmost and first stop-off. Right near the northern boundary of the Moor, in the trees to the left of the main north-south path, it's easy enough to find if you know it's there, but easily missed if you don't. I've only been here once before, in Spring 2002, and I half-expected this to be completely overgrown. It isn't, and the bank is clearly visible. There are a couple of small (a foot tall or so) uprights protruding and the entrance gap at the NE is easy enough to see. It is however very difficult to get a decent photograph, as there are trees growing on the circle as well as closely surrounding it. I half-heartedly try climbing a tree, but this isn't really my thing and I'll probably end up stuck, so enough of that! It's a nice spot here, but I'm eager to press on, so I head back to the path and on to the most famous of Stanton Moor's many sites, Nine Ladies.
It's been dug, it's been camped on, it's had fires lit in its centre, but Nine Ladies remains a wonderful, must-visit site. Situated in a perfect fairy clearing amongst silver birch trees, it has a lovely atmosphere. I arrive to find no-one there, amazingly. Apart from one sheep, who steadfastly refuses to move from the circle and appears in all the pictures I take. Well, she was here first after all. It's funny the things you notice on a repeat visit. I notice the embanked nature of the circle, as well as the fact it's actually on quite a slope. To be fair, I've usually been here in either thick mist or heavy rain (while an archaeological dig was underway), neither of which do much to aid a proper consideration of the place. The King's Stone outlier seems to be in a sorrier state that I remember, not only graffiti'd but it has had a chunk knocked off along the top edge, exposing the redder stone under the weathering. I stay for a while, until a family arrive and the children have their pictures taken in the circle (hopefully the start of their own stone-appreciation?). I head east, noticing what look like some small cairns in an area that's been cleared of vegetation.
The next major site is Stanton Moor Central, a wide (c.20m) circular enclosure surrounded by a well-preserved (restored) bank, with an entrance at the south and a marker stone numbered 56, a reference to the numbering system used by Heathcote who dug and meddled on the Moor in the 1930s. This site is easy enough to find but is also virtually impossible to photograph owing to a thick covering of heather (where's Postie with his step-ladders when you need him?).
Back onto the path and there seems to be archaeology everywhere you look. There appear to be numerous cairns on the west of the path, as the ground slopes gently uphill to the highest point of the Moor, marked with a trig point. To be honest there seems to be a great deal of jumble and even in the clearer areas that have been freed from heather I struggle to make much sense of the cairns, although some are pretty substantial (which I think are probably numbers 40-42 from a look at the plan when I get home).
Returning to the path, Stanton Moor South is just off to the left (east side of the path). Another well-heathered circle, the bank can nevertheless be easily made out, with one upright on the inner side – not sure if it's actually in situ though as it seems to lean against the bank.
Stanton Moor 2 is a very substantial cairn right next to the path, just south of Stanton Moor South circle. It has been excavated and much of the rubble construction has been exposed. From here there are good views south and east over the edge of the Moor.
The Cork Stone, unmistakeable and impressive, soon comes into view with its inevitable attendant sheep. Behind it an enormous bush of purple flowers is in full bloom (must learn some plant names). I am reminded of the shots Faerygirl recently posted of the stone in a bleached-out snowy landscape, very different from today. But the jelly-baby shape is the same. Circling round to the NW of the stone I am struck by its P-shaped resemblance to one of the slabs at Stanton Drew Cove.
From here the path heads west to the minor road that takes quarry traffic along the edge of the Moor and more importantly gives access to the Andle Stone in the field opposite. This enormous natural outcrop is surrounded by a swathe of the same purple flowers (really must find out what they're called) and is a lovely summery spectacle, except that the clouds are closing in and the rain is just starting to fall. I don't climb the Stone as I picture myself getting up but then being stuck on the top! Instead I cross the field southwest to the little wood that contains one of my favourite sites of all – Doll Tor.
Into the trees as a gentle rain starts to fall, I remember why I liked Doll Tor so much the first time I came. I have the place to myself, a little secluded corner where everything is green (including the stones of the circle). This site may have been heavily restored and a couple of the stones bear the scars of hideous treatment (they've been shattered then stuck back together with little regard for cosmetic surgery), but it remains a winning combination of peace and seclusion coupled with a delightful stone circle. There is a fair bit of tat hanging from some of the trees (I leave the ribbons but feel compelled to get rid of the horribly rusty "pagan" key fob) but it doesn't spoil my enjoyment. I sit for about 40 minutes and no-one else comes near. But eventually the bus timetable starts its inexorable call and I must get on to my next site.
It's raining more heavily as I walk through Birchover and past the Druid. No time for Rowtor today but I stop to say hello to some donkeys. The footpath heads very steeply downhill (which means there will have to be an uphill soon enough) and Robin Hood's Stride comes into view through the trees. A short walk along a busy road and onto The Limestone Way long-distant path, where I'm joined in the now-pouring rain by a lad who's come over from Sheffield-way for a spot of bouldering on the Stride. I leave him to his flask and head off into the rain towards the magnificent stones of Nine Stones Close.
The solitary stone in the wall is easy enough to see, but the walk to it involves some pretty wet trousers as the long grass is now soaking wet. Across to the circle itself, I'm now having to wipe the lens between shots, which suggests the weather isn't improving! But this is what I've come for, these lovely stones, standing tall and impassive against the backdrop of the Stride. No cows today, just me and the rain. Each stone is markedly different from its fellows and most bear some kind of cup marks – natural? Old? Recent? I don't know!
As the water is now seeping into the top of my boots I think it's time for my exit, so I take the Limestone Way back towards Elton, before getting the bus back to Matlock – Day 1 has been a fantastic success. Tomorrow – Avebury!
Posted by thesweetcheat
1st August 2010ce
Edited 14th August 2010ce
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