The next village reached is Sheepstor, little more than a hamlet really, with a square-towered granite church and medieval cross at its centre and a quintessential Dartmoor leat running along the roadside. Of interest is an old well-head, standing outside the eastern wall of the churchyard. Constructed of bits of gothic tracery, the water in the well itself is clear.
The walk from here to the circles is longer than it looks, dropping down into boggier, then muddier, ground. I pass an uninterested group of wild horses, then a rather more nosey herd of cattle, before reaching the circles themselves. I have them to myself, despite the large number of people I can see on Gutter Tor away to the south.
According to Burl, this site was heavily restored in the 1920s by the Rev. Breton. There has been much speculation about it since, including the possibility that it is actually the remains of a round cairn, which would not be out of the question when compared with the construction of the terminal ring cairns at nearby Drizzlecombe
. There are a host of features to look at here. Slightly uphill to the ENE, the remains of a much smaller cairn circle overlook the main site. The visible stones of this are small, little more than stumps breaking clear of the cropped grass. In the opposite direction, downhill and the west of the circles, are the remains of a short avenue. A possible continuation extends over the other side of a nearby leat. Again these are small stones, size-wise comparable with the stones of the avenues at Cerrig Duon
in South Wales.
The real draw is of course the four circles themselves. Not quite concentric, only two share the same centre and only one (the central) is a true circle. The outermost circle contains the biggest stones, especially to the SE. Even so, none of the stones is over five feet tall and there are a lot of smaller stones in between. The next two rings are comprised of much smaller stones. The central circle is beautifully constructed, the stones virtually touching on the southern arc, making a closed ring surrounding a central space with a diameter a little less than 22 feet. If there was a central cairn, it is gone.
The nearby Tors dominate the landscape of the circles, particularly Sheeps Tor to the NW. The position suggests very strongly that these surrounding features were of paramount importance in the siting of the monument, for it has no extensive views or commanding altitude of its own. Like many of the stone circles of England (West Cornwall and The Peaks, as well as nearby Brisworthy
), the presence of a nearby rocky hilltop seems likely to have had significance to the builders.
I spend an hour or so here, watching another band of black rain cloud approach over Sheeps Tor, but passing on its way without delivering its cargo at Yellowmead. It is very peaceful, not a soul comes this way while I'm here. This little site enthralls me. I have no idea whether it is true to its original layout or a restorer's fantasy. I'm not sure it matters at all. Like Belas Knapp, in my opinion we are richer in having it restored in this way, than we would be if it was left as found in the 1920s.
At length I head off, pausing to have a quick look at Yellowmead SE cairn. Doughnut-shaped from digging, there's not a great deal left of this cairn to see, although it must have been a pretty fair size when built. The Yellowmead
circles are not visible from it.