There's surely nothing better than a pasty, a pint, and the prospect of seeing a hitherto unvisited stone circle. So as we finish up our lunch in the Tors Inn in Belstone, and I peruse the O.S. map, I couldn't feel more content.
Leaving the car at the pub we head off up the road past the old chapel/telegraph station (honestly!) towards the moor. It's been a while since I've tried to track down a new site with a map, and I'm hoping my navigational skills are not totally rusty, particularly if I'm looking for somewhere on a trackless moor, but at least the Nine Stones looks reassuringly close to the village.
Soon we reach the gate which opens on to the moor, there's space to park here if you want, but it's only a couple of minutes closer than where we left the car. Now checking the map I can see that we just need to head south-west to find the circle. It's been so long since I've been out in the field that I couldn't find my compass before setting off, but never fear, with modern technology to the rescue I turn to the compass function on my phone, only to discover that I first need to 'calibrate' it, which of course, requires a phone signal. Drifting between half a bar and emergency calls only, I manoeuvre the phone around as if attempting to signal by semaphore or perhaps deter a particularly persistent wasp, until just enough connection is made that the compass will now work.
Striking off across the moor we pass several walkers coming the other way, and quite a distinct and well-trodden path to follow. It's a crisp cold day, but blue skies soar above us, and the horizon is given a gauzy, soft focus look by a lingering vague mist in the distance. It's not long though before the stones of the kerb circle make themselves visible to our left, and I realise I probably didn't need the map and compass after all, so close are they to the path.
The first thing I'm struck by is the setting. The granite tops of Belstone and Higher Tors commanding the view as they overlook the circle, the landscape seeming very ancient indeed as you stand here amongst the stones.
Although called Nine Stones there are at least twelve by my count, and probably at one time even more. Nine I'm sure relates more to the sacred trinity of the number three in Celtic myth, as I'm sure does the etymology of the name Belstone itself, after the Celtic god of fire and the sun. Inside the circle there is an obvious depression in the centre, probably the remains of a cist, but it's really the setting and sense of place that affect me here.
Dramatic and windswept it feels remote, but is actually only about a ten minute walk from the village, hidden atop the moor, with the only sign of life a remote farmhouse to the west, a small stream and waterfall glistening as it cuts across the deeper green of the fields below us, and then of course the huge tors, like the fossilised remains of ancient leviathans as they dominate the moor.
Sadly I note that I must have missed the stones capering's, as it's 1pm now and everything is still, but you can't be too disappointed. It's a perfect place on a perfect day, the sky remains, dare I say it, a hazy shade of winter, but Bel must be pleased someone is taking an interest in his stones, as standing in the circle, the gentle warmth of the sun reminded me that the first stirrings of spring are at hand, and as life returns to the land, so I too feel alive here, such is the power still of 'old stones'.
When I was 10, I remember seeing a film called 'The Belstone Fox' starring Eric Porter and Bill Travers and crying all the way through it. Now here I was in Belstone village. No tears this time.
We'd come to see Belstone Nine Stones, a cairn circle of now only 12 stones up on the moor to the south of the chocolate-boxey village and thankfully not a long walk away. Moth had been here before and had taken a while to locate it thinking it was up near the tor. It isn't! Stay close to the field wall and when that runs out, keep walking straight and you'll eventually see it. It's very pretty and has lovely views down towards a waterfall and up towards a tor, but the drizzle was persistent so there was no chance of painting it.
It's size reminded me of a Scillonian cairn or Yockenthwaithe and it felt like it was in the 'wrong' place to be an independent stone circle. I'd guess it was a cairn.
Known as the nine stones, this is a small-ish ring of around a dozen stones. It's hard to tell exactly how many, as there are many fallers, and I suspect that some have been "restored". Yesterday there were certainly two recent additions, both of which wobbled when touched, and one of which had a patch of dead "I've had a stone lying on me, but not for long" grass behind it.
The circle is about 25ft across, and apparently it was originally a ring of up to 40 stones around a central cairn. It's not known whether the ring formed part of the cairn or was a seperate boundary decoration.
If you fancy it (and you should), the directions on the excellent megalithic walks site are spot on. There's a helpful link to the Nine Stones below.
Lunchtime might be the best time to visit - apparently the stones dance everyday at noon.* They're also known as the 17 brothers. That's some discrepancy (especially as they are also known as the nine maidens - they were turned to stone for dancing on the sabbath) - I suppose nine is a rather special number (three times three), and maybe seventeen, as a prime number, also has its weirdness.
(partly from Grinsell's 'folklore of prehistoric sites in Britain')
According to Ruth E St Leger-Gordon, the author and playwright Eden Philpotts wrote this poem about the stones. Philpotts thinks there are only seven. Why is counting stones so difficult, even without poetic license?
And now at every Hunter's Moon
That haggard cirque of stones so still
Awakens to immortal thrill
And seven small maidens in silver shoon
Twixt dark of night and white of day
Twinkle upon the sere old heath
Like living blossoms in a wreath
Then shrink again to granite grey.
So blue-eyed Dian shall ever dance
With Linnette, Bethkin, Jennifer,
Arisa, Petronell and Nance.
Although Philpotts describes them dancing, St L-G favours the idea that if you visit at noon you might see them all just shift their positions very slightly. Don't blink.