The first time I came here was for an equinox sunrise, we stumbled our way to the circle in pitch black, the sunrise was obscured by the big hill we'd walked down to get to it and even then clouds gathered and it was a none event.
Armed and forewarned I kept this one till the last of the day, it was a perfect evening just the wife and me and our two dogs, even the clouds gathered to make the sunset more dramatic.
This is the stone circle that the camera flies over at the beginning of Country file, but I have no wings so must by neccessity walk amongst them.
Their roughness strangely contrasts with the uber mellow mood that descends upon us, and some of that feeling returns right now just by writing about it.
Stone circles are good but good stone circles are gooooood.
A few years ago, someone sent me a postcard of Scorhill stone circle. I liked the look of its pointy stones and always wanted to see it. Thankfully, the walk is mercifully short and the impact of this monument is mighty!
Corrrrrrrrr! As you crest the hill you down onto it and it compels you completely. Severe, pointy, dramatic, free of trees, bracken and other distractions, this sky temple seems to be indelibly stamped into the landscape and has a more powerful relationship with the moor and the heavens than anything I've seen except Brodgar.
From here we could just make out the Shoveldown stone rows, which we would see close up two days later. And Moth looked wistfully moorwards in the direction of White moor stone circle, knowing that I would never be able to walk to it and he'd have to go alone.
As the sun sets, glinting through the clouds across the moor, Scorhill casts a shadow from an ancient time. Having suffered from the region's stonemasons, this circle is still such an evocative beauty, whether admired as it stands now or letting your imagination loose trying to replace and complete its former majesty.
The circle has a diameter of 88ft, which originally had between 65 and 70 stones, of the 34 that remain, 24 still stand. The jagged uniformity of Scorhill's stone selection, adds an intensity to the circle's atmosphere.
We had planned to finish today's trip (Cosdon, White moor, Buttern and Scorhill) at Batworthy corner, our driver for the day having walked over to meet us at Scorhill. With some spare time before we trooped over the horizon, she sat in the circle, wandered and walked out to meet and greet two of Dartmoor's ponies.
Returning to the circle, the ponies followed venturing up to the outer edge of the circle but wouldn't enter. Reasons for that? Maybe the outer edges of the stones proved to be the best scratching posts! The grass isn't always greener on the other side (Also very short grass inside the circle) or could the legends be right? Horses/ponies sense something about the circle. Who knows the answer? (Two ponies but they weren't telling), whatever the reason why, these megalithic wonders remain as mysterious and fascinating today, as they did when they first rose to the sky.
Getting from the Shovel Down Complex to Scorhill is easy (although I would still always recommend an OS map on any sort of moorland). Just continue on after the northern stone rows and you will see the trees and massive stone walls of Batworthy Farm run across the edge of the moor on your right hand side. Even on a day of seriously reducing visibility it was easy to see the wall and trees ahead. As you come to the end of the wall, suddenly Scorhill is visible on the opposite bank of the river. Excellent!
You have two choices to cross the beautiful rushing Teign. Either straight ahead to a rough and small bridge made of a massive block of stone, or you can head about 80m upstream and over two bridges, one of which is a classic picturesque Clapper Bridge. The area around here though can get really muddy, so the other one could be better for some people, although it is a rockier and steeper walk.
The circle is a real stunner and today was quite well visited (which was a nice shock after many days on Moors without seeing a soul!). I saw two people with a dog arriving just after I left, and another person when I returned.
Coming back from the Buttern Hill Stone Circle I noticed that only the large pointy stone on the north side of the circle is the only stone visible from that direction until quite close to the circle.
In an earlier posting about Scorhill I put forward the idea that a nearby natural holed stone (Tolman ) in the river Teign could have had some influence on the siting of the circle in this place. After some reading (I must get out more) I found a bit of folklore that connects Scorhill stone circle not only with the tolman but also with the nearby double circle of Grey Wethers. Here it is.
"Faithless wives and wantons had first to wash in Cranmere Pool then return and run round Scorhill Three times. They next went down to the river Teign and passed through the Tolman ( a holed stone reputedly good for rheumatism as well as virtue ), then up to Grey Wethers where each woman knelt and asked forgiveness. If the stones remained standing all was well, but if they fell, and some did as can be seen, the woman would be crushed to death."
Anthony Hippisley Coxe
1975 Pan Books.
Second guessing my way through Bibliographies I think the author picked this tale up from "The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor". by Ruth E Gordon St Leger Published London 1965.
Stories about faithless wives and wantons meeting a grizzly death at stone circles sounds a bit like the usual attempts by Christians to demonise these places. That said the story may be a twisted, half lost version of some older ceremony which connected the circles and the Tolman.
My directions to the holed stone were a bit rubbish last time so I include another little extract which is so sweetly written it deserves to see the light of day again.
"The wooded gorge of the Teign below Batworthy is very grand and picturesque. Passing around the Batworthy enclosure, I gain the river, in which is one of the most remarkable natural phenomenon on the Moor, the Tolmen. It is a solid block of granite about 10 feet in diameter and 2 feet to 4 feet thick, through which the action of the water has worked a hole a yard in diameter, and two other holes appear to have begun by the same agency.
Although the Drudists do not, I think, claim this phenomenon, as they do the rock basins, to be the work of their favourite priesthood, they yet, I believe, assign it a place in their rites, as an ordeal or miraculous cure.
I fancy I have heard too that a superstition still lingers that anyone passing through the hole will be proof against rheumatism. He must take care not to drop into the river below I should imagine".
An Exploration of Dartmoor Antiquities 1892 by John Chudleigh.
You can of course avoid dropping into the river below by going down under the stone and hauling yourself through. Which, given the powerful symbolism of re birth connected with these things would seem the obvious way to use them. On my last visit I even managed it. I wanted to walk on to Grey Wethers but the other half didn't want to. I think the old wanton was worried about being crushed.
Visited Scorhill in April 1999. A day that has remained etched in my mind due to the sheer beauty of its surroundings. The circle itself seems to bow to the majesty of the surrounding moor. However, I believe this area may well have been more wooded when this circle was erected - please correct me if I am wrong. I visited with two friends, one of whom took it upon himself to dance around the stones in a pixie like manner with a silly hat on - not normal behaviour I can assure you. Does this place bring out the mania in you?. Certainly there were skylarks in abundance when I was there and they were wild with their singing -strange that previous entry mentioned birds stopping singing as I had the exactly opposite experience.These places can play strange tricks on you.
Acclaimed since antiquity as a fine site some guide books will tell you its been much diminished by the removal of stones and much of its mystery has been dissipated by the addition of a cart track through one edge of the ring. So much for guide books. I think its a stunner and whatever prompted the oldies to build it here still lingers.
My first visit was last summer. The week before the total solar eclipse and the local press was full of horror stories about bands of crusties turning up at stone circles to worship the magikal properties of Special Brew.
The trip to Scorhill through Chagford and Gidleigh is hard in a big car. Some of Devon's narrowest lanes and overgrowing hedge rows impede progress. There is also the smallest bridge on the planet, wing mirror scrapping stuff.
On this fine August evening access on the lane leading to the site was further restricted by some self important retired major type who had erected posts to stop vehicles of a certain size. A row ensued and I got through, its narrow but its still a public right of way. I suppose the old boy thought his little corner of England was about to become Woodstock. Whatever. I was not in the right frame of mind as I walked up and across the moor to the site. But Scorhill was worth the hassle.
On high moor free from human intervention it .... well.... it broods. Built in a dip in the land you are physically drawn into the circle as you approach. That's gravity for you, and something else besides. Inside the circle at the centre , a definite sensation... pressure drop. The birds, I swear, stopped singing, the insects stopped insecting. Very nice. Return trips yielded similar results.
On one trip in the company of a very wise woman I saw the most impressive sun set/star fall I have ever seen in years of tramping the moors.
She also revealed a close by natural magik site. If you got to the circle by driving up to Gidleigh and walking up onto the moor then after the circle keep walking but veering very slightly left (ie in the direction of Shovel Down ) for about 300 yards. You will find a large stream and standing in the water is a huge bolder with a hole eroded through it. A big hag stone. A natural Men An Tol. Climbing up onto the stone and dropping through the hole is said to cure arthritis and aid fertility.
I should imagine the stone was probably there before the circle and may have helped in the selection of the site. I didn't go through the hole, wet weather made it tricky. Besides which I don't have arthritis, or the desire to reproduce.
A modern happening reported in 1998 was that a small herd of moorland ponies were seen to walk up to the circle. The herd leader entered the ring of stones and stood there for about a minute, it then rejoined the rest of the ponies. One by one all the ponies did the same thing, went into the circle stood there for 30 - 60 seconds and the came out. All the animals faced the same direction whilst they were stood in the stone ring. It was suggested at the time that the ponies were 'taking energy' from the stones - who knows?
A story which possibly reinforces the 'natural energy' theory is that of a lady who for six and a half years had suffered with a swelling in the knee. This made walking difficult to say the least. Many doctors had examined the joint but none were able to solve the problem. Living in the Chagford area the woman was aware of the stories relating to Scorhill circle, so one day she made a slow and painful trip up to the stones. Having sat inside the circle for a while she then made her way back, by the time she had reached Scorhill Gate the swelling had reduced by 50%. By and by the ability to walk soon returned and the swelling has caused few problems ever since.
Ruth St. Leger-Gordon was told by an old Chagford man in 1960's, who had heard it as a family story from past generations, the story of the "Faithless wives and fickle maidens". Any such women where made to wash in Cranmere pool, then walk to Scorehill, run around three times, pass through the Tolman, walk to Grey Wethers, pery in front of the stones for forgiveness – if she is forgiven she walks home, if not the stone falls on her and squashes her, this being an explanation as to why so many have fallen!
St. Leger-Gordon, Ruth E.1994 The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor Newton Abbot, UK : Peninsular Press
From 'The Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor' by Ruth E St Leger-Gordon (1965?):
"The circle has.. acquired the reputation of being in some way eerie. I know several people who say that they are unable to ride their horses along the old track that winds right through it. Their mounts become restive and evince such unwillingness to pass inside the circumference that a detour has to be made, and the track regained on the farther side."
(SX 65468738) Scorhill Circle (NAT) Stone Circle (NR). (1)
Scorhill Circle, a free standing stone circle, 88 feet in diameter, consisting of 23 standing stones and 7 fallen stones, probably early Bronze Age. The tallest stone is 8 feet 2 inches above ground and the smallest is 2 feet 8 inches and were close-set, 2-3 feet apart. (2)
Although previously named 'Gidleigh Circle' (a). it is now commonly called 'Scorhill Circle'. The feature is in a generally good condition, and as described by Authority (2), but having an additional fallen stone in the NW quadrant.
Stone circle revised at 1:2500, and annotations to Hansford Worth's plan. (3)