After trudging through the forestry for what seemed like hours it was great to get out onto open moorland again. It was hot with little breeze so on first reaching the circles I chose to sit in the shadow of the northern most stone and have my lunch...and take on water.
Refreshed I explored.
I had the stones to myself, the gentleman who had walked with me from Fernworthy had gone off to find a cairn on the side of Sittaford and a couple who had avoided encroaching on my lunchtime had slipped off to who knows where.
For some reason I started thinking about the figures on Easter Island...although the stones here are not that large they just gave a sense of being so...perhaps it is because there is very little else in the landscape for scale.
I lingered a while, took in the tranquility..realised that it would probably be the only time I ever visit this remote part of the moor before heading up hill to Sittaford Tor.
I parked right at the end of the road next to the reservoir just a hundred metres from Froggymead (grr)and got out my trusty bike,unfortunatly I'm a bit older and a bit heavier since I last came here and the trek up the track through the forest was just crap.
I passed Fernworthy(aawh)and kept going, passed one crosstrack and turned left at the next crossing this track takes you to the forest edge from here follow the wall till you can see the circles.
Apparently reconstructed at the behest of King George V, nice one matey. From the circles Sittaford tor is not visible so I'm inclined to presume the eastern horizon was the focus ,The equinox sun rises directly between the two rings though this might be because the circles are north-south aligned, i'm no expert but two circles and two imaginary lines projected from them to the rising sun may be some kind of phalic representation, just a thought .
Every one into stone circles should come here atleast once, the bike ride back to the car was a real thrill and took just 3 mins.
What a beautiful day to be here, it was cold but perfect. I am not one who minds circles being reconstructed as long as it is faithful. The imprint of what happened in these places is still here to be found. We stayed here all afternoon forgetting we had to get back to the car. It was dark when we got to Froggymead which was bathed in bright silver moon light, Oh for a better camera.
I knew I'd hate the walk which even Burl calls 'tedious'. But I did it in 50 minutes, mostly by thinking about Sir Ernest Shackleton and the fact this was surely better than being at work... wasn't it?! The weather was shite - very windy and it even hailed once we'd reached the huge circles. Damnit! They'd be no sketching here.
My notebook says: 'absolutely appalling walk which I'm not sure is entirely worth it, even though this perfect pair of large, complete circles are 'A'-list Hollywood sites.' Nevertheless, to see this pair of circles so close together, so even and so big was a real privilege. But the hike and the weather left me feeling so shitty that I couldn't even be arsed to climb the nearby rise to get some height. Moth did though and got some lovely pics.
I staggered around them like a drunkard wondering: 'why here?', 'why two?', 'why so close?' and 'how the hell am I going to get back to the car?'
In a stroke of genius I booked another week in Cornwall for the week the clocks change, and a week of stunning weather! It is early April and Bodmin Moor is tinder dry. Just before I arrived there had been several small fires in North Cornwall nd the day I left there was a large gorse fire at the other end of Cornwall (on the Lizard peninsula).
I stopped off in Dartmoor on the way, the sun was blazing and Fernworthy forest was so peaceful. Although it’s usually only the circle that is talked about Fernworthy is one of these ‘complexs’ with a stone circle , two cairns and cairn circles, two stone rows, and possible others. I was so taken in that I began to think I was an archaeologist for a day and soon I will have to unleash diagrams onto this fantastic TMA site! The south side of the forest also has a stone row. And a brisk walk onto the moor brings you to the Greywethers, a restored and stunning double circle. I also tried to find the Heath Stone on the way out. Does visiting ancient sites get much better than today?
On Sunday I went to the St Breock Downs area, checking out the St Breock Wind Farm Barrow, the colossal Men Gurta Menhir, and peering at the St. Breock Downs Menhir. I then moved south to the China Clay country (sounds like a theme park) to find the moved Menevagar / Roche Longstone and the huge Hensbarrow - this is the highest natural point in the area and the views back across the valley are stunning, with the St Breock Downs wind farm clearly visible. However, if you ignore the nice bit of the view you could just as easily think you are sitting on the moon as the clay works surround you. To round off a pretty lazy day I visited the two sites closest to where I was staying – Headon Barrow and Warbstow Bury, the later being quite stunning and the best-preserved hill slope fort in Cornwall.
On Monday I pleasured myself (steady on!) with a trip to the St.Austell Brewery - http://www.staustellbrewery.co.uk - and onto Mevagissey for sarnies on the harbour. I had forgotten my maps so instead of heading off for some yomping on Bodmin Moor I had to pull Plan B out, which was a visit to The County Museum in Truro - http://www.royalcornwallmuseum.org.uk - I knew that the famed cup marked stone from the Tregiffian Burial Chamber was there, as was a copy of the Rillaton Cup, and other things. There is a huge amount to see and as they are a registered charity it is £4 well spent (and please fill out a Gift Aid form, so they can reclaim your tax!)
I really don’t seem to have got the hang of these ‘holidays’ have I? Not much resting going on, so I only went out on the moors late on Thursday, and spent some of Friday re-reading one of favourite books on the beach at Crackington Haven (‘Life and Times of Michael K’ by J.M.Coetzee if anyone is interested).
I had a spare week back in June so I went down to the South West armed with a few OS maps and my essential copy of the Modern Antiquarian. I wanted to check out as many sites as possible (hell, there are loads not featured in the MA), and especially this one since I hadn't been before, despite having lived in nearby Plymouth for a number of years. Since leaving Plymouth I've missed the quiet desolation of Dartmoor and it's many prehistoric relics, particularly when they are as fine as this. Far away from the tourist trail that can so often be overwhelming up here, the Greywhethers was worth the effort of a difficult hike across open moorland. By the time I reached the stones, the weather was turning from hot and sunny to dull and overcast, perhaps magnifying the bleek location that this fine monument occupies. These two well restored circles are a perfect representation of the solitude that can be sought around these parts.
Another tale recorded by Ruth E St Leger-Gordon:
Once there was a young man who'd just arrived in Devon. (Probably one of those rich people from London who have just sold their house for a squillion quid and want to Move to the Country - like you see on tv every half hour). He decided he wanted some sheep to put on his land, so he went along to the local market. He saw loads of sheep but felt quite disorientated by the mysterious goings-on of the auctions. Retiring to the pub he got chatting to a friendly local. It turned out he had some sheep to sell - two flocks in fact. And they seemed very reasonably priced. The young farmer decided to buy them and began to discuss how he would come and collect them. Ah, don't worry - they could be delivered. If he went up to Sittaford Tor next Thursday they'd be there waiting for him. The young man handed over his cash and went home happy. In due course he set out across the moor to the Tor. He could spot the sheep grazingly happily there in the distance...
This story comes from Ruth E St Leger-Gordon's "Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor" (1973); she heard it from an elderly man from Chagford.
"Long ago faithless wives and fickle maidens were forced to expiate their misdeeds" in the following way. First they had to go and wash at Cranmere Pool. This was, and still is, a very remote spot - so it would have been some penance to get there in the first place. (Cranmere Pool has other legends connected with it - for example, that a no-good ex mayor of Okehampton, 'Binjy', had to empty it with a sieve.. having craftily done this he now sits on the bottom to spin the sand into ropes.. but that's another story).
They then had to cross the moor to Scorhill stone circle, and run round it three times (supposing they had any energy left).
Next they were driven down to the banks of the River Teign, where they dropped through the hole in a water-worn rock known as the Tolmen. Rumour has it this is a good cure for arthritis - but probably only if you've been good.
Next they went soggily up to the Grey Wethers stone circle. Each woman would fall to her knees in front of one of the stones. They would pray for forgiveness (to whom or what the story doesn't mention).
If nothing happened they could then assume they had been forgiven and purged of their transgressions could get up and stagger home. However, if a particular woman's sins were just Too Bad, the stone in front of her would topple forward crushing her to death.
"And that," added R.E.St L-G's informant, with a twinkle in his eye, "is why so many of the stones was lying flat before they was set up again."
No mention is made of what fickle and unfaithful husbands had to do. One suspects nothing probably.
SX 63878314. The Grey Wethers (NAT) Stone Circles (NR) (Restored (NAT) (1)
Two restored stone circles. In 1879, prior to restoration, the north circle had nine standing stones and six fallen stones;
while the south circle had seven standing stones and twenty fallen stones. Plan by W C Lukis in 1879 (2). When Spence Bate saw the circles in 1870 some stones had been recently removed apparently to repair the sides of the nearby leat. (2-5)
Authority 3 claims that several barrows have been found near to or in sight of the circles, but this is probably a reference to two barrows (SX 68 SW 18 & SX 68 SW 29) which were inspected in 1898. (6) Stone circles. (7)
Centred SX 63878314. The Grey Wethers are two well preserved, restored stone circles which are c.6m apart. They are situated in a shallow valley at 479m OD between Sittaford Tor (538m OD) to the W and rising ground (485m OD) to the NE. The area, under moorland pasture, has been disturbed by desultory amorphous diggings and shallow, natural erosion gullies.
The N circle, located on a level stance, has an internal diameter of approximately 31.7m with 20 upright stones and at least 4 ?socket holes (visible as irregular pits) which are on average 1m across and 0.3m deep. The White Horse leat (SX 68 SW 89) skirts the N-NE side.
The S circle, located on a slight E-facing slope, has an internal diameter of approximately 33m with 29 upright stones. The majority of these stones have been re-erected and some are now misaligned; almost all have groups of small packing stones around their bases. Tabulated list of stones in Archive. (8)