Heritage Lottery grant to restore Robin Hood and Little John
Castor Parish Council has received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Sharing Heritage grant to carry out archaeological investigations and restoration of some ancient standing stones in the Nene Valley near Peterborough... continues...
Follow the directions previously given by Kammer but be aware that the mentioned second information board no longer exists. My advice would be to park on the brow of the hill, just before the road descends down towards the stone bridge crossing the river. There is ample parking.
The stones were not visible from the road due to the trees and undergrowth.
I managed to find a gap in the bushes and pushed my way through onto the cultivated field the other side. It then didn’t take long to spot the stones.
They are in a small fenced off area at the edge of the field, amongst the undergrowth.
Now, I don’t claim to be in any way an expert on ‘old stones’ but I have seen a few over the years. And as Chris points out they certainly don’t appear to be prehistoric. At least if they are they look as though they have been subsequently worked as they are too square to be natural?
Each stone is approximately 2.5ft high x 8 inches across and lean towards the south.
Both stones are covered in green/yellow and white lichen.
These stones are not the easiest to find and given their somewhat dubious ‘history’ it is not a site I would recommend unless you are particularly keen.
I have to say I’m with Kammer on this one.
The stones just don’t look old enough and they are *very* square. Having said that, Burl must have looked at more stones than just about any living person and I’m presuming he has visited the site so what’s going on here?
Looking at their alignment they seem to be pointing roughly in the direction of the Roman town/camp of Durobrivae which I’m sure would have been visible from here – are they Roman? The stones are also scheduled monuments although I can’t find any information about their scheduling.
I found it fairly easy to get to the slip road that the stones stand next to but I was lucky in that it was a late Sunday afternoon and the roads were very quiet – I parked too far up the road though and after scrambling through the bushes walked in the wrong direction. One thing I did notice was the large amount of litter along the edge of the field, mainly empty beer bottles, cans and tubes of glue – obviously a popular place with the local yoof. The piles of broken windscreen glass in the carpark didn’t fill me with confidence either...
Visited 25th January 2003: Peterborough is a maze of dual carriageway. Without a map it took me while to find the road that runs near these stones. If you're approaching on the A47(T) (guess what, it's a dual carriageway) you can only get at the junction if you're travelling west. Look out for a signpost for Castor, Ailsworth, Marholm and Golf Course. At the top of the slip road you need to turn left, then immediately left again down a little access road, so you're heading east again. There's a Nene Park information board on the corner. Keep on down this road and resist the temptation of parking until you the next information board (with some blurb about the stones on it).
There's no public access to the stones, but you can get very close to them (or hop the fence). They are at the top of the field between the road and the River Nene (not right next to the river), but they're a bit obscured by foliage if you're standing on the road. From the information board walk west until you see a small crumbling concrete water main sign on your left (at least I think that's what it is). The stones are directly adjacent to this sign, on the other side of the fence.
I'm a bit suspicious about the antiquity of the stones themselves. They're both very square in cross section, and apparently there's a theory that they date back to the Middle Ages. If they're Bronze Age, they don't look like anything else I've seen. Worth a visit if you're stuck in Cambridgeshire and longing for some olde lumps of stone.
This must be the source of the folklore below. Eel swapsies, St Edmund, Robin Hood, fare-dodgers - it's all very involved.
.. I find in the charter of King Edward the confessor.. that the abbot of Ramsey should give to the abbot and convent of Peterburgh 4000 eeles in the time of Lent, and in consideration thereof the abbot of Peterburgh should give to the abbot of Ramsey as much freestone from his pitts in Bernack, and as much ragstone from his pitts in Peterburgh as he should need.
Nor did the abbot of Peterburgh from these pits furnish only that but other abbies also, as that of St. Edmunds-Bury: in memory whereof there are two long stones yet standing upon a balk in Castor-field, near unto Gunwade ferry; which erroneous tradition hath given out to be draughts of arrows from Alwalton church-yard thither; the one of Robin Hood, and th other of Little John;
but the truth is, they were set up for witnesses, that the carriages of stone from Bernack to Gunwade-ferry, to be conveyed to S. Edmunds-Bury, might pass that way without paying toll; and in some old terrars they are called S. Edmunds stones.
These stones are nicked in their tops after the manner of arrows, probably enough in memory of S. Edmund, who was shot to death with arrows by the Danes."
Guntons History of the church of Peterburgh, 1686, p.4.
spotted on p xl of 'Robin Hood' v1 by Joseph Ritson, 1832 (online at Google Books).
Camden says that they were set up "to testify that the carriages of stone, from Barnack to Gunwade Ferry, and from thence to be conveyed to St. Edmund's Bury, should pass that way toll free. They are still called St. Edmund's stones, and the balk, St. Edmund's Balk. The stones on the top are nicked after the manner of arrows, in memory of St. Edmund, who was shot to death with arrows."
The Nene Park (aka Ferry Meadows) information board says:
One story maintains that they are draughts from arrows shot from Alwalton churchyard by Robin Hood and Little John; another claims that the stones, which are nicked in the tops like arrows, are a memorial to St Edmund who was killed by the Danes' arrows. The most plausible explanation is perhaps that they mark a track to a crossing point on the River Nene, where the Abbot of Peterborough granted the Abbot of Bury toll-free passage for the stone being transported from the quarries at Barnack to build the Abbey of St Edmund.
Incidentally, the Robin Hood and Little John stones stand near Nene Park, which is known locally as Ferry Meadows (pronounced 'fury'). The name Nene is pronounced locally as neen but in Northamptonshire it's pronounced nen.
I wonder which of the stones is Robin Hood, and which one is Little John?