STANNON STONE CIRCLE...a return visit.
5th October 2013.
This was my second visit to Stannon stone circle, the first being in May 2012 when it was a dull, over-cast and windy day.
I’d come back for one main reason if truth be told, and that was to see if the negativity I felt there the first time around would still be with me, but this time it was a reasonably sunny day with a light wind so I was hoping for better things.
This circle, in common with Louden circle to the south-east and Fernacre circle directly to the east nestling beneath the southern slopes of Roughtor, has been termed a ‘ceremonial’ circle. This appears to be mainly because of their size, being the three largest circles in Cornwall (aside from the Stripple Stones which is a henge site) and not based on any actual tangible evidence that they were used for this purpose.
Stannon Circle, although not strictly circular, being a mixture of curves and a selection of short straighter segments, is officially 139’-8” x 132’-10” (PastScape) in diameter but that depends entirely on where exactly you take the measurements from, and has between 70-80 stones in its setting in various shapes and sizes and either standing or fallen, but mainly on the smaller size and gives the circle an almost unimpressive look to it for one so large. There is a flattened, well bedded stone, lying off-centre within the circle which may or may not be part of the original build. The locally sourced granite stones to the south-west sector would appear to be the tallest at about a metre high with the remaining standing stones around 0.5 metres with the exception of a large magnificent leaning triangular stone directly west. Those in the north-west quadrant seem to be the most regular in height, type and spacing, with the north and south-east quadrants being rather flattened, small and unevenly spaced. I got the impression that a lot of the stones in these last named areas have suffered the most over the years and possibly been damaged/moved by farm vehicles and replaced randomly closing up many of the more regular spacing’s.
Because of my principal interest in them, the magnificent triangular stone within the setting was the first stone I concentrated on as both Louden and Fernacre circles boast the same such singular flagship stone. I carefully, as best I could taking into consideration that the circle is not truly circular, calculated the exact centre of the monument and took a compass reading. The stone is exactly due west and not slightly NW as I had previously poorly recorded due to me not marking out the centre of the circle more accurately, another reason I felt the need to return.
What hadn’t changed however from my previous field-notes or my thoughts, was the ‘ceremonial’ label that had been bestowed upon this circle and it troubles me.
The term ceremonial to my mind indicates a circle that was built and used for special occasions and because of this on my previous visit was expecting a beautifully crafted true circle with specially selected or even dressed larger stones similar to those at the Hurlers for its setting…not a mish-mash of unregulated rough stones of all differing shapes and predominantly small literally thrown together in a poor attempt at forming a true circle! Working northwards from the triangular stone it started well, but midway along the west to east northern sectors it sort of fell apart! Why? What happened to the grandeur that one would (today) normally expect of a ceremonial monument?
It wasn’t like there was a shortage of larger stones on the moor as they lie everywhere. The transportation of heavy and bulky stones doesn’t appear to have been much of a hindrance to our Late Neolithic/Early Bronze-Age ancestors as seen elsewhere, so why the totally unimpressive array of random small stones instead of those that would have made a statement of the importance of the monument? It is this that puzzles me the most.
Looking around the circle I was drawn to a section to the south-west where the setting looked somewhat different to the rest with those previously mentioned taller stones seemingly purposely erected closer together and more ‘group’ like with some smaller random stones lying around the base of them. My first thought was that ‘something’ took place in this area which seemed to be at the juncture of two straighter sections...but what?
In common with most Bodmin Moor circles, although on this occasion somewhat masked due to the build-up of the china clay banking, Roughtor is in the background overseeing all before it and I won’t be alone in thinking that it was likely to have once been revered by our great ancestors who built these circles.
As for the negativity I felt here last time, well it was more of a bereft feeling this time, but there was more. I still felt that whatever the circle had once stood for was now gone along with its builders and that saddened me, but I still felt that this circle was not understood and it was erected as part of something else and not as a ‘stand alone’ circle.
It was only when I got back home and reflected on what I’d seen and thought at the time that I began to look at things differently. Prior to my initial visit to Stannon, I’d never before left a stone circle behind feeling unsatisfied with what I’d seen and never have again since. One of my reasons for returning, as I have already mentioned, was to check out the triangular stone and it was this that set me thinking again. What special significance could the triangular stones have held to be featured so prominently in the three large circles on this part of Bodmin Moor and what could their separate positions within each circle reveal? Stannon’s triangular stone is due west in its setting, Fernacre’s due east and Louden’s due south. Oddly enough, Stannon circle itself is to the west, Fernacre is to the east and Louden to the south on this section of the moor, so their triangular stones are all on their outermost perimeters of West/East/South…and linked up, the three circles form a triangle themselves! Could this be significant or pure speculation?
The similarities the three circles share could well tell a story. Similar in size, all irregular circles, all built of mainly small stones, all having an impressive singular triangular stone and all within close sight of Roughtor. This suggests to me that they were built by the same people and part of a much greater plan and all at the same time. Were they built to interact with each other and not so important as individual circles after all? In fact why would you require three ‘Ceremonial’ circles within a short distance of each other? Why was one not enough to serve such a small area or community?
Is that why I felt the negativity with Stannon circle because it really was built for a different reason and was not a ‘stand-alone’ circle with a separate function after all? That could possibly explain the three circles apparent lack of quality construction and only roughly circular shapes, but I think I ought to stop there as I’m in danger of over-speculating again…something I can get very good at, but will nevertheless no doubt try to expand on in time! Questions, questions!
As it had been such a nice morning I decided to take advantage of the weather and seek out Stannon stone circle on Stannon Moor to the east of Harpur’s Downs which is itself north east of St Breward.
From the east, after passing the Jamaica Inn on the left and driving on for a further 4 miles or so, I turned right off the A30 at the St Breward turning opposite the left turn for Temple at the end of the dual carriageway. Over the cattle grid and I wound my way across a typical moorland road. Went past the left-hand turning for Treswigga (opposite this turn is the track to the Trippet stones just seen on the right) and carried straight on following the signs to St Breward. Over the Delford Bridge and passed the branch to East Rose on the right. I came into St Breward at the northern end called Churchtown and passed a pub then the church on the right at the very end of the village. Straight north from here until the road sweeps around to the right then comes to a hairpin bend sharp left. Don’t take it, instead take the road to the right at this point and over a cattle grid which takes you directly to Harpur’s Downs after keeping to the left at a couple of forks in the lane. You will come to a sign indicating a dead-end but with Stannon written across it. You’re nearly there. You will come directly to the entrance to Stannon China Clay works on the left and after that the road becomes a bit iffy for about 300 yards leading up to Stannon circle which you will see on the right on reaching the crown of the rising road. I grounded my car once but mainly because I have lowered suspension which didn’t deal with the potholes too well. Parking on the edge of the track is not a problem, but turning there is if you haven’t got a 4x4 as the grass verge drops away making it difficult to turn. There may be easier turning further up the track but I took a chance and got away with it even though the ground was very soft, but don’t push your luck!
So, I’d arrived, and as always a real buzz at finally arriving at another must see Cornish circle. Out with the camera and then, as if someone had pre-planned it, out went the lights as black clouds gathered overhead. Grrrrrr!!
As the wind also built up I dashed into the centre of the circle and started snapping away methodically around the circumference of the circle before the rain joined in. It quickly became apparent that this circle is not truly circular…well it is in parts, but not others. To the more northerly side the stones are evenly spaced and typical in look to other such circles being either basically rectangular, angled topped or slightly pointed, but after that become unevenly spaced, very mixed in type, some standing, some fallen, some pointy and slim, some partly buried and some out of line altogether. I got the impression (in parts) that some of the stones were not part of the original build and had just been deposited there to fill in some spaces and had became overgrown and sunken into the quite peaty soil. It may be the reason why it is not truly circular possibly having at some stage been partly ruined/destroyed before well-meaning folk ‘replaced’ stones found lying around. That’s pure speculation of course but after seeing a great many circles in my time I just had this feeling that all was not right here.
To the west side of the circle setting is a completely triangular or ‘A’ stone as I call them and typical it would seem of quite a few Cornish circles. This must signify something, but what, as they are not just placed in the same position on the compass, or is it just a random thing? I found the whole site odd to be truthful but may have a change of view when I visit the other local large irregular circles of Louden and Fernacre if I find their make-up similar.
Then, I had a surprise. As the photos will show, ‘offerings’ had been left on and near a centre stone, if indeed it was one, as it is offset and prostrate. A broken painted flat stone, a silver (coloured) chain necklace with charms on it, a small amount of coins and a selection of small stones on and to the side of this prostrate stone had been deposited. I can’t say I’ve ever seen an offering in an open moorland circle before but plenty in tombs, barrows, cairns and the like.
I don’t know if it was the presence of the huge china clay mounds immediately to the north, but I couldn’t get a ‘feel’ for the place once I was actually in the circle. I found the stones too small for such a large circle, almost like it was a token circle rather than one of major importance/significance if that makes sense! Normally if I see offerings it strengthens my own belief in our great ancestors and what they have left for us, but not this time, unless it was for a more recent occurance of course in which case my comments are not appropriate and I apologise for. Rightly or wrongly I felt what the circle must once have had had gone and I left the Stannon stones still feeling that this was a circle built for a different reason to most other circles. I could be completely wrong of course but don’t feel the need to return there which is another first for me! Sorry to be so negative but that’s just how I felt. https://picasaweb.google.com/100525707086862773355/StannonStoneCircle202?authkey=Gv1sRgCPyt8NrtvsngOg#
I'd already been to King Arthurs hall and Leaze stone circle, and as this one was only a 10 minute drive I just had to come, even though I had no idea which one it was.
I was able to park the car really close, which is always nice, and as I approached it felt like christmas, "Yeeesss"! I said "it's Stannon."
A large ring of many many low stones, how many I dont know I got a quarter way round lost count and gave up....there's lots.
Never saw another soul all the while I was here, unless ponies count, they might do in there spare time when no-ones watching.
Upon leaving the stones i went past the car and jumped the fence and stream and climbed up the china clay pit earthwork to look down upon the old stones, it was good place to sit, the moor stretches off into the mist and over my shoulder rugged and craggy Brown Willy winks at me through the low clouds, and asks why dont you climb me. No time thats why.
I can't believe it is three years since I was last up here, and it's still bloody cold! Stannon circle is in danger of being hidden by the grass. When I last visited it was being grazed by a flock of sheep that watched over me like hawks.
It is fast approaching dusk as I drive up to the circle and I must admit I drove right up the track to get as close as possible. Good job too, as my battery in my camera chose to go flat after about three shots!
After running back to the car and changing batterys, and having a sip of coffee, I venture out again into the biting wind. No sheep, no people... a dozen or so ponies cross the horizon to the south east and a flock of stirlings head towards Roughtor... and me. The sky starts to turn pink as the sun drops behind the cloudbank building in the west... will I get a sunset?
No! I decide that it is not worth the wait and head back to the car and the coffee. As I am about to leave a people carrier turns up and family and dog fall out... I leave the circle and the fading light to them.
As I drive home a huge moon rises over the moor... if only I had remembered...
Once again I stand in this wonderful circle. It calls me back every time I am in Cornwall. I have visited many other circles since but this one is closest to my heart. Once again the man I love is not with me but he is closer to me now. I hope next time I return he will be with me in this magic place. There is no mist today, no sun, no rain but the impact of this circle of stone needs no enhancement.
I thought I would visit Stannon, Louden Hill and Fernacre Stone Circles all in one go. I drove up through numerous lanes and parked just before Camperdown Farm. As I walked past the farm entrance there was actually a plaque saying that the rest of the track is for use only by Fernacre Farm (presumably the buildings at SX151798?). A few hundred metres along the track (i.e. to the East) quite a strong grass/mud 4x4 track ran across the moor towards Stannon Stone Circle. This is quite a good marker, especially in bad weather, and neatly skirts around the marshy ground.
Stannon is a really nice circle but it is now slightly out of place next to the HUGE China clay works. I found it very difficult to count the stones! I counted 89, plus 2 inside the circle, 5 just outside the circle and quite a lot further outside the circle, especially to the South West.
3.11.02. Today I stood in Stannon in the pouring rain. I have stood in this circle in the sun. Once I stood in this circle in the mist with a man that I loved. The mist is gone and so is he but the stones are still here.
Armed with our map we went in search of this site in the fog,again, does the fog just follow us or are we been paranoid?, then bang, the four stones appeared in front of us, inviting us to greater things, were they some kind of entrance originally?, who knows.They felt like it to us. The fog isolated us from the world around us, but by no means spoilt the thrill of this place, of a matter of fact it enhanced our visit, this surely would have been how our ancestors saw this place on a regular basis, and this made me feel closer to the past than I have ever felt, it even made me want to get really native, but it was to cold!!!!!!!!!!, dispite some active encouragemment from my girlfriend. We strolled inside the circle with glee in our hearts, this felt really real. Well worth it.
You're looking at a landscape trashed by people in prehistory: the clay works are just an extension of that and when they're closed there'll be one more wild and exotic place on the moor. Turn your back on the works and you are alone.
The last phase of rescue archaeology on the works site excavated a couple of ring cairns and a reave-type boundary. The best feature however was a small unremarkable stony cairn that turned out to have a long stony tail made up of two or three large orthostats with smaller stones in between. If you stood at the end of the tail and looked beyond the cairn you were staring straight into the jaws of Rough Tor. Apparently a number of similar cairns were excavated before previous works expansions and all bar one had tails pointing to the same dominant feature.
It is one of those days on the moor when there is not a cloud in the sky but it is bitterly cold. Driving from south coast to north coast I decided to take a detour and ended up here. The stones are easy to find, walk up the track from the works gate and they are on your right. Shame about the clay works, they are supposed to be closing down but will no doubt be worked for waste products in near future. The circle is perfect, one can imagine what it was like years ago before the works was here, sitting in the shadow of roughtor (which is looking amazing today). I wonder why it was sited here? what was destroyed by the clay works? any thoughts.
A large flock of sheep decide they should check me out, one inparticuler with a black face and large twirly horns keeps a close eye on me all the time I am within the circle. She never goes more than 4ft away , but no closer....if i move she moves......
will post photos when I get film back
I can ignore that. There is a real sense of place here and in the whispering winds I can still feel it. Less of a pretty site and more of a place of raw power- awesome and rugged. So much imagination can be put to the other stones which surrond, standing and lying. I'm sure we passed through at least two ruined circles on the road leading up, too. Lots to think about and this large and impressive circle still here and central to it all. Rough, tufted fun.
Lovely little circle which can be seen from Louden Hill (q.v.). Nearly all stones seem to be present if a little on the small side
there is an alignment of four strange stones inbetween Stannon and Louden Hill.
The immediate surroundiings are somewhat spoiled by the huge china clay mine to the north.
A large number of cairns are sited on Stannon Down with four small upright stones to the north-west of the circle that may be part of an orientation through Stannon towards Lauden circle. A several orientations can be seen between circles and other monuments; a line from Stannon circle via Fernacre circle leads to a cairn on the northern side of Brown Willy. A line from Roughtor's northern summit through Fernacre circle passes through the cairn cemeteries and natural tor on Garrow Hill. There is also a convincing astronomical alignment from Stannon to Rough Tor around May Day and Lammas time when the sun rises through the gap between the two summits of the tor. At the equinoxes the sun rises over the tip of Brown Willy.
Revisiting the Past. A guest feature by Roy Goutté.
"Standing on the edge of open moorland to the south of the Stannon china clay works, Stannon circle is easily accessed by the road that leads to the clay works from Harpur’s Downs to the west. Two other stone circles lie close by: Louden is some 800m to the south-east, while Fernacre is 2km away, due east of Stannon and south of the Roughtor summit. Stannon appears to have much in common with these other two circles which are all very large by Cornish standards and all are surprisingly made up of a large number of small upright stones. Stannon has around 70 stones laid out in an irregular ring but originally there may have been as many as 82+. Fernacre also has a large number of stones in its make-up, Louden fewer, yet the three circles are the largest in Cornwall and could have been amongst the first to be built possibly from the late Neolithic where many of the other smaller circles are regarded to be more likely to have been early Bronze-Age, although a lack of dating evidence in Cornish circles is a problem. All three are irregular in shape and may have been laid out by eye rather than using a central peg and rope to mark out an accurate circle."