The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

The Spinsters' Rock

Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech


I first went to the village of Drewsteigton five or six years ago to interview Britain/the worlds oldest landlady... 100 years old and still pulling pints. Rather miserable old girl I recall. She's gone but the pub "The Drew Arms" is well worth a visit. Anyway, driving to the village I noticed the little hand made "Spinsters Rock" sign and returned when I had the time to savour the site.

Tree growth and house building have played their usual tricks on any possible landscape alignments and the horror stories about stone rows and circles around here being ploughed under blackened my mood. That said, the rocks cheered me up no end. I find these uplifted stones uplifting. The other half sat in the rocks grinning as I circled, climbed and smoothed the fine things. An undeniable warm sensation spreading across my shoulders. I was reminded of the tinglestone tag given to a site up country.

The name deserves a closer look.. the word spinster has suffered from some major alteration in meaning.The name Spinsters Rock was first recorded by William Chapple in 1779. The folk tale he relates is that three Spinsters (meaning spinners of yarn, not unmarried women) put the stones up. I haven't managed to see a copy of his original description of the site but Crossings Guide To Dartmoor (1912) says that Chapple derived the name from "Some Celtic words having much the same sound....and which he says mean an open observatory or stargazing place".
My Cornish isn't good enough to began to guess what word sounds like Spinster but means star gazing place.

The Antiquarian Polwhele in "The History of Devonshire" (1806) refers to another local legend. He records a version where the stones were erected by three young men who came down with their father from the hills carrying the stones. This has been attributed to a reversioning of the story of Noah and his sons coming down from the mountain after the Ark came to rest. All a bit Christian and lacking in female input to my way of thinking.

All the above sources mention that this was once a major site with stone rows and associated circles. All now "cleared for agriculture". An act of cultural vandalism that defies words.

I have also found references to this site as Shilstone Cromlech and rather funkily The Great Rock.
Posted by KPH
1st September 2000ce
Edited 19th August 2006ce

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