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

Backstone Circle

Stone Circle


This is a very peculiar site. I'd walked past it a few times before and thought, "gate posts". As previously described, a partially ruined circle enclosed in drystone walling (possibly a Victorian sheep fold). I really can't decide if this site is genuinely prehistoric or not.

The long sedge grass and walling makes the site quite difficult to evaluate but from what I could find it seems like there could be a double circle with a central standing stone. However, just when you think you've worked it out, you find something that bucks the plan!

The inner circle stones are quite low and in some instances, very square cut. Giving the impression of having been quarried and dressed rather than composed of land-strewn boulders. There is little evidence of weathering on the stones as at the nearby Twelve Apostles circle.

The three larger stones at the back (north west) of the circle are set in a triangle. Two of the stones could possibly form a section of an outer circle, but the third stone appears to be supported by stones similar to those in the drystone walling. One other stone wasn't even set in the earth, but sat on it's broad base. The tallest stone appears that have what looks like a figure 8 set on it's side carved near the top of the stone. This doesn't appear to have been pecked with stone tools and shows little sign of weathering.

On the southern side of the walling is what could possibly be a ditch and bank, or could equally (or more likely) be a watercourse. This does not surround the site and if the circles were completed to their full circumference, they would cut across the feature.

On the plus side, it commands a wide view over the settlement areas of Backstone Beck and Green Crag. The pointed Idol Rock is clearly visible to the eastern horizon on what could possibly be a Samhien alignment and there would have been good views of sunrises throughout the year, over the cairnfields to the east. Paul Bennett also mentions a fallen monolith to the south at Gill Head (which I didn't manage to find). He also points out that the Backstone Beck site forms the north western corner of a perfect isosceles triangle with the Twelve Apostles and the Grubstones, with the Lanshaw Lass boundary stone set in the centre of the longest side.

On the question of the Backstone Circle being genuinely prehistoric or not, my inclination is to suspect it as a Victorian Folly. First references to a 'lost circle beyond White Wells' come from around this period. However, it is possible that it was constructed on the site of an older monument. Also, medieval masons are known to have erected and moved standing stones around the moor over more recent centuries (Walter Hawksworth of the 14th C in particular) and used the Grubstones and Twelve Apostles for their moots.

I wouldn't say that I'd rule out the possibility of this being a genuine prehistoric site, but my gut feeling is that what is to be seen there today isn't entirely prehistoric in origin. The only way to be sure of it's origins and history is for a full excavation at the site. In the meantime, it's still a very pleasant spot to visit, so go and make your own mind up.
Kozmik_Ken Posted by Kozmik_Ken
5th November 2003ce
Edited 7th November 2003ce

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