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The Spinsters' Rock

Dolmen / Quoit / Cromlech

<b>The Spinsters' Rock</b>Posted by A R CaneImage © A R Cane
Spinsters' Rock is a late Neolithic chambered tomb restored in 1862. The remains of the chamber consist of three granite orthostats supporting a large capstone. No trace of any mound survives. The name derives from folklore that it was erected by three spinsters before breakfast. In a field in the hamlet of Shilstone.
Also known as:
  • Shilstone Cromlech
  • Spinster's Rock
  • Drewsteignton Cromlech

Nearest Town:Okehampton (12km W)
OS Ref (GB):   SX70099078 / Sheet: 191
Latitude:50° 42' 5.54" N
Longitude:   3° 50' 23.4" W

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Visited 13.4.15

There is a small wooden sign pointing the way from the A382. It is very small and easily missed on this busy road. The minor road leading to the site is narrow with few passing places. However, parking is fine once you arrive at the burial chamber. There is an information board.

This was the first ‘old stone’ of our holiday – and what a cracker it is! It was a lovely spring day with blue sky and white fluffy clouds. Access to the field is via a wooden kissing gate. We said ‘hello’ to the farmer who was busy going about his work. The field was full of sheep and cute lambs. Sophie, Karen and Ella-Rose (we had the grandchild with us for this trip) went to look at the lambs whilst myself and Dafydd explored the dolmen.

I was surprised by the height of the capstone – I was just about able to walk upright underneath it. The uprights had a lot of ‘hairy’ lichen covering them although it was very dry and brittle due to the nice weather. Although re-erected this does not detract from the site at all. I would much rather a dolmen be put back up than left as a pile of stones. After all, wasn’t that the intention of the original builders?

This is an excellent site to visit with easy access (once you find the right road).
Highly recommended and a great way to start the holiday.
Posted by CARL
22nd April 2015ce

A cold grey February afternoon is not the best time to go viewing Dartmoor's we spent a pleasant three hours in the pub and then had a quick drive up the road to view this beast. Size wise it is impressive but it all feels too modern.....
...By that I mean the rebuilding of the quoit somehow takes away the is after all only an approximation of what was there before and its a bit like a Victorian tourist attraction.

I am sure I have read somewhere that at one time there was a stone row and some circles nearby....
...anyway, this is a very handy antiquity, lying as it does only a few miles from the A30..and on a cold grey day when spending more than five mins out of the car is not recommended it is worth a visit.
Mr Hamhead Posted by Mr Hamhead
9th February 2010ce

we headed off to The Spinsters' Rock. We found it easily, driving up the tiny lane to the farm at the top and parking in the lay by next to the gate. the site was well signposted both from the road and at the lay by. The field was full of sheep and a beautiful horse that didn't move the whole time we were there. the sun still graced us with it's presence only occasionally dipping behind the clouds. The spinsters' Rock looked perfect, we spent our time just chilling out and pondering on the legends of the spinsters or witches or Mysterious Old Man and his three sons putting up these stones. texlahoma Posted by texlahoma
5th June 2005ce

It was too grey, misty and evil to attempt Scorhill without a GPS and an OS map, so we found this instead and... Oooooh it's lovely!

A little hidden gemstone - fairy-like, peaceful and gorgeous, though how much of the 19th century rebuild of it is 'true' I don't know. It seems almost too picture-book to have been really like this. The Uprights are slim and tapering, carefully worked into flat plains and angles whilst still retaining the character of the rock (which has what appears to be quartz oven chips tossed into the mix). The Capstone is a highly worked mushroom-like structure and the base of it stands 5'7" from ground level - not quite high enough for me to stand upright in.

The grey horse mentioned by Pure Joy's post (below) still shares his field with this sweet little cromlech, which perhaps ought to be renamed Fairyglen Stones, Enchanted Pebbles or Magic Mushroom Rocks. Would be a delightful place to fire the imaginations of your kids and introduce them to the thrills of megalithic Britain.
Jane Posted by Jane
4th March 2003ce
Edited 4th March 2003ce

Spinsters' Rock - 22.12.2002

I approached this from the main rd, the A382. The junction with the side road towards the Spinsters' Rock is tiny and like me you may overshoot it. It is signposted from this junction. The junction is almost a cross roads, and the road up to the Spinsters' Rock looks (at the
junction) like you are driving into someone's front garden! Half way up the road you will find a small lay-by on the South side of the road opposite the biggest farm buildings along this road, with a small wooden signpost to the burial chamber. The lay-by says that it is specifically for people visiting the burial chamber.

At the end of the lay-by is a gate that takes you into the field where the Spinster's Rock stands. A wooden plague on the gate reads "A Neolithic burial chamber erected around 3500-2500 BC. This chamber probably contained many burials and would originally have been covered by a long earthen mound. The stones fell down in 1862 and were re-erected in the same year. Traditionally this monument was erected by 3 spinsters one morning before breakfast"

Again, a great setting for a lovely burial chamber. Real peace and beauty. A small plea though, please don't leave dodgy 'gifts' around the burial chamber. Someone had left mistletoe here, which for the lovely (if slightly territorial) grey horse sharing this field is not a good meal. Please think before you do things like that. Mistletoe is a parasite, the berries have poisonous properties and should be kept away from (especially) children and animals.
pure joy Posted by pure joy
6th January 2003ce

Wow! what a wonderful website!
Anyways me and my missis have just come back from a short break in Devon Stone-circle hunting (no red coat necessary)
On the way to track some down' just before Chagworth village
came across this lovelly cromlech. On the sign to the rocks is a short description of how they got the name "built as legend has it, by three spinsters before breakfast" or words close to that effect. I've got another theory on the name:as you climb over the stile and enter the field and look at the stones' i was struck by the shapes of the three supporting stones, which to me could easily be turned into, with a little imagination, three hunched,old ladies, each supporting on there shoulders that giant mushroomed cap stone....tell that explanation to the kids and they'll have to behave themselves, otherwise they will end up the same!!
Posted by graemej
8th March 2002ce

Passing on our return from Cornwall to Hampshire with memories of wet and bleak trecks to various sites this was a sunny site and happy place. Most importantly for anyone with flagging family dragging along behind, this is one of those that fall into the category of easy to find; park; and it's behind the first fence over one style. Family friendly neolithics ! dickie Posted by dickie
3rd September 2000ce


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Folklore on the stones and some surrounding landscape features:
This interesting old monument derives its name from a whimsical tradition that three spinsters (who were spinners) erected it one morning before breakfast; but "may we not,"* says Mr. Rowe (Peramb. of Dartmoor), "detect in this legend of the three fabulous spinners the terrible Valkyriur of the dark mythology of our Northern ancesters - the Fatal Sisters, the choosers of the slain, whose dread office was to 'weave the warp and weave the woof of destiny.'"

Polwhele informs us that the legend varies, in that for the three spinsters some have substituted three young men and their father, who brought the stones from the highest part of Dartmoor; and in this phase of the legend has been traced an obscured tradition of Noah and his three sons.

.. The hill on which it stands commands an excellent view of Cawsand Beacon. About 100 yds. beyond the cromlech on the other (N.) side of the lane, is a pond of water, of about 3 acres, called Bradmere Pool, prettily situated in a wood. It is said to be unfathomable, and to remain full to the brim during the driest seasons, and some regard it as artificially formed and of high antiquity - in short a Druidical pool of lustration connected with the adjacent cromlech..

.. The country-people have a legend of a passage formed of large stones leading underground from Bradmere to the Teign, near the logan stone..
p65 in 'A Hand-book for Travellers in Devon & Cornwall' by John Murray (1851).

*[ooh go on then].
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
11th April 2007ce
Edited 11th April 2007ce

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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..I will first remark that, in my opinion, the cause of the fall is not to be ascribed " to foul play." Living in the next parish, I often visit the cromlech. I was at it for a considerable time three days before its fall, and then there were no signs of the earth being disturbed about the upright stones; and when I visited it again, within a few days, no change appeared to have taken place, save that which was evidently caused by the fall.

The quoit, prior to the accident, rested on the tops of two stones, and against the sloping side of the upper part of the third. In Lysons's Devonshire, p. cccviii., there is a woodcut showing the quoit resting on the two stones; the manner in which it rested against the third is not there seen. The cause of the fall I consider to have been this: the heavy quoit has acted as a wedge on the stone against which it rested (and which still remains), and has pushed it a few inches backwards; the ground, which is a light granite gravel, being saturated by the unusually long rains of this spring, and thus rendered softer than usual; the giving way of this stone would cause the quoit to move forwards, and it would draw with it the two stones on which it rested. The action on these two stones was clearly seen at the time of the accident.

One stone (that on the left hand in the woodcut) was only about eighteen inches in the ground, and this has been drawn over; the other (that to the right) was of weak coarse granite; this was moved a little, and then it broke off near the surface of the ground.

As the fall of this — I believe the only perfect cromlech in Devonshire — has caused much regret, I have occupied a considerable space in stating what I consider to have been the cause; and the above is the result of a very careful examination made shortly after the accident. Probably if the green sward had been preserved for a few yards round the cromlech the fall would not have taken place ; but the field has been in tillage, and the support has been diminished by the gradual lowering of the surface thereby, and the action of Dartmoor storms on the broken up soil, in which the upright stones had but a slight hold. On the day of the fall, the wind was unusually violent.

An able stone-mason in this town was instructed by a gentleman residing in the parish of Drewsteignton shortly after the fall to make the needful examinations preparatory to restoring the cromlech, and I believe that it is intended to proceed with the same as soon as the corn crop, which now surrounds it, is removed. I had taken several outline drawings of the cromlech before it fell, so fortunately exact working drawings exist by which it can be replaced.

Chagford, near Exeter.
From Notes and Queries, 26th July, 1862.

A later letter in November lets us know that the work's been done,
"by Messrs. W. Stone & Ball, builders at Chagford, at the expense of the Rev. W. Ponsford, the Rector of Drewsteignton."
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
19th August 2006ce
Edited 19th August 2006ce


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Spinster's Rock Video

A selection of photos and video of this lovely site accompanied by music from Paul Giovanni and Magnet
wickerman Posted by wickerman
7th July 2012ce

Devon Perspectives

Fascinating account of its restoration.
moss Posted by moss
4th October 2009ce