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

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The Humber Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Folklore

The Humber Stone Leicester.

Close to Thumaston Lane. Although only a few feet from the road, it is just off a new roundabout that leads to the Hamilton housing estate, it is near a garage. You will need a recent OS map as much has changed around here recently.

A huge red granite stone some six feet wide and twelve high once stood in a hollow on the top of an eminence at Humberstone. It was variously called the Hoston, Hostin, Holly, Holy or even Hell Stone, and gave its name to the nearby village, though the official derivation is from Hunbeort's Stan [Stonel. Geologically, the stone is an erratic, (similar red granite is found closest at Mountsorrel some miles away), but there is folklore that it was dropped by a god, and frequented by fairies. In the eighteenth century the farmer on whose land it stood had the upper parts of the stone broken off, and the hollow levelled for the plough. For meddling with the stone he was soon reduced from being the owner of 120 acres to penury, and six years later he died in the workhouse. The bad luck - if you can call it that - seems to still linger as within 10 minutes of my arrival yesterday two squad cars and 3 police officers harassed me at the site asking what I was doing on ñtheir landî! This is a public monument six feet from the highway and marked by a notice by the way. They obviously have a policy of harassing visitors as one questioned me about ley lines - a bizarre, and somewhat disturbing experience, now I know what it must feel like to be a traveller. The remnant of the stone can still be seen and has been recently dug out of the ground and is most impressive. As large as some stones at Avebury it must weigh at least 6 tons in its curtailed form (my friendÍs estimate who knows about these things), deeply fissured and very red. Its large front originally faced north towards Charnwood it seems. It must have been very impressive in its day, no granite let alone red granite around this district. In the same locality there was a plot of land called Hell-hole Furlong, and also the traditional site of a nunnery which was reputed to be connected by an underground passage to Leicester Abbey, two miles away and possibly visible, there has been much obstruction of site lines recently. The stone sits forlorn amongst new industrial and housing estates. This tunnel story is possibly a later reinvention of a much older line of sight alignment as in the Abbey Fields at Leicester there was once a seven-foot stone called St John's Stone. Its site is now in the middle of the Stadium Housing Estate. It was the custom for people to visit it on St John's Day, close to the solstice on the 24 June. Children sometimes played around it, but were always careful to leave before nightfall, when the fairies came out. Nowadays it is the institutionally anti-archaeological forces of Babylon one has to be wary of it seems.

Alex Peach

The Devil's Arrows (Standing Stones) — Fieldnotes

One of the most intersting and easily visited sites in Britain , the DevilÍs Arrows sit adjacent the A1 at Burrowbridge next to the river Ure. The three towering monoliths (originally four it seems) stride across the countryside like stiff legged golems, pockmarked and incised. I dropped in on my way from Leicester to Sunderland to pay my respects. They reminded me of Rudstone in many ways, the grooved tops (which can be also seen at the much smaller Nine Stones in Derbyshire) are always referred to as naturally weathered by the centuries but I have never been convinced of this speculation. The grooves seem far to regular. It would be churlish not to opine that these would have made spectacular conduits for liquid libations to fertilise the stone/earth. Milk poured over the top of these stones would vein them with seminal white and would bring their cold dumbness to life. Putting such romantic speculations aside, I phoned my wife Helen whom, sat at her desk, was delighted to be transported vicariously to this magic spot. The stones are said to come from nearby Knaresborough, a place worthy of a visit with its ancient sacred cavesÍ connections with Saints and Seeresses and a rock cut chapel where one can float in the trancendency of the sacred. Ahh... I must do this more often.

Howden Hill (Yorkshire) (Sacred Hill) — Fieldnotes

Also known to the locals as 'The Sugarloaf' and 'Tit Hill' this magnificent mount is rightly pointed out as important by Julian. The drive from West Ayton along the Derwent river through the Forge Valley to Langdale End was beautiful and would have made a splendid walk if we had had the time. Howden reveals itself just as you turn the corner into the 'village' and is a breathtaking sight. This is indeed a proto Silbury. We parked by the river and walked to the small church/chapel, sited magnificently at the foot of the hill with good views one way. Julian points out the relationship of this flattened but raised site as similar to the standing stones at Blakey Topping and we have to agree. Again, as at the nearby Rudston Monolith, the monument of the hill is completely obscured. You cannot see the Rudston stone from inside its Church (a matter of feet away) and likewise the Christians do not have to see the hill in their worship from this church as it is obscured completely by judiciously planted trees. This place has a atmosphere that is sacred and we tarried awhile before walking up to the great Howden Hill. Opposite the Moorcock Inn (where food and good beer may be enjoyed in a folksy atmosphere devoid of the middle class pretensions that despoil so many country hostelries these days) is Howden Farm. It is important that visitors ask permission to ascend the hill here as it is not normally given due to beer sodden hairy arsed new age 'seekers' who have peed off the locals by partying, shouting and littering the hill (which is private property) with beer bottles and worse. The landowner was a bit frosty at first but charming as soon as she realised we were serious seekers. She gave permission to ascend the hill and imparted the information that it 'has many names' (pointing to its importance) including the two given at the beginning of this piece. We ascended via the public footpath that runs up the hill but stops short of the summit. Here a sign informs the public that this is private property, we pressed on and were rewarded with magnificent views as good as I have seen anywhere. Blakey Topping was visible rising out of the Crosscliffe that obscures its feet. The surrounding landscape is like something out of Lord of the Rings, a Rivendell in Yorkshire. The spine of the hill has an earthwork ridge that we processed along before settling at the hollow on the summit. The Tolkien resonances struck me again as this seat of power worked its strange magic upon us. Howden is still in use by the locals, the landowner informed me that they had lit a beacon on the hill and set fireworks off at the millennium, it must have been quite a sight. Keep this one to yourselves.

Nine Maidens of Boskednan (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

These six remaining stones (out of a possible 22 according to Burl) are indeed a place of solitude. I had spared my family the trek and left them at our holiday caravan while I pressed on first to Madron Holy Well - a strange and mysterious place - via Lanyon Quoit (ironically while I was there my wife watched the Channel Four ñTime Teamî TV programme that delved into a nearby fougou). I too approached across the moorland from the Men-an-Tol via the Men Scryfa inscribed stone to the left of the track (the inscription is 6th century and dedicated to the Raven). This whole area is covered in sites and the circle itself is surrounded by cairns barrows and standing stones. Importantly the natural rock outcrop of Carn Galver is very prominent (and striking) within the landscape. Ding Dong Mine is visible from most sites, this relatively recent relic is a modern continuation of a prehistoric mine. The significance of the mineral deposits in the area are a likely indicator of its Neolithic importance. The local granite stones of the circle are worked with their smooth faces inward as at the nearby Boscawen-Un and Merry Maidens and it is suggested that a cut down stone just to the north west marks the setting mid summer sun viewed from the north-east of the circle. An outlying stone used to exist 400 meters to the west. The Nine Maidens are ruined and robbed but evocative and sky-born to my senses. Alone upon this landscape I could not help feel close to the infinite, I lay with my spine fused to one of the comfortably leaning stones and stared upwards into nothing but blue sky as if resting on a shaman's relining chair and was transported within and without. My reverie was disturbed by a skylarkÍs singing and I returned home happy. A lovely place in sunshine.

High Bridestones (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

Situated high upon a lonely Yorkshire moor upon a bleak limestone pavement surrounded by heather this place presents an experience of devastationƒ a virtual moonscape surrounded by the remnants of military activity. Here 6 enigmatic stones stand forlorn, 5 fallen, besmirched and contaminated by modern activity, not least the attentions of modern seekers who have rammed and hammered coins into the cracks of the stones where they rust and stain with the corruption of a modern spiritual emptiness that sees money (of all things) as an offering to be foisted upon this place. Stones have been placed to reinvent the ñcircleî (which is possibly a pair of ruined fourposters). Never have I seen such a sad site. As I look towards the Esk Valley - as magnificent a view as I have ever beheld - my spirits are still low. To the right stands Flat Howe like a brooding boil upon the horizon and behind me the peaky prominence of Brekon Howe. So desolate do we feel, so distracted by modern intrusion in such a monumental setting we miss the fact that the Low Bridestones are a matter of yards away and thus do not walk the extra plods to visit them. Let this place be a warning to those of us who popularise these liminal spaces, the narratives we bring with us will close down as well as open the doors of our perceptions. We have a duty towards these places that is beyond us and with us.

Ramsdale Standing Stones — Fieldnotes

Just off the A171 to Whitby is an obscure but beautifully situated set of standing stones and ambiguous tumuli (hard to see on the ground, but visible from the cliffs of the magnificent Robin HoodÍs Bay below). Surrounded by purple heather and the occasional psliocybe semilanceata mushroom, the stones stare blindly into the bay. The views are marvellous with evocatively shaped hills on the horizon. The stones are still in use with offerings of toys and money upon them but not too many to spoil their ambient antiquity. As at Rudston earlier in the week, the weather changed from grey to brilliant sunshine as we admired the views from the site and we set off to Whitby with our spirits soaring.

Rudston Monolith (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Fieldnotes

After many years of wanting and waiting I finally managed to visit Rudston with my family this August. We arrived at lunch time coming from Burton Agnes over the Rudston Beacon with fine views over the countryside down to Filey and Cayton Bays. I always look for a hawk these days when approaching new sites as there is usually one to greet me, a habit started about six or seven years ago after visiting Stoney Littleton Barrow. Sure enough a Kestrel hovered over the car as we approached the village. Seeing as Rudston is the tallest standing stone in Britain it is surprisingly well camouflaged by the Christians being almost completely obscured by trees and the church itself which stands within the monolithÍs sacred ground. You could miss it easily if you did not walk around to the back of the church where it suddenly hits you with its magnificence as you turn the corner. A rudestone indeed, grey, pockmarked and toweringly important. The shallow finger holes in the stone are familiar, why do so many stones have them? I touch the monolith and imagine with my eyes closed offerings and libations to the stone, flowers and oils anointing the centre of this now nearly destroyed Neolithic landscape. My dreaming was disturbed by the distant peal of thunder and the storm moved in over the area as we sheltered in the very peaceful church. In the corner of the graveyard is one further small squat stone next to some very old smashed stone coffins. This stone although only three feet or so high itself is remarkable in its covering of lichens. One side was completely white as though washed with lime, the other green and hoary. This stone was very aliveƒ.We left with spirits uplifted and a break in the weather from dull and rainy to bright hot sunshine.

Castlerigg (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

One of the most beautifully situated and richly resonant circles in these isles, and a demonstration of the power of place. Last time I visited Castlerigg I was horrified to see a group of about eight outward bound types all standing on one of the stones struggling to keep on while some idiot of a leader took a picture. Being a riotous type always looking to did-act, I stormed over and gave them a full public dressing down on the profanity of their actions. I informed them of their irresponsibility and inquired if they expected the stones to last for another millennia if treated like that. In full rant mode by now I pointed out that this was a sacred place and I asked them if they would do this sort of thing standing on the altar of Saint PaulÍs Cathedral? This hit the spot and some rather sheepish people agreed (and to their credit apologised to me personally - I was upset and ñvibeingî crazily). The point made I returned to my companions for support thinking I might have ñcreated a sceneî (that most English of mind f*** social mores).

The power of these places is still resonant not least in the effect this had on me, but also because a number of ñnormsî visiting (Castlrigg is on the tourist trail from Keswick - coach loads of them) went out of their way to congratulate me for speaking out agreeing with me totally. Well ego aside, I felt that the fact the stones were affecting the ñnormsî in such a way is a testament the lasting power and beauty of this place - despite insensitive macho outward ñboundersî. There used to be a good (i.e. one tap and a toilet) campsite in walking distance of the stones (see OS Map). Useful for those midnight pilgrimages, but also hairy and alive to modern warfareƒ.that is beware being woken by a Harrier jump jet passing a matter of feet over head - the camp is in a high position - is quite a soul judder. A must visit site easy to access.

The Rollright Stones (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

According to Henry W. Taunt in his The Rollright Stones: The Stonehenge of Oxfordshire (published by the author sometime around 1906) The midsummer solstice rises over the Kingstone, but I would not put him up against Thom. He also claims that the size of Rollright is the same as the stones at Stonehenge, also that there were four mounds in the circle and that the midwinter solstice shines through a hole in one of the stones! He also reproduces a carving that looks like a Japanese cuneiform figure. Mind you he also spent an evening waiting for the fairies to appear at the stonesƒ..


Boscawen-Un (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

A most impressive site that would benefit from restoration of its surroundings. One can feel and visualise the important landscape features but these are obscured by walls/gorse etc. last time I visited in 1998. The central stone is magnificent in its phallic positioning. I have often mused that this could be a possible symbolic male aspect of the earth spirit fertilising the female circle/egg, therby distributing the fertile energy through the ritual landscape, but you can play this game with almost any site. Certainly many line of site alignments have been claimed for the circle by the likes of Sir Norman Lockyer, (The Dawn of Astronomy : a Study of the Temple Worship and Mythology of the Ancient Egyptians, Cambridge, 1964.) who is sometimes described as the father of archeo-astronomy as well as John Michell (Old Stones of Lands End, Pentacle, 1974). There are around 95 existing or former menhirs in the West Penwith area and it has been reliably demonstrated that many are inter-visible falling into a sighting system that may have had ritual use. (Peters, F., Cornish Archaeology, 29, 1990) but the jury is still out on Boscawen-Un ñleysî. There are two routes into the circle, and the use of an OS map is recommended. The most popular is from the obscure small lay-by on the A30 westbound from Penzance near the prominent (though small) rock outcrop of Creeg Tol (approximately situated at OS 277410). This is the route described by most writers as it is the most convenient. However, the most interesting and atmospheric approach has to be from the east, and this may have been the original ritually aligned entrance path. Travelling east from Penzance, turn left shortly after passing the Blind Fiddler menhir towards Boscawenoon village. Turn right in the village towards Changwens and stop in the field where the footpath/track forks to the left through a cattle-grid towards a farmhouse. (approximately OS 274415) This was signposted to the circle in 1998. The right-hand fork is the footpath to the circle and well worth the extra walk. We visited on a beautiful sunny early August morning. The route is very atmospheric, slightly overgrown and bursting with nature. We spotted many unusual plants and insects on our way. A Buzzard flew overhead as we approached the circle adding to the mythic potency of our mental and physical journey. Along this track you have to climb or step over a number of large stones that announced the imminence of the Circle before emerging through a portal of Hawthorn into the magic of Boscawen-un. Opposite you is the white quartz stone (that a later visit one full moon revealed its lunar resonances by glowing like a will oÍ the wisp in the moonlight) bisected by the central stone. Take some time hereƒ.This area is rich with ancient sites and the circle can be included on a day itinerary that includes the Blind Fiddler, Carn Euny settlement and foogou and the most magic site in Cornwall, Sancreed Holy Well.


The Rollright Stones (Stone Circle) — Fieldnotes

Ahh Rollrightƒ I was a regular visitor in the 1980s, there was even a free festival there that I attended once, we all had to take tree to be planted, some of us actually bought expensive trees but they had all been removed (presumably by the land owner) when we next travelled back. How things have changed with weddings and people welcome to the stones. In the bad old Thatcheruined 80s anyone who looked different and hippyish and enjoyed camping near ancient sites or attending festivals was an enemy of the state, ñMedieval brigandsî as Hestletine described us as the coppers confiscated my tent and possessions at Molesworth peace camp circa 1984. Subsequently the travelling eco-new age gypsies were hounded, criminalised, arrested, children taken off them, property confiscated and destroyed. I was caught up in a backwash of the Tory/media moral panic over alternate philosophies when one peaceful night in 1986 camping below the Kingstone with my partner on our way to Glastonbury and then Cornwall. In the middle of the night I was awoken by what I thought was a car backfiring. I got out the tent and was confronted by the local land owner and about four of his cronies, obviously worse the ware for drink, pointing spotlights from a land rover at me. Then I realised that the backfiring car was actually the sound of a double barrelled shotgun. Well, visions of my imminent death flashed before me but we were unceremoniously removed. Bit over the top for camping for a night without permission. We have never returned although we have visited many other places over the years. It is good to see the times they are a changing.

Porkbeast (definitely not a Bob Dylan Fan)

Bryn Celli Ddu (Chambered Cairn) — Fieldnotes

A magical site despite its renovation that receives too little attention in the MA in my opinion. I visited it last some five years ago with my 13 month old son and Helen my partner. We were both fascinated by its situation in geographical terms (Meni Straits and Snowdonia close by) and continuing social terms (the local primary school is very close and the children were coming out as we arrived giving the site a very active living atmosphere for some reason). The most significant discovery we made that I have not seen mentioned anywhere else is the stone pillar that stands in(side) the centre of the barrow. Presumably re-placed there in the restoration, it has a finished surface and one spectacular property. When struck this stone emitted a bell like tone, and as a musician I would say it was close to an e natural but this is really a guess. It reminded me of a Tibetan singing bowl that I own having a similar long "clean" resonance. I have seen a similar stone deep within in an obscure and difficult to access sacred cave in Northern Thailand. This however, is a stalagmite that rings like a bell when struck but was a similar shape and close to prehistoric (according to our guide) funeral remains (some stone coffins, there was also a small old Buddha in the darkness). The use of sound in ritual and consciousness expansion of course is commonplace and it seems likely that this was the function of both stones. I read a report of an article in antiquity by Paul Deveraux about the acoustics of the Carn Euny fougou suggesting that it resonated at the same frequency as the chanting of the male voice. The use of these spaces has been open to debate but the ritual function is by far the most likely of course and the modern investigator must try to envisage the range of techniques used to instigate trance and higher consciousness ecstatic states. All in all the area of acoustic research in mother holes and elsewhere is an avenue of enquiry that needs further investigation. I for one will be taking my Tibetan bowl with me to sites in the future and politely tapping any likely looking stones.
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