Circles and Cycles
Stone Circles in Landscape and Mindscape
By Liam Rogers
Published Lughnasa 1999
For many people a visit to an ancient site, such as a stone circle, involves driving to within a few hundred yards, a gentle stroll to the site, a few photographs, then home. Because modern technology such as the car make it so easy to get quickly to a given place, it is easy to fall into the trap of seeing such places as just a point in space - an isolated artifact from the past. If we are to approach an understanding of the meaning and role of such places, we must try to look at them, and their surroundings, a little differently. For this, we need to 'unthink' many of our modern cultural prejudices, and get a little irrational!
The Rational Mind Versus the Natural World
We can probably trace the split between reason and unreason in the human mind back to Greece, particularly in the philosophy born out of the Athenian democracy (founded in 462 BCE). Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle started the process of subjecting nature, society, and consciousness to reason in order to promote order and self-discipline. Roy Porter explains further:
"Rationality became definitive of the noblest faculty in man. Through logic and theory, cosmic order could be perceived [or imposed], and so man's unique place in nature understood ... schools of Greek philosophers - the Stoics in particular - clearly exposed the irrational as a problem, a menace, a scandal, which reason should combat ... philosophy defined how the madness of the irrational was the antipodes of human dignity; and the dichotomy between the rational and the irrational, and the rightful sovereignty of the rational, became fundamental to both their moral and their scientific vocabulary, and, though them, to ours."1
Nietzsche was later to mourn the passing of the age of the Homeric heroes, when it seemed that men embraced all of their psyches including the irrational side. He characterised the schism traceable in Greek literature between the rational and irrational mind as the Socratic-Dionysiac dichotomy, perhaps an extension of the initial split between what he termed the Apolline and Dionysiac spirit in Greek artforms.2
When Christianity came knocking, the new faith found that neo-Platonism and Stoic philosophy were quite obliging bedfellows, since "Stoic ethics required attitudes to slavery or wealth that they [the Christians] found congenial ... Platonic metaphysics affirmed divine transcendence, the freedom of the will, the immortality of the soul, and that virtue is necessary and sufficient for happiness. In Justin, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, Platonism and Christian thought came to keep house together."3 Such influential patrons were to help Christianity to lay deep foundations within the Roman Empire, an regime which was quite tolerant to the new faith despite the occasional outbreak of persecution.
Christianity and Platonic philosophy also seemed to agree on one more point - the rejection of the world. Schopenhauer noted that "... in the Gospels 'world' and 'evil' are used almost synonymously"4, and Nietzsche describes how: "Once the concept 'nature' had been devised as the concept antithetical to 'God', 'natural' had to be the word for 'reprehensible'."5. Platonism, too, promoted world rejection and withdrawal, in Phaedo, Plato launches his greatest attack on the human body, saying that rationality is superior to experience, and has Socrates say that philosophers "greatly despise the body".6 One can also see Plato's cave analogy as portraying the world as something deficient (a mere dance of shadows compared to the transcendant realm of archetypal Forms that was Plato's 'heaven').7 The mind/body split implies a break with nature, as Michael Dames explains:
"Thus the spirit or soul which previously had been united with the body of the world was driven out, leaving behind a soulless mass of gross matter. Animals, plants, rocks, rivers, clouds, stars, sun and moon, were all now denied their share of the divine vitality. No longer were they to be regarded as living manifestations of the gods, but as a barrier blocking the view of an abstract and immaterial Godhead."8
By the time Constantine declared the Roman Empire to be Christian, it was all getting a bit rough for pagans like the British who were constantly having to be told to desist from idolising trees, stones, and wells. The impact of Christianity upon the subjugated British has been somewhat exaggerated, and your average Briton was unlikely to have done more than put up a pretence of Christianity if he worked on the land of a Christian master. As such, it didn't take too much persuasion by the Saxons to talk the indigenous population into becoming pagan once more. That said, one thing that the Romans did bring was land division upon broadly 'rational' lines.
A much greater impact was made following Saint Augustine's mission to Britain in 597. Christianity put down deep roots and rapidly became to dominant faith, although many pagan practices continued. In the end, a kind of compromise was reached - the Church just put a Christian gloss on all the practices it couldn't stamp out. Pagan gods/nature spirits were transformed into Christian saints at wells and other numinous spots, and a version of nature veneration still managed to survive.
In Britain, the emergence of Puritanism and the Protestant Reformation, was to lead to a fresh onslaught upon the natural world and irrational beliefs and practices. The newly formed Anglican Church demanded that all Popish idolatry be wiped out, and many a sacred site was subsequently desecrated. The Protestant vision of God was of a transcendent deity, one who did not manifest himself upon this (inferior) world, and who certainly didn't hang around megaliths and holy wells. The assault was to be continued when the eighteenth century Enlightenment brought the Age of Reason to Europe, bringing "a new awareness of man's increasing potential to master nature [my italics]"9 - thus sowing the seeds for the Industrial Revolution.
Rapid industrial progress saw nature as a resource to be exploited, and the forward-looking nature of technology continued the job of linearising time that Christianity had begun. Also, with the birth of the factory, workers were expected to observe a uniform version of time as laid down by capitalists. Ever since, big business has increasingly dictated our concepts of time and space. The concept of linear time is, of course, a blatant contradiction of the cycles inherent in the natural world that were once so important to man, and the adoption of this temporal philosophy did much to divorce us from the land. Although even at the turn of the present century the average country dweller would have thought rather differently to those living in the cities, the annihilation of space through time that improved transport and communications have given us at the behest of capitalism has effectively destroyed this difference and wiped out the last traces of non-linear "irrationality". This distancing of man from the cycles of nature has led to many pagans and Earth Mysterians imposing modern mentality upon our ancient monuments, leading to such outlandish concepts as leys being seen as "energy lines" that can be detected by two bits of bent coathanger.
The Development of Stone Circles
With this in mind, we can start to look at these sites within their wider environment - which, as I shall explain later, includes us. First, however, I should like to look at the evolution of stone circles.
Stone circles were the zenith of a long history of prehistoric ritual monuments. In the early Neolithic, long barrows were probably much more than simply communal graves, often being in use for many hundreds of years and containing animal as well as human bones. Their large forecourts could have held large congregations which may have had more to do with the mysteries of the annual cycle than funerals. The orientation of long barrows often seems to reflect an interest in cyclical time, and even suggests a knowledge of concepts of death and regeneration. Darvill, for example, shows that Gloucestershire long barrows tend to be orientated between north-east and south-east, with most pointing close to the rising sun at midwinter and the equinoxes.10 In a previous article, I discussed the way that many mythologies use the rising sun at midwinter as a metaphor for individual, community, and cosmic rebirth.11
The seasonal cycle, so important for Neolithic farming communities, and the concept of orientating man within the cosmos is also reflected in household architecture as early as the Neolithic period.12 The Neolithic habit of having tombs reflect household architecture, and even being built upon former house sites, suggests a strong bond between the ancestors and the living.13 The large concerted efforts of groups of people to create and perpetuate these monumental cosmic and social symbols within the landscape may have held communities together and perhaps have created land or other rights for those taking part. Social groups would have been created and sustained by active participation in monument construction which would have made the ancestors present in the landscape and given the community a sense of history, identity and continuity within a given territory.
Prominent hills may also have acted as visual magnets around which to found communities. Hills and mountains have been seen around the world throughout history to be sacred or to be the home of the gods. Reaching up from the earth to the heavens, they act as a cosmic axis from which contact with other worlds is possible and mark the centre of the world.14 Children and Nash studied long barrows in the Golden Valley area of Herefordshire, and found that many were orientated towards peaks in the Black Mountains. Arthur's Stone chambered tomb even has a kink in its axis, so that the passageway looks out upon both the southerly and northerly extents of the range. They say that such focal points help create a sense of belonging within the landscape which helps to create and sustain community identity.15
Also in the early Neolithic, cursuses started to appear. These are long earthen avenues of ditches and banks linking burial mounds. The first to be discovered was the one that links Stonehenge with the River Avon by William Stukeley in the eighteenth century, and only nine more were discovered by 1944. With the advent of aerial photography more have been discovered in cropmarks, making the total to date around fifty. The name is Latin for "racecourse" since Stukeley thought they were Romano-British running tracks!16
They are clearly associated with the ancestors and are usually described as ritual avenues of the dead. They also tend to be situated on low ground close to rivers (the significance of water will be discussed later). Cursuses are considered in this survey since later henges were often built near or upon them.17
Henges are roughly circular banked and ditched enclosures, often associated with cursuses. It seems our prehistoric ancestors often reused earlier sacred sites, probably to reaffirm their relationship with the land and their own forebears. Like cursuses, they are usually situated upon low lying land near to watercourses. The ditches then would often have filled with water during seasonal floods, an effect which may well have been deliberate as we shall consider shortly. Henges are the precursors to stone circles. Some henges had rings of wooden poles erected with their enclosures, but little evidence for timber henges has survived. A geophysical survey within the great stone circle at Stanton Drew (Somerset) found that the stones were predated by nine concentric rings of wooden posts within a henge.18 Other early/mid-Neolithic timber circles existed at Woodhenge near Stonehenge, and the Sanctuary at Avebury.
By the later Neolithic (c.3000 BCE), stones were being set up within some henges, and the stone circle was born. Also, in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods, the large long barrows were being replaced by smaller round barrows and cairns which now tended to be sited on higher ground. Some stone circles also started to be built on hilltops. Instead of merely focusing upon significant peaks, monuments were now being sited upon them - thus stressing further their apparent importance to prehistoric societies.
The relationship of circles with water, however, was not lost as these sites overlooked river valleys, and were often located close to the sources of streams that fed into the rivers below (as I will demonstrate later when I survey Mercian sites). Sometimes avenues of standing stones seem to mirror the earlier cursuses by pointing from a circle to rivers or streams (or to the circle from the water). At Stanton Drew avenues lead from both the great circle and the north-eastern circle up to the River Chew, and a stone row connects two circles at Shap (Cumbria) that stand on opposite sides of a stream (Fig.1).19
Whether on high or low ground, EM researchers have noted that the shapes of stones in circles sometimes appear to mimic the shapes of surrounding peaks which may further stress the importance of hilltops to prehistoric architects. Figure 2, for example, shows some of my own observations at Mitchell's Fold in Shropshire.
Most henges and stone circles appear to be intimately associated with funerary monuments. Some have central cairns, or burials or cremations beneath stones, and many have outlying cairns or barrows. The mythology of death hangs darkly over these monuments. But the astronomical alignments found at many circles demonstrate a concept of cyclic time, where key dates in the solar and lunar calendars are highlighted, which suggest that death here is merely a prelude to regeneration.
Life, Death & Regeneration
By considering that the stone circle builders did not think themselves as separate from the natural world, and actively worked to strengthen this relationship, we can start to look at these monuments through new (or do I mean old?) eyes.
I have discussed in previous articles how many mythologies recall how man would actively try to encourage the turning of the seasons and the growth of his crops by the use of sacrifice and other means. The cycles of annual death and regeneration of the land are, I feel, recognised and encouraged by the architecture of these monuments, and the rituals enacted in and around them.
That long barrows often face towards the rising sun in the east, suggests an interest in the cycles of nature, and a knowledge of the concept of death and rebirth. The tomb, in effect, becomes a womb. The rebirth is not so much of the interred individuals, but of a society that did not consider themselves apart from nature, their crops, and the entire world in which they dwelled.
As simpler funerary monuments, such as round barrows and cairns, became the vogue, it appears that henges and stone circles took over this symbolic role. That they are still associated with monuments of the dead keeps the connection viable. Some circle-henges such as Avebury, Stanton Drew, and Arbor Low have structures known as coves. These are three sided stone structures thought to be intended to mimic burial chambers.
Opposed to modern concepts of linear time and progressive societies, these people lived with the cycles of nature and lived a life of continuity with the past and the ancestors. In Heideggerian terms, belonging and identity were seen as "Being" as opposed to modern notions of "Becoming". Mythologically, stones are seen as symbols of permanence within an eternally recurring cosmos. Eliade explains that:
"Perceived by virtue of a religious experience, the
specific mode of existence of the stone reveals to
man the nature of an absolute existence, beyond time,
invulnerable to becoming."20
Thus, stones set within circles seem to be symbols of our ancestors' attitudes to time, space, and belonging. Stone circles are sacred centres that orientate man within the world, their relationship with surrounding natural features draw in the world and make it comprehensible, whilst also spreading their influence outwards over the surrounding land.
What sort of influence? Probably a fecundating one. On top of what I have already considered about the funerary monuments connected with henges and stone circles, there is the matter of water. In a previous article21, I discussed the role of water in fertility mythologies and religious practice. The spring rains feed streams that run down hillsides, perhaps close to a circle sited there to encourage just this, and fill rivers and encourage crop growth. Hills, of course, force clouds to rise and shed rain, and may partly account for our ancestors' veneration of them.
Michael Dames22 has considered the Neolithic landscape around Avebury, and holds that the rise of the waters at Swallowhead Spring (the source of the Kennet that dries up over the winter) was a major factor in the functioning of this great symbolic landscape. The purpose of the Avebury monuments, he claims, is to encourage the fertility of the land, and he compares the spring to the vulva. As the water table rises in the chalk during the spring, the ditch of the great henge would have filled with water, which would have been the case with many low-lying henges by rivers - thus anyone entering the enclosure would be symbolically cleansed and reborn by the waters.
Dames goes as far as to speculate that virgin men and women would process down each of the two avenues, cross the water-filled ditch, and make love within the henge. They would enter as children and leave as adults. The spring love-making would have been intended to encourage the fertility of the land. Perhaps they were thus mimicking the primal acts of the gods, as was the case in many primitive societies:
"Ritual orgies for the benefit of crops ... have a divine
model - the hierogamy of the Fecundating God and Mother
Earth. The fertility of the fields is stimulated by an
unlimited genetic frenzy ... The idea of renewal -
which we encounter in New Year rituals whose purpose
was at once the renewal of time and the regeneration of
the world - recurs in orgiastic agricultural scenarios.
Here too the orgy is a return to the cosmic night,
the preformal, the waters, in order to ensure complete
regeneration of life and hence the fertility of the
earth and an abundance of crops."23
Such ideas may be recalled in the folklore surrounding stone circles. Stanton Drew was once known as "The Weddings", the story being that the stones are petrified revellers that were celebrating a wedding on the Sabbath. At the Hoarstones in Shropshire, small holes in the stones were caused by explosives planted during wedding celebrations, and Mitchell's Fold was the site of a cow that gave unlimited milk (until a witch milked it dry into a sieve).24
It has been noted how many henges are not truly circular but flatted at one side - a little like a closed "U". Dames reckons this shape mimics that of the vulva.25
We can tentatively reconstruct the mythology behind these sites as such - the Sky God injecting semen (rain) upon the Earth Goddess's hilltop vulva, or into the ditches of riverside henge-vulvas, bringing fertility to the land. Whether people re-enacted this divine union within the enclosures, as Dames suggests, can only be guessed at - but it seems highly possible.
Today it may be money that makes the world go round, but in Neolithic Britain it may have been sex!
The Stone Circles & Henge Monuments of Mercia
Mercia is scarcely famed for its henges and stone circles since they are fairly rare outside of the Derbyshire Peak District and the hills of north-west Shropshire.
Due to the tendency of our ancestors to place henges and early stone circles in river valleys, we have probably lost many sites. The slightest alluvial deposits would mask evidence of the ditches of henges, and make them invisible even from the air. The boulder clay that makes up much of the region yields very poor crop marks. Also, medieval ridge and furrow farming techniques would have destroyed most surviving earthworks.
Speaking of the east of our study area, Bob Trubshaw26 mentions that:
"Roy Loveday has suggested (in a lecture) that the Trent Valley probably had more prehistoric monuments than Wessex but the problem is that Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Nottinghamshire, and South Derbyshire are mostly excellent farming country ... It is probable that most of the Midlands Neolithic sites were ploughed out in the Iron Age."
Considering all this, it may be surprising that anything has survived at all! However, I have managed to identify over 40 henges and stone circles. The following list is probably not complete, but gives a reasonable sample with which to test my hypothesis.
When I state that a site is near to water, I usually mean within a few hundred yards. Some streams are not shown on the map but are ones that I have seen myself, and when taken from OS maps we can probably assume that (at least in rainy periods) streams may drain from closer to the site than indicated. Only cases where a site is within half a mile of water is a connection deemed likely. Rivers and streams change courses considerably over time, so that the majority of sites are still so close is pretty impressive. I have also noted nearby cairns and other funerary monuments, as well as the site's relationship with prominent peaks. Except where otherwise mentioned the source is Aubrey Burl.27 Figure 3 shows the study area.
The Peak District is Mercia's richest area in stone circles. Due to the large number of sites, and the fact I have yet to study the area properly, I shall only give these circles the briefest of mentions. The majority are on high ground overlooking river valleys (particularly the River Derwent).
Arbor Low (SK 160 636) is a circle-henge with a central cove. It was clearly an important ritual centre as eight chambered tombs and dozens of later cairns surround this Neolithic site (c.3000 BCE). Most Peak District circles are probably Bronze Age. A later round barrow has been built upon the bank. The burial of a man was found within the circle, and the cove may have been orientated towards the major northern moonrise. An earthen avenue leads from the circle towards the mound of Gib Hill. There is no nearby water feature according to the OS map.
Barbrook I (SK 278 755), Barbrook II (SK 277 758) which has internal cairn, and Barbrook III (SK 283 772) are, believe it or not, on the banks of the Bar Brook.
Doll Tor (SK 238 628), and Nine Stone Close (SK 225 625) face each other across the confluence of two streams. Built on high land.
Gibbet Moor North (SK 282 708) lies close to the confluence of five streams.
Hob Hurst's House (SK 287 692) is a large cairn that was once surrounded by a stone circle.28 It is near the source of several streams on a hilltop.
Nine Ladies (SK 247 634) lies near three ring cairns, has a central cairn, and overlooks the Derwent.
Seven Stones of Hordron (SK 215 868) lies near the source of streams on a hill that drain into Ladybower reservoir.
Stoke Flat (SK 249 768) lies by a stream that feeds into the Derwent.
Wet Withens (SK 225 789) overlooks the Derwent, There is a feeder stream and cairns nearby.
Abney Low (SK 203 804) is a round barrow that was once surrounded by a circle.29 It lies close to cairns and the Siney Sitch stream that feeds into the River Noe.
Ewden Beck (SK 238 966) is a circle-henge by the side of a brook (Ewden Beck).
Park Gate (SK 280 685) stone circle lies near the source of streams that drain down the hillside into the Derwent. There are cairns nearby.
Seven Brides (no ref) is on Matlock Moor, but that's all I can tell you.
Stoney Low (SK 217 578) is close to a cairn. According to OS, there is no nearby water.
Bull Ring Henge (SK 078 782) is within half a mile of streams. A built-up area lies between which makes it hard to tell how close the stream runs, or would have run, from OS map.
Round Hill Henge (SK 333 284) lies close to a cursus which connects it to the Trent.
Danny Sullivan reports two rather questionable stone circles.30 Black Hedge Farm Stone Circles (no ref) south-west of Leckhampton Hill consist of three groups of disturbed megaliths lying at the foot of an escarpment. They may have fallen from the fields above where there are six springs and a well. On the nearby ancient trackway, the Greenway, are a long barrow and a ruined round barrow. The springs and other sites make this site probably genuine to my mind, if seriously disturbed.
The Devil's Churchyard (SO 899 003) east of Minchinhampton seems to have no nearby water feature or other ancient sites. Stones once stood here, but they were removed as unholy after work on a church to be sited here was undone at night (by the Devil allegedly).
At Lechlade are two cursuses facing each other across the Thames.31 Since most cursuses seem to have henges connected to them, something may have existed here. The northern cursus lies in Gloucestershire (SO 23? 98?). There are circular cropmarks associated with the southern cursus (see Oxfordshire).
Longtown Stone Circle (SO 300 283) lies buried in undergrowth on top of Loxidge Tump in the Black Mountains three kilometres west of Longtown, just yards from the Welsh border. 10m to the east is Longtown Bronze Age Cairn. The cairn almost mirrors the shape of the Malverns 50km to the east when viewed from the circle, and from the cairn, a dip in the hills to the west allows a view of a more distant peak over the circle. Small streams were rushing down the hillside from within 100m of the circle when I visited the site in January after a heavy rainfall. These feed the Olchon Brook at the foot of the mountain. Somewhere in the Olchon valley were found two Bronze Age cist burials which Children and Nash32 consider to be directly related to the circle, and may stress a connection between the site and the brook.
The same authors also report a henge at Stowe Farm (SO 283 477), near Witney-on-Wye. This site stands at the foot of a hill from which streams flow down into the Wye to the south.
There are also four other possible henges (or ring-ditches) in the county. Common Bach (SO 307 405) lies near streams that drain into the River Dore in the Golden Valley (famed for its Neolithic funerary monuments). Whitehouse Farm (SO 249 463) near Clifford is another possible henge. The Wye loops around this site, passing within half a mile. It is possible that the river may once have been closer. It lies at the foot of the hill which is topped by Arthur's Stone Neolithic chambered tomb. A cropmark at Upper Chilstone House, Madley (SO 408 397), lies on low ground by a stream that feeds into the Wye. There is also a cropmark at Brandon Camp, near Adforton (SO 400 724) which lies on a hillside overlooking a stream.
Bob Trubshaw33 mentions one possible henge crop mark near Rearsby (SK 643 142) which lies near the River Wreake and a feeder stream.
I know of nothing in this county.
According to Trubshaw34, the following can be found in Nottinghamshire:
East Stoke (no ref), possible Neolithic timber henge which lies very close to the River Trent.
Henge crop mark near Barton in Fabis (SK 522 329) which lies very close to streams.
A possible henge crop mark near Cromwell (SK 798 608). On flat land very close to the Trent, and would often have flooded.
Probably the best known site in our survey is the Rollright Stones (SP 296 309). The late Neolithic King's Men stone circle has an outlying dolmen, the Whispering Knights (Fig.4), and, across the road in Warwickshire, the outlying King Stone. This outlier may be a Bronze Age addition, marking the round cairn to the NNW and a round barrow to the West that contained the cremated bones of an infant and an early Bronze Age collared urn.
The circle is on the brow of a hill from which streams drain down into the River Swere to the east. The entrance to the circle may have been orientated towards the major rising of the southern moon at midsummer.
Six miles west of Oxford, near Stanton Harcourt, is the ruined circle-henge of The Devil's Quoits (SP 411 048). Burl suggests that the site may have been in use from around 3000 BCE to as late as 1800 BCE. It is situated in a very wet area, surrounded by lakes and ponds by the River Windrush.
Darvill35 presents a photograph of the cursus south of the Thames at Buscot below Lechlade. There are several circular crop marks which may possibly be small henges (SO 23? 98?).
Mitchell's Fold (SO 305 983), The Hoarstones (SO 324 999), and the now destroyed Whetstones (SO 305 976) are a major cluster of stone circles which appear to be associated with the late Neolithic - early Bronze Age axe factory of Cwm Mawr.
The stones for all three appear to have been taken from Stapeley Hill. Although Burl suggests that they were distribution centres for the trade of axes (which would have symbolic rather than purely practical meaning according to Children and Nash36), they were clearly more than just axe supermarkets!
That what we would today split into sacred and secular, our ancestors almost certainly wouldn't have. Ritual and trade could have coexisted quite peacefully in the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. I feel that stone circles had a range of differing but inter-related functions, perhaps all falling within the broad concept that I have already outlined.
Mitchell's Fold is situated on high heathland with panoramic views. Some of the stones appear to mirror the shapes of surrounding peaks. The tallest stone, which would have been one of two pillars marking the entrance at the south east, is aligned close to the major southern moonrise. Also to the south east is a cairn topped with a stone with a hollow on its upper surface - for offerings perhaps? The south easterly alignment points to the prominent form of Corndon Hill which is topped by several cairns. Streams drain down nearby, also to the south east.
A mile and a half to the north east is the attractive circle of The Hoarstones which, as its alternative names of Black Marsh and Black Pool suggest, was extremely muddy with standing water when I visited the site in November 1998. It is overlooked to the east by the Stiperstones, and the shape of Stapeley hill to the south west is echoed by that of some of the small stones of this circle. There is an outlying cairn just outside the circle.
The third of this group, The Whetstones, was destroyed in the nineteenth century. When its last stone was uprooted c.1870, charcoal and bones were found underneath.
Pen-y-Wern (SO 313 788)37 is a possible stone circle on a hilltop near Clun. Streams drain down from nearby into the River Redlake.
Other possible sites in Shropshire for which I do not have map references are two 'earth circles' (stone blocks covered with earth) mentioned by Stanford38. The Grey Stones near Weiles is a destroyed ring wall with a kerb of large blocks, and near the summit of Titterstone Clee is a circular wall of dolerite blocks covered with clay.
Doug Pickford39 mentions a stone circle near the Bawd Stone near Leek.(SK 003 621ish) The outlying Bawd Stone has reputed healing powers, and even at the start of the twentieth century people would crawl under this boulder so that the Devil would be knocked from their backs. The stone circle lies a few yards to the south on a mound of earth overgrown with bilberry bushes. Within the outer, oval-shaped ring, is another ring of small stones. It lies on a hillside near where a strem drains into the River Churnet, whose source is less than half a mile from the site.
Nothing save the outlier of the Rollrights as far as I am aware.
West Midlands Conurbation.
It would be a minor miracle if anything survives here. And I don't believe in miracles!
A henge crop mark has been discovered on the banks of the Avon at Nafford, east of Bredon Hill (SO 942 418ish). Lloyd 40 reckons it probably once had standing stones within, but I know of no evidence for this.
Further upstream, to the north of Bredon Hill are three cursuses clearly pointing to (or from) the Avon (SO 978 453ish, SO 994 447ish, & SP 005 470ish).41 It is probable that one or more henges were once associated with this group.
Here we see the strong association of Neolithic ritual sites with water and prominent hills. My studies of the area indicate that Bredon Hill was probably a major local omphalos or sacred centre during prehistoric times.
The theory put forward here is, of course, unprovable. But modern rationality will never be able to answer the questions posed by monuments built by people who lived before the schism between subject and object occurred. To get close to an understanding of stone circles we must not just look and think, but experience. My theories may be totally wrong, but it is the approach that is important. In closing, I would like to thank Bob Trubshaw for sparing the time to share his knowledge with me, his input has been invaluable.
1. Roy Porter, A Social History of Madness, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1987
2. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Penguin, 1993
3. J.Boardman, J.Griffin, & O.Murray (eds), The Oxford History of the Classical World, Oxford University Press, 1986
4. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea. Everyman, 1995
5. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti-Christ, Penguin, 1969
6. Plato, The Apology & Other Dialogues, Sphere, 1970
7. Discussed by Peter Vardy & Paul Grosch, The Puzzle of Ethics, Fount, 1994
8. Michael Dames, Mythic Ireland, Thames & Hudson, 1992
9. The Enlightenment: Reason & Progress, Open University/BBC, 1995
10. Timothy Darvill, Prehistoric Gloucestershire. Allan Sutton, 1987
11. Liam Rogers, "The Sun at Midnight", White Dragon 14, 1997
12. Liam Rogers, "Glass Houses: Re-establishing the Centre", The Ley Hunter 130, 1998
13. Ian Hodder, "Architecture and Meaning: The Example of Neolithic Houses and Tombs", in M.Parker Pearson & C.Richards (eds), Architecture & Order, Routledge, 1994
14. Mircea Eliade, The Sacred & The Profane, Harvest, 1959
15. George Children & George Nash, Prehistoric Sites of Herefordshire, Logaston, 1994
16. Paul Devereux, Symbolic Landscapes, Gothic Image, 1992
17. Bob Trubshaw, personal communication, 1999
18. Rodney Legg, Stanton Drew: Great Western Temple, Wincanton, 1998
19. Michael Dames, The Avebury Cycle, Thames & Hudson, 1977
20. Eliade, op.cit.
21. Liam Rogers, "Sabrina Fair: The River Severn & Her Goddess", White Dragon 19, 1998
22. Dames, 1977, op.cit.
23. Eliade, op.cit.
24. Aubrey Burl, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland, & Brittany, Yale University Press, 1995
25. Dames, 1977, op.cit.
26. Trubshaw, ibid. He is referring to: Roy Loveday, "Neolithic Monuments of the Midlands and East Anglia". Loughborough and District Archaeological Society, 7th November 1992
27. Burl, op.cit.
28. John Manley, Atlas of Prehistoric Britain, Phaidon, 1989
29. The following sites are listed in the unpublished research of Norman Fahy, passed to me by Bob Trubshaw 30. Danny Sullivan, The Old Stones of Gloucestershire, Reardon, 1991
31. Darvill, op.cit.
32. Children & Nash, op.cit.
33. Trubshaw, ibid
35. Darvill, op.cit.
36. Children & Nash, op.cit.
37. S.C. Stanford, The Archaeology of the Welsh Marches, Collins, 1980
39. Doug Pickford, Magic & Mystery in Staffordshire, 1994
40. David Lloyd, A History of Worcestershire, Phillimore, 1993
41. Darvill, op.cit.