Archive for the Standing Stones Category

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

Posted in Cotswolds, Legend, Oxfordshire, Standing Stones, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2014 by mysearchformagic

My recent trip to the Costwolds turned out to be filled with magic, and what better place to end my visit than the wonderfully atmospheric Rollright Stones. Situated on a pretty hillside near the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border, Rollright is home to three distinct elements – a circle known as the King’s Men, a single standing stone called the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights Dolmen, the remains of a five thousand year old burial chamber.

The King’s Men circle is certainly the most striking of the three, with seventy seven weather-beaten stones surviving from the original hundred or so. Visiting in the eighteenth century, antiquarians William Stukeley described them poetically as “corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time”, adding that they made “a very noble, rustic, sight, and strike an odd terror upon the spectators, and admiration at the design of ‘em”

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

Like many neolithic monuments, the Rollright Stones have inspired many myths and legends over the years. In this case, the circle owes its name to an old tale of a king and his men turned to stone by a rather nasty-sounding local witch who went by the name of Mother Shipton. At midnight the witch’s curse is temporarily broken, and the stones are said to turn back into men, who then dance in a circle. But beware, any human who sees this magical dance will be doomed to madness or death.

The Whispering Knights, Rollright

The Whispering Knighs, Rollright

Of course, tampering with such stones is never a good idea. Many years ago, a local farmer decided to remove the cap-stone from the Whispering Knights in order to use it as a bridge over a stream nearby. Moving the stone proved to be problematic, and it took twenty horses and the death of two men before the stone was moved into its new position. Things didn’t get any easier – every morning the farmer would wake up to find the stone overturned on the bank of the stream. When he eventually gave up and decided to take it back to its original spot, the stone was moved easily by one horse.

The King Stone, Rollright

The King Stone, Rollright

In fact, Rollright has more that its fair share of magical legends. Some say that there are fairy tunnels underneath the King Stone and the King’s Men, and the fairies like to dance at midnight too. Apparently it is also impossible to count the stones three times and come to the same number each time. One cunning baker once tried to cheat by placing a loaf on each stone as he counted it, but when he got back to the beginning he found that some of the loaves had already disappeared, spirited away by those cheeky fairies no doubt.

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

The Rollright Stones, Oxfordshire

I didn’t see any fairies, or indeed any dancing, on the day that I visited, but there is certainly something rather magical about this place. You can find out more about the Rollright Stones, including theories on their history and a few more mystical myths here.

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The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Standing Stones, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 17, 2014 by mysearchformagic

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I find it pretty much impossible to pass a signpost for any prehistoric megalith, obscure chapel or ruined castle without stopping to take a look. This means that my travels across Brittany can often be rather slow and time consuming, given the fact that the region is chock-full of magical ancient places.

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

A lush valley outside the town of Caro, Morbihan

My most recent discovery was the allée couverte du Grand Village, near the little town of Caro in Morbihan, south-east Brittany. This fascinating ancient monument sits on top of a wooded ridge, not far from a winding country lane that I just happened to be driving down. Leaving my car in the rudimentary car park, I followed the signpost down a narrow grassy path bordered on each side by dense hedgerow, its verdant bushes heavy with blackberries.

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The path towards the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany


The allée couverte du Grand Village is a megalithic monument, an antique corridor of huge stones which once formed the heart of a large burial mound. Today the mound is long gone, and the stone corridor has collapsed into a higgledy-piggledy pile of rocks. At twenty five metres long, the allée couverte du Grand Village is the largest burial monument of this type in the region, and pretty impressive it is too.

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

Sitting in the peaceful forest clearing next to the remains of this once mighty structure, it is easy to see how myths and legends of fairies, giants and sorcerers emerged in Brittany. To our ancestors, these tales were a way of explaining the existence of these mysterious remains, feats of engineering which were almost inexplicable to more modern minds. There is definitely something enchanting about Brittany’s megaliths and the beautiful landscape which surrounds them, something mysterious and magical, and the allée couverte du Grand Village is certainly no exception.

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

The huge stones of the Allée Couverte du Grand Village, Brittany

A Magical Walk in Wiltshire, Part 2

Posted in History, Landscape, Standing Stones, Wiltshire with tags , , , , , , , on September 17, 2013 by mysearchformagic

Silbury Hill is one of those fascinating mysteries that still manages to defy explanation, despite centuries of investigation and all the scientific progress of modern archaeology. It is hard to tell from photographs just how huge and impressive it is; an immense pile of chalk, the tallest prehistoric man-made mound in Europe. Its purpose is still unknown, and historical attempts to discover burial chambers or secret tunnels were all to end in disappointment, also causing problems with the stability of the mound in modern times. But whatever it is, Silbury Hill is definitely astounding, awe-inspiring, magical.

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

It’s been many years since I visited Avebury. Last time I was there I was in my late teens, and I remember it as a peaceful, wondrous place, its huge circle of stones surrounded by a strangely mystical aura. Since then it has changed dramatically. The National Trust have moved in, and brought with them a huge car park, a visitors centre, a gift shop, and of course hordes of day trippers.

A rare moment of peace amongst the stones of Avebury, Wiltshire

A rare moment of peace amongst the stones of Avebury, Wiltshire

The drizzle began just as I entered the village, but that wasn’t the reason that I didn’t stay long. It is hard to get a sense of magic in a place like this, surrounded by crowds, traffic and silly souvenirs. Perhaps an early afternoon in August was not the best time to visit. I decided to head on, and as I walked out of Avebury along the Wessex Ridgeway the rain thankfully petered out.

Walking up to Fyfield Down, Wiltshire

Walking up to Fyfield Down, Wiltshire

Fyfield Down is a landscape like no other I have seen. Thanks to unique geological conditions, the ground here is littered with huge boulders, or sarsens, which now provide a home to many rare types of lichen.

The stone-studded landscape of Fyfield Down

The stone-studded landscape of Fyfield Down

Looking out across the Down, it is hard not to imagine that there was some human involvement in the placing of these bizarre boulders – from a distance it looks like an immense, decimated stone circle – but apparently it is all natural, despite signs that humans have lived here for thousands of years. In fact these sarsens were sometimes moved elsewhere, and used in the construction of prehistoric monuments both near and far, rather like a quarry for ready-made standing stones.

One of the huge sarsens of Fyfield Down

One of the huge sarsens of Fyfield Down

The final leg of my long walk was all downhill as I descended gradually from Fyfield into the Kennet Valley and back towards Marlborough. I was tired but happy, ready for a nap and a decent hot dinner. My walk had taken me through diverse but always beautiful landscapes filled with history, flora and fauna. It also confirmed what I have always suspected, namely that nothing dulls the atmosphere of magic like a car park full of cars and coaches. Instead I had found magic in the lesser-known places, the spots away from the beaten track. They weren’t quiet places as such, in fact they were often filled with noise; the twitter and screech of birds, the rustle of leaves, the scrabbling of something unseen in the undergrowth, the rush of the wind. But they were places where I could truly connect with the landscape, just as walkers before me have done for thousands of years on these ancient, magical paths.

A Magical Walk in Wiltshire, Part 1

Posted in History, Landscape, Standing Stones, Wiltshire, Woods with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I set off from Marlborough later than I had intended, delayed by a huge, deliciously lardy fried breakfast. By the time I had left the town and set off along the White Horse Trail the sun was already high and bright in a blue sky flecked with fluffy white clouds. Following the trail wasn’t always easy, with marker posts few and far between, but with the help of my trusty map I managed to stay mostly on the right path.

Setting off along the White Horse Trail

Setting off along the White Horse Trail, Wiltshire

The trail led me up out of the Kennet Valley, along the edges of dusty, stubbled fields, where a flock of nervous pheasants toddled anxiously in front of me before awkwardly taking flight in a flurry of angry croaks. I scrambled through overgrown hedgerows where my legs were stung by nettles and my clothes grabbed by brambles, then down again into the West Woods.

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Looking across the valley towards the West Woods, Wiltshire

Here I came across the ancient Wansdyke, a long, meandering earthwork consisting of a high bank and deep ditch which stretches for miles across the Wiltshire countryside. The date or purpose of the dyke are not certain, although it seems to have been constructed sometime around the Saxon period, and may well have been defensive, its name apparently a derivation of ‘Woden’s Dyke’.

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

The bank and ditch of the Wansdyke, Wiltshire

Despite a couple of wrong turns along the network of trails in the shady forest, I eventually found the path again and soon ended up on a high ridge, looking south across the Vale of Pewsey. The views here were stunning, the low green hills fading to grey as they rolled gently into the distance.

It was obvious by now that I was nearing the magical landscape of Avebury. My map was dotted with little stars marked as Tumuli in that distinctive gothic script used by the Ordnance Survey to denote ‘sites of antiquity’. As I arrived at Knapp Hill I spotted the charmingly named Adam’s Grave, a long, low ancient burial place on the crest of a nearby hill.

Adam's Grave, Wiltshire

Adam’s Grave, Wiltshire

The next stretch of my journey was uphill again, along the ancient Ridgeway which leads northwards from this spot toward the famous White Horse of Uffington. I was now walking in the footsteps of our ancestors going back centuries, maybe even millenia, as I puffed my way to the top of the ridge.

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Walking the ancient Ridgeway, Wiltshire

Towards the summit I walked back across the Wansdyke, larger here but more overgrown with trees and scrub. The vista from the other side was magnificent, facing north now towards my destination. As I scuttled down the chalky, flint-flecked path two birds of prey, buzzards perhaps, or maybe red kites, wheeled and swooped playfully above me, their sharp cries cutting through the soft sigh of the breeze. The sun was hidden now, and I could see an ominous bank of grey cloud moving in speedily from the north.

I knew I was nearing my destination when I spotted the distinctive shape of Silbury Hill in the valley below. Soon I was in the pretty village of East Kennet, with its quiet lanes and thatched cottages, the wooded mound of East Kennet Long Barrow looming on the rise to my left. Not much later I took a short detour to see the impressive remains of West Kennet Long Barrow, now extensively excavated and open to curious visitors. Inside I noticed the strong scent of incense, and in one of the burial chambers I found a lit candle sitting next to a strange corn dolly, a pagan offering of some sort I suppose.

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Huge stones around the entrance to West Kennet Long Barrow, Wiltshire

Sitting on top of the barrow offered more wonderful views of the surrounding fields, and also the opportunity to take of my heavy boots and grab something to eat. But before long I was up again, and walking down towards the main road, past an old oak tree hung with colourful ribbons and offerings, and on towards the village and prehistoric henge of Avebury.

Babouin and Babouine, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Standing Stones with tags , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by mysearchformagic

I stumbled across Babouin and Babouine by pure chance during a recent trip to Brittany. While driving through the sleepy village of Trédion I spotted a rather tatty looking sign pointing down a narrow country lane towards ‘Babouin and Babouine – Menhirs Taillés’, which translates roughly as ‘Male and Female Baboon – Carved Standing Stones’. Who could resist such a bizarre description? Certainly not me, so I pulled off the main highway and headed down the single track road to find out more.

It wasn’t going to be easy. After a short drive to the edge of a forest where I parked up, I found myself facing a choice of three footpaths leading into the trees. No more signposts were to be seen. I followed the left hand path for a couple of minutes, and then had a change of heart and took the central path. I had no idea of what I was looking for, and after a long but pleasant walk through the peaceful, atmospheric woods I eventually gave up and returned to my car. Babouin and Babouine were to remain an intriguing mystery, for a while at least.

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Which path to choose to find Babouin and Babouine?

Last week I found myself back in magical Morbihan, so after doing some online research I headed straight back to Trédion. It turns out the left hand path had been the right one after all. About three hundred metres along it a smaller path splits off to the left. A short walk across the loamy forest floor, past piles of felled trees which were filling the air with the unseasonal piney smell of Christmas, and I found myself face to face (quite literally) with Babouin and Babouine.

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

The path through the woods towards Babouin and Babouine

No one knows the age of these two sculpted stones. No one knows their purpose. With its wide moon face, Babouin reminds me of Pictish carved heads. It stares, solid and expressionless, giving nothing away. I suppose it is the flat oval features of this menhir that have led to the unusual ‘baboon’ names by which the stones are now known.

The carved face of Babouin

The carved face of Babouin

Babouine doesn’t remind me of much at all – in fact I find it hard to make out a face or figure in the vague shapes of the moss-covered stone, despite claims that is represents a female form. Deciphering the incised lines which decorate the stone wasn’t made any easier by the contrast of the dazzling summer sunshine and constantly shifting shadows cast by the leaves of the forest canopy. Some people think that these two sculptures are ancient, others that they were once typical menhirs which were carved later by some unknown hand into the odd forms that we find today.

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

The strange, indecipherable forms of the Babouine

I guess the true story behind the Babouin and Babouine will always remain a mystery. One thing is for sure – encountering them in the shadowy forest near Trédion, tall and silent amongst the rustling trees, is a mysteriously magical experience.