Archive for standing stones

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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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.

Le Jardin aux Moines, Brittany

Posted in Brittany, History, Legend, Superstition with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 28, 2013 by mysearchformagic

We’re back in the Forest of Broceliande this week, in a spot not far from the Val Sans Retour. In a clearing in the scrubby woodland on the edge of the forest lies the Jardin aux Moines, or Monks’ Garden, an unusual group of low stones with a mysterious history.

The Jardin aux Moins

The Jardin aux Moins

The legend goes that St Méen came to the region and discovered a community of rather debauched monks, who were more intent on having fun than following their holy orders. On one particular day the saint found the monks preparing for an orgy, and when he tried to persuade them to renounce their wicked ways they turned on him with violent intent.

Luckily for St Méen, divine punishment was quickly forthcoming, and the naughty monks were all turned into stones where they stood.

The reality is that the Jardin aux Moins is a neolithic monument, which was later reused during the bronze age, and although its purpose is not exactly clear, it probably had some sort of funerary function. But I much prefer the magical legend, which bears a striking resemblance to the tale of the nearby Demoiselles de Cojoux.

The Megaliths of Saint-Just

Posted in Brittany, History with tags , , , , on August 4, 2012 by mysearchformagic

Following three blog entries featuring urban magic, this seems like a good time to move away the city and feature somewhere decidedly more bucolic. Brittany in North West France is an area I am lucky enough to know well. It is also a region that is soaked in magic, with a long history of myth and mystery, and many strange, fascinating reminders of this history in the form of standing stones, ancient dolmens and medieval ruins. What makes Brittany even more special is the fact that it still retains its atmosphere of calm and quiet. It’s a place stuck in time, somewhere around fifty years ago, where many people still live simple, rural lives, where the winding country roads are empty of traffic and the long white beaches free of crowds. If you avoid the main attractions such as Pont-Aven or Mont St. Michel, you can often find yourself wandering alone around some truly magical places.

One such place can be found not far from the village of Saint-Just. In typical French style the Landes de Cojoux aren’t particularly well signposted. The happy result of this is that hardly anyone ever visits these windswept, gorse-covered moors, and it is not unusual to find the tiny gravel car park almost empty. It’s only a short walk up to the beginning of the trail which takes you across the Landes, and not long down this trail before you reach the first of the groups of standing stones for which the area is renowned.

Les Alignements du Moulin

The Alignements du Moulin are pretty impressive, standing tall and sharp against the wide open sky, but as you walk on you quickly realise that this is just the beginning. The moors of Saint Just are dotted with many ancient monuments, from the low, messy remains of burial cairns which emerge here and there from the scrubby heather, to the huge blocks of the Demoiselles de Cojoux, two granite menhirs with another two fallen stones nearby, which may be just part of a once much larger monument. Local legend tells that they are in fact wayward girls, turned to stone as punishment for dancing on the Sabbath.

Les Demoiselles de Cojoux

As you wander deeper into the Landes, any memories of modern life quickly slip away. The only sounds up here are the wind in your ears and the persistent chatter of birds. At the end of the moor, where the ground slips down towards a distant river, the views are broad and breathtaking, a perfect end to a magical stroll.

The River Canut

The remote location of the Megaliths of Saint-Just means that they have escaped the scourge of mass tourism, which has all but eradicated the magic of better-known site such as nearby Carnac. There is evidence of human interaction with the landscape stretching back over seven thousand years here. We don’t know what the true purpose of these incredible feats of prehistoric engineering were, but the amount of work involved in setting up these stones reveals how important they were to the communities who created them. With no written records from the period, their origins and meaning will probably always remain a mystery. Now they have become part of the landscape which they inhabit, a wild, windy terrain which, apart from the odd earth track, shows little sign of the intervention of modern man.

A burial chamber known as the Four Sarrazin on the moor of Saint Just

A burial chamber known as the Four Sarrazin on the moor of Saint-Just

The Landes of Cojoux are vastly underrated, but I hope they stay that way; this is a place where it is still possible to feel a connection with an ancient landscape, and somewhere that still undoubtedly possesses a rare, unique potential for magic.