daughter and I visited the Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. Set in a field next
to an ancient ridgeway with a wood nearby, these prehistoric stones exude an
air of mystery and power. They comprise ‘The King’s Men’, a stone circle of
over a hundred stones weather-worn into fantastical shapes (the exact number is
unknown – they are uncountable); ‘The Whispering Knights’, the remains of a
portal dolmen or burial chamber about ten minutes walk away, at the far end of
the field; and ‘The King Stone’, which is by itself in the next field.
What I love
about them is that they are completely accessible – there is no Visitor Centre,
no ticket office. They are there, in the field, as they have been for thousands
of years, and anybody can visit them at any time. They date from c. 3600 B.C.
(The Whispering Knights) to c. 2500 B.C. (The King’s Men) and lastly, c. 1500
B.C. (The King Stone). There are numerous prehistoric burial chambers nearby,
and the whole area must once have been an important and significant site.
legends abound. One story goes that King Rollo the Dane passed by with his army
on his way to conquer England. He met a witch who said:
Seven long strides shalt thou take, and
If Long Compton
thou canst see
King of England
shalt thou be.
forward eagerly but the witch raised a long mound in front of him and his view
was obscured. She then turned them all to stone; the king by himself
overlooking Long Compton, his men in a circle nearby and the five treacherous
knights further off. Finally, she transformed herself into an elder tree. It is
said that, at night, the stones comes alive and the King’s Men go down to the
river to drink.
When we visited
on New Year’s Eve, the place was deserted but other visitors had been there very
recently. In the centre of the circle lay a wreath of holly, ivy, pine cones, a
pomegranate, some apples and some feathers. Others, too, had left offerings of
rose hips and berries elsewhere. What a setting for a novel, I thought.
‘This part of
the world is a very witchy place,’ said my daughter. I could see what she
meant. But we both agreed that, whatever may have happened here in the past,
nowadays, walking around quietly among the King’s Men and visiting the
Whispering Knights and the King Stone, the atmosphere was peaceful and benign.
The Rollright Trust,
who looks after the place, urges to public to subscribe to the Sacred Sites
Charter: Take nothing but photographs and
memories. Leave nothing but footprints.
A happy, if
belated, New Year to you all.
Photos, top to
The King’s Men;
The Whispering Knights, The King Stone, Wicker Witch, Offering
Labels: Elizabeth Hawksley, The Rollright Trust, www.rollrightstones.co.uk