This was perhaps my favourite place, though words like that cease to have so much meaning in an area as beautiful as this one. We came up through the woods
We knew we were close to where we wanted to be, but we weren’t on the path we were supposed to be on, so looking for the nine ladies stone circle we found this instead:
No one quite knows what these are apparently, this one sits along the ‘Duke’s Drive’, possibly part of an effort to transform the moor into somewhere to visit and enjoy following Parliament’s Act of Enclosure in 1819.
Enclosure breaks my heart, but stone circles are a joy. The nine ladies (and a tenth stone face down was found after a drought some years back) are lovely — but quite small. It makes for a very different effect from the standing stones I know, or a circle like Stanton Drew or Stonehenge.
Stanton Moor in its an entirety is a beautiful Bronze Age ceremonial landscape, covered both with monuments but also somewhere archaeologists now believe people to have lived and worked the land. From the conservation document detailing what is here to be preserved from the sandstone quarries that still encroach upon the moor:
The prehistoric monuments which survive on the moor include an unusually tight cluster of ceremonial sites comprising three embanked stone circles, a standing stone, and at least one (possibly two) ring cairns. A fourth circle, Doll Tor, lies to the west, just 250m outside the limit of the modern moorland. Close to these monuments lie more than 120 cairns, many of which appear to be primarily funerary (Figures C5 and C6). Again, the survival of a cairnfield with a very high proportion of funerary cairns is rare in the region, where only two or three other (much smaller) sites have been recognised (18.104.22.168). In addition, early 20th century excavation on the south-western fringe of the moor (22.214.171.124) revealed a large number of funerary urns and cremated remains in what may have been a fl at cemetery (Storrs Fox 1927).
It is an extraordinary place, made even more beautiful by August’s purple heather and the green hills beyond.
One of the beautiful and larger mounds, with evidence of the stone cist that used to sit in the centre, containing the mixed bones of ancestors
We followed the sandy path along the curve of the hillside
Sat for a while here, to rest and look out over the landscape
A standing stone — the Cork Stone — towers over us, behind it an old quarry. Going up one side are metal staples and footholds dug into the rock. We didn’t climb it.
Here it is looking back
The edge of the quarry, picturesque now covered in golden grass and heather
Coming up to Stanton Peak’s trig point
Then back down the far side of the moor, back down into trees past old walls and lined pits
To what must have been another burial cairn
A sheep with the hair of a greek statue
And into Alport, lovely but we thought there was a pub, badly needed a pub, and there was no pub. Not until we walked up another very big hill into Youlgreave.
But it did have scenery and chickens
Youlgreave was lovely, but we were too tired to explore it properly…
In every city, town and village we have walked past old mills, now repurposed and turned into luxury flats most of them. It was good to see one still running as a mill, and even better to learn it was open as a museum. It was such a pleasure to walk around a working mill, see the history of past innovations. Had we not been about to embark on a walk of many miles up several large hills, we would have bought some flour…
Some of the exhibits discussed the changing technologies — both the move from the beautiful old water wheels that to my mind still signify a mill to the new water turbines that so much more efficiently powered the machinery, and the use of rollers to grind grain rather than the great circular millstones. Once upon a time mills were a ubiquitous feature of towns, villages and cities — I loved this map that showed just how many there once were in this area along the river systems:
The change in the grinding of grain to bake our bread is just one of the changes that modernity has brought to our lives, a change to both the rhythm of our days and the food that we eat. I wonder if we can even guess now just how great a change that has been.
The machinery inside was wonderful
The Hammer Mill — ‘Miracle Mill’ No. 2, used to pulverize stock into powder:
Measurers and grain elevators:
Flour sifters at all levels of fineness, and their machinery:
This was less the amazing old machinery, and more the title — Baron “Dreadnought” Grinder:
You climb story after story, here is a view of the beautiful country from the top:
An old dust collector at the very top, of exquisite carpentry surrounded by bewildering belts and struts
This area was the birthplace of the industrial revolution, which impacted upon flour mills as much as mills of any other kind — the Caudwell Mill was in the forefront of some of these changes. It was fascinating to continue our walk, get a bit lost per usual, and stumble across further remnants of this past. Not without first passing one of the most lovely farms I’ve seen:
and a chicken crossing a road — though too far away for questions:
We climbed up into the woods
We think we had already gone wrong at this point, but I could not be sorry. Because then we found this:
Something to do with the quarry we think, though perhaps another mill. Up through more forest
To find a fallen stack of old mill stones — victims of technological change left here unwanted and unneeded…
and perhaps this was part of the end of these quarries, now reclaimed by the forest and more beautiful thereby.
This is heading up to Stanton Moor, which was more beautiful still, but more on that later. Better to sit with thoughts of human endeavour, how much everything has changed, what happened to technologies left behind and the men who once excelled in them…
One of the best walks we’ve done in terms of things it threw up for further investigation, but I thought I’d start sharing the photographic journal of rambles through the wonderful English countryside made accessible through the networks of public ways. One of the things England should be proudest of, I think. We started in Pensford, it’s lovely:
An old orchard between fields, I love these reminders of how we live well on the land:
Then on the stone circles at Stanton Drew, a reminder of how long we have been here and of very different ways of being:
(and much more on these stone circles here). The old church
with the monastic farm next door recalling a different history in its glorious medieval windows
and reminders of what once was half buried in the graveyard soil:
These graves also quite fascinating, both in carving style, and in their poetry, which I confess to have only realised was there after reviewing my photos:
The masonic triangle being rather more arresting:
I love village post boxes:
winding paths through cathedraled ceilings of ancient trees:
Another medieval memory in the form of an old bridge
Trees that somehow remain standing when you can see through them
Amazing old oak trees:
Unexpected memories of home:
the excitement of climbing something as beautiful as this to see what is on the other side:
Phacelias (I think), which also unexpectedly reminded me of home:
I’ve always been a bit of a frustrated archeologist — it was a road started and then not taken. But my youth was full of books about Hittites and Ancient Egypt, watching Michael Faught examining arrowheads while babysitting us, volunteering at the museum in downtown Tucson putting storage pots together — but of course volunteering was not sustainable for a poor kid without a car. I got a minimum wage summer job and that was that.
There is such richness here, but not having a car (again the car) makes everything a little difficult. It was a bit of a surprise getting here on a lovely walk from Pensford, an easy bus ride from Bristol. It was in an old guide book (though surprisingly accurate and nicely sarcastic) and mentioned the neolithic stone circle as an aside only. Some extra scenery.
I have since looked up, only to find it is the third largest in the UK behind Stonehenge and Avesbury. In finding out more, there is the English Heritage site, but if you want the really detailed and juicy stuff, you can look at ‘Stanton Drew 2010’, a report by John Oswin and John Richards, of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society, and Richard Sermon, Archaeological Officer, Bath and North-East Somerset (BANES).
They include in their report an 1896 drawing done by Charles Dymond, a railway surveyor. Quite simply it is beautiful.
It shows the different circles as they relate to one another, along with ‘the cove’, a set of three more stones we stumbled across when we naturally paused at the pub, called the Druid’s Arms. These relationships are almost impossible to see from the ground, but here it all becomes a bit more clear:
With today’s technology, archeologists create maps like this one, showing how much more there is to this site than the eye can capture unaided:
But really, it was nice to discover for ourselves, to measure out the circle with our steps and let our fingers trace the stones. Then come home and add more layers on to that. Though I’d like to go back.
Oswin, Richards & Sermon write:
The visibility of the monument site at Stanton Drew from the surrounding countryside might have been an important factor in the location of the site. Higher ground surrounds the low ground of the River Chew basin where the stone circle site is situated and an approach from a low level would have meant that the site could not be seen, the seclusion giving a sense of privacy…Streams enter the main river here from Dundry and Norton Malreward to the north and from the Stanton Wick area to the south… During the Neolithic many sites were placed close to rivers, water sheds and water sources as can be seen at Stanton Drew.
We approached from the south, there is no real view of the water.
The stones from the beginning fascinated me, most of them in the great circle rusty red, pitted and starred with tiny crystals and geodes, festooned with spiderwebs and lichens.
They are Silicified Dolomitic Conglomerate of Triassic Age (circa 248–205 Ma). Oswin, Richards & Sermon write:
The rocks have a glassy, metallic appearance and feel and the surface has been described as pitted, pock-marked, frothy, knobbly and gnarly. There are abundant quartz geodes that make many of the stones sparkle, William Stukeley (cited in Lloyd Morgan 1887: 39) remarks that “it shines eminently and reflects the sunbeams with great lustre”. Quartz was a highly significant and regarded material in prehistory as indicated through its use in various monuments (Lewis n.d.). There are some silicified fossil fragments from the remains of limestone clasts within the conglomerate.
We found no fossils damnit! But the rock remains beautiful:
I took some uninspired pictures of the Oolitic Limestone, which I accidentally purged. I wanted to go back after reading this:
The surface of the blocks resembles a limestone pavement and there are numerous natural cup-shaped depressions and pits that partly fill with water. At many rock art sites flat slabs of stone are found that are open to the elements and after rain, any cup-and-ring marks fill with water; also rocks with natural cup marks are often utilised for the same effect. It could be that places where rocks ran with water or held water were culturally significant in many ways (Fowler and Cummings 2003: 10). It is possible that some of these limestone slabs at Stanton Drew were not intended to stand or were intended for use as capstones.
There was an interesting grouping inside the circle, being resolutely occupied by a middle-class family with no conception of sharing or situational awareness. We hovered for a while, but eventually moved on. We were paused in the middle of an eight+ mile walk after all.
The southwest circle has a very different feel, more elevated, the rocks much smaller.
The SSW Circle is situated in a more prominent position on a brow and commands a wider and more panoramic view of the surrounding countryside particularly when looking to the west along the valley towards the Severn Estuary where the high ground of Blackdown and the Mendip Hills is clearly visible. The different positioning of the SSW Circle might suggest a differing thought process or even a different period of construction.
I had a moment here reading this report — I realised apart from a simple fascination with a past so distant we can only barely imagine it I am also fascinated by something else, and this is part of it (though why this is a ‘new’ thing for archeologists is a bit bewildering):
Archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware that monuments help to shape the perception of landscape, possibly altering both the form and content of a landscape; helping to promote and create senses of time, place and notions of identity and belonging (Goldhahn 2008: 57). It is then feasible that monuments were constructed to occupy a permanent place in the landscape and were intended to exert an influence on any future occupants of that landscape.
Is that not what we do as planner, as activists, as community, as architects? So the question is what senses of time, place and belonging are created here, and what do we seek to create in our time? And how many ways is this contested, subverted? What brilliant imaginings this inspires. I am thinking. It makes me want to write, fiction is perhaps the best way to explore such thoughts.
The village of Stanton Drew is lovely, the cat was immensely friendly (joy), and the pub good.
I’m glad we stopped at the Druid’s Arms, driven by hunger and thirst but thus ensuring we did not miss the Cove somehow skipped by our guidebook, and the presence of what many argue are the remaining stones of a long barrow (the stones here are Dolomitic breccia by the way, different from the majority of the stones from the circles)
As we drank down a pint and ate lunch, this became the scene of prayer and grief by a circle of friends or possibly family, history a palimpsest perhaps. These stones still hold meaning.
I rather love the history of archeology itself, and the stories of myths and theories that arise around such sites, and how people’s treatment of them has changed over time, this report does not disappoint on that front, which is lovely.
The first mention of an archaeological find at Stanton Drew is by an anonymous source writing in 1666 or later: “… (a stone) being newly fallen, in the Pitt, in which it stood, were found the crumbes of a man’s bones, and a large horse-bell, with a skrew as the stemme of it” (Hearne 1725: 507). This is reminiscent of the discovery of the barber-surgeon’s remains under a stone at Avebury (Smith 1965: 177–8).
There have been changes to the stone circles in the last few centuries. Aubrey (Aubrey et al 1980: 47) wrote in 1664 that the villagers break the stones with sledges to get them out of the way, and he was told they were much diminished in the last few years. Later, the villagers would tell Seyer (1821) that a century earlier many stones were broken up to mend the roads. However, the villagers then seem to have decided to leave the stones alone, and Long (1858) said it did not appear that any stones had vanished since Stukeley’s visit in 1723. The John Woods, father and son, the Bath architects, visited the site (Wood 1749), (Wood 1765). John Wood, the son, claims to have carried out an accurate survey. His text does indeed support this, but his diagrams are fanciful, being aimed at proving his intent.
Our little guide book noted that the measurement of Wood’s Moon Crescent in Bath is based on that of the great circle.
Some stones were toppled deliberately. It seems this was also done at Avebury in medieval times and the stones left lying on the surface; other stones were buried in pits. The purpose cannot have been simply to clear the land for cultivation as it was not particularly effective, and it is assumed there was a superstitious motive (Smith 1965: 176, 179–80).
I’m glad something of them still survives, along with a version of the local superstition given by English Heritage:
The most persistent tale is that the stones are the petrified members of a wedding party and its musicians, lured by the Devil to celebrate on the Sabbath and thus being punished for their revels.
Which sounds like the myth that exists for every group of standing stones anywhere. Either villagers or priests or note-takers of history had very little imagination.
After lunch we walked off westward, along what the guidebook described as an ancient approach to the circles. Hard to know now, but I like to think it true:
Well, my dad found them first…and took me too see them out in the desert, we drove and drove, walked and walked…I’m being cagey because I doubt that their exact location should be public knowledge. Because they are just there, you can touch them
It’s extraordinary to touch them, to stand in front of them in the middle of the desert, to search for them under stones. Here’s another, this motif could be seen several times, I don’t know what it means but it has sent my mind imagining of course, mysteries…
There were many more, if you click on the above images you’ll get to my flickr page where you can see all of them, they were truly extraordinary. At one time there were a great deal more, but the rock face is splitting off and falling away, I am sure myriads lie hidden, face down on the earth or crumbled into shards of rock. I happily climbed the cliff faces (not that I need an excuse to climb cliff faces). And the good news is that I can still do it in chanclas, to the right is a steep slope of scree, and myself showing off my powers in flip flops. I suppose I could have more grace and poise, but I am glad I’m still half wild, I worry sometimes that I face incipient and total domestication. Not that sensible footwear means domestication. I hadn’t actually realized the kind of hike we were going on or I might have been tempted into trainers, but I really hate wearing socks if the climate does not absolutely require it.
My brothers and I spent quite a bit of time looking for petroglyphs back in the day, we searched every cliff face within miles of our house I think…little did we know that the internet would soon be along with every location noted, as I have now found out. Still, there’s no real information there on the ancestors who carved them, and no knowledge of what they mean, I suppose they would have had to have been done by the Tohono O’odham, or those who came before? I remember reading a book by Frank Waters years ago about the ancient migrations and how they were tracked on the stone, but it’s been too long for me to remember properly. It was pueblo myth anyway, I doubt the folks down here would agree with it.
It was truly a gorgeous day in the desert today though, and one of the prettiest washes I’ve seen I think. It must be spectacular after the moonsoons, and full of deep pools perfect for swimming.They would collect below the pyroclastic flows of Rhyolite Tuffs like this one
My dad, and my fount of all geological knowledge is at the end of it, an ancient lava flow. The rock is beautiful
There was water there today, left from the rain over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely more seeping through the rocks in several places. We continued walking down the wash back towards the car
Final views of what I love about this place, saguaros:
Barrel cacti growing out of a rock face
And ocotillos against a blue blue sky
Just communities. Just cities. Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.