Stones of a certain standing
Summer Solstice is a well-honoured tradition in many cultures and the quintessential image for most is Stonehenge.
Experts reckon there are 77 stones of heavily weathered local oolitic limestone, which were poetically described by William Stukeley as being “corroded like worm eaten wood, by the harsh Jaws of Time”, which made “a very noble, rustic, sight, and strike an odd terror upon the spectators”. Although I’m a circle aficionado, I was particularly taken by the Whispering Knights, a group of stones huddled conspiratorially together in a nearby field.
But there are so many other stone circles, and over the past twelve months, I’ve been adding some to my collection. My first experience was some years ago, when we took a trip to the spectacular Ales Stenar, a megalithic monument in Skåne in southern Sweden (pictured above). The 59 boulders form the outline of an oval stone ship, eerily stranded on a treeless headland. We were there in May, and dozens of skylarks fluted above us in a dazzling, blue sky. Our daughter, Lauren, was under two and enjoyed the trip from the comfort of the kiddie backpack.
My recent fascination was revived by another family trip, this time to Avebury late spring last year, where we spent a happy afternoon stalking around the mysterious stones against the backdrop of pale yellow fields and blue skies worthy of an Eric Ravilious landscape. I wonder if subconsciously his painting Runway Perspective somehow inspired the story ...
A few weeks later, I had the good fortune to take a trip to see the ancient stones and monuments of Kilmartin Glen in Argyllshire with my daughter, Lauren, a History of Art graduate who has developed an interest in all things medieval.
Our favourite site was Temple Wood, an intriguing stone circle in a magical place even if your name doesn’t have Celtic origins. It simply begged to be written about, and I hope I’m forgiven for changing the name to Ivy Cross in my latest short story, Midsummer Glen.
Well and truly hooked, we headed yet further north to Aberdeenshire, which is littered with prehistoric stones. The Easter Aquhorthies not only had the coolest name, but the most mystic circle, with its nine stones, eight of granite and one of distinctive red jasper.
And just last month, after being inspired by a wacky episode in season three of the BBC’s Father Brown series which is filmed not far from here, I realised there was a stone circle within a 40-minute drive. Off we headed to the infamous Rollright Stones. It is an atmospheric ancient site located on the Oxfordshire/Warwickshire border and consists of three main elements, The Kings Men stone circle, the King Stone, and the Whispering Knights. They say if you go round the circle, counting the stones, and try again, you never get the same number. We tried and I have to agree.
Where next? I still haven’t got to Stonehenge yet, but the Hebrides beckon.
Captions: Ales Stenar, photo by Anders Lagerås