Stone Circle Hunting

To see in the New Year, we headed up to Bakewell with some friends. We arrived on New Year’s Eve: we ate, we drank, we made merry, we almost forgot when midnight was, at some point we finally went to bed. Morning was hot on the heels of bedtime but we awoke bushy tailed nonetheless, if more bleary- than bright-eyed. The village of Birchover was to be our destination.

After parking opposite the Birchover Stone factory, out first stop was Rowtor Rocks. This outcrop sits just next to and above the Druid’s Inn, blurring the boundaries between natural and man made; prehistoric and early modern. Naturally occurring rocky promontories are not unusual in this part of the world – Cratcliffe Tor and Robin Hood’s Stride sit just across the valley – but most of them haven’t been carved into a series of steps, seats, caves and passageways. I didn’t take any pictures of these various features, others have already done a better job than I could. The website that I linked to there states that the carvings date from the 17th Century yet this isn’t strictly true. There are some cup and ring carvings that are thought to date back to the Bronze Age, although they’re a little tricky to spot. There’s a bit of information about them here. I was fairly certain at the time that I spotted another one:

Now I can’t make up my mind: sometimes it seems obvious, at other times I think I’m making it up. Anyway, Rowtor Rocks was a good spot for the little ‘uns. They scrambled around, climbed up through some tunnels and explored the odd small cave.

Of botanical note: the whole place wore a fetching covering of Luzula sylvatica – Greater Wood Rush to it’s friends.

luzula sylvestris

It’s an excellent plant and not one I’ve seen in such monopolistic profusion before: the understory was a tapestry of luscious verdure. Where the ground was untrammelled by foot traffic it formed carpets, where rocks dominated it hung down like a fringe and sprouted out of any crack or crevice available. Insert your own body hair simile as you see fit.

I do like a bit of common sense, and it rears it’s level head in the naming of Greater Wood Rush. It is a relative of the more widely known Field Wood Rush, which is widely criticised for daring to grow and flower in lawns across the country. Assuming you accept the name Wood Rush (which itself is fairly descriptive – a group of rushes that mostly grow in woods), the preceding names are immensely logical: Field Wood Rush favours open ground and turf, Greater Wood Rush is very much greater in every possible way.

Even the latin names follow this line of thought: the genus is Luzula (thought to derive from the Latin for ‘shine’ on account of it’s clinging on to the morning dew and sparkling in sunlight – rather romantic) and the species are sylvestris for Greater Wood Rush and campestris for Field Wood Rush. Sylvestris denotes a preference for woodlands, which was certainly the case here, and campestris comes from ‘field’: again an accurate description. These are the things that keep me entertained.

After exploring Rowtor Rocks, the younger members of our party were packed up and kindly driven back to our accomodation, allowing myself and one other neolithically inclined friend to go on a stone circle hunt. There were three circles in the vicinity, but time was the main limiting factor; we weren’t quite sure how long it would take to walk back to Bakewell and the days are still very short at the moment. From where we had parked it was a short stroll up onto Stanton Moor. Then we walked across the windswept heather to the far side of the hill where Nine Ladies Stone Circle is situated.

Nine ladies stone circle

I managed to grab a people-less moment to take a photo; it was getting busier as the afternoon went on.

nine ladies stone circle king stone

Heading back the way we came across the moor, we realised that we had passed the King Stone, a solitary stone which may or may not have been part of the main circle. It has been theorised that it could be all that remains of a cairn or even a circle of it’s own; now it sits in solitude, it’s purpose forgotten and even more mysterious than the circle itself.

Stanton Moor is actually home to four stone circles, mostly now obscured or destroyed. Quite why that should be, or what significance this place held, will never be known. Undeterred by our immersion in the unfathomable, we set our course for the nearby Doll Tor.

The Quest for Doll Tor marked a complete change from the Nine Ladies. The Moor was becoming increasingly busy: large groups were spilling our of their New Year’s Day slumber and into the great outdoors; the roads were densely lined with parked cars; the footpaths were astir, although not unpleasantly so. Doll Tor is not strictly open to the public, so it involves hopping a few gates and heading off the beaten track. It was a welcome change to be moving away from the hustle and bustle, cutting down the hill along the path less travelled. Doll Tor was a completely different proposition in almost every way: private, smaller, enclosed.

It seems that it was favoured by the local (or indeed non-local) pagans, as there were various little trinkets in and around the stones. Where the Nine Ladies Stone Circle is situated in a grassy clearing amongst the patchy silver birch woodland and the heath of the open moor; Doll Tor was over looked by tall pine trees, with an understory of ferns, bracken, moss and brambles. The cairn that sits adjacent to the circle was particularly well covered with moss and ferns.

In the end we never made it to the third circle (Nine Stone Close). It wasn’t very far away by map, but one can never tell how long it takes to find these things, and we weren’t sure how long it would take us to get home either. After taking in the view, we trespassed our way back to a more legitimate byway and marched home. Incidentally, the latter part of our route was some of the muddiest walking I have done for some years.

view from doll tor stone circle

Much fun was had by all!

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