A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany

A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany

by Aubrey Burl
     
 

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This practical and knowledgeable guidebook deals comprehensively with the stone circles of Britain and Ireland and with the cromlechs and megalithic "horseshoes" of Brittany. This new edition includes a section on "Druidical" circles, romantic creations of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
"This book is not only an elegant and practical guide,…  See more details below

Overview


This practical and knowledgeable guidebook deals comprehensively with the stone circles of Britain and Ireland and with the cromlechs and megalithic "horseshoes" of Brittany. This new edition includes a section on "Druidical" circles, romantic creations of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
"This book is not only an elegant and practical guide, it is also the best single-volume study of this extraordinary phenomenon, embracing 500 monuments from Shetland to Brittany. . . . Confident, erudite, pleasurable, this volume can be recommended as travel guide, archaeology, literature, and sheer good company."—Ian Sheperd, British Archaeology
"This is a wonderful book and is a must for anyone remotely interested in things megalithic."—Paul Walsh, Archaeology Ireland

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780300114065
Publisher:
Yale University Press
Publication date:
02/28/2006
Edition description:
Second Edition
Pages:
276
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)

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Preface


Writing this guidebook has been a particular pleasure. Like looking through old diaries one is reminded of the discoveries, sometimes the failures, the obstacles of unstable drystone walls, of bogs, brambles, bulls and barbed-wire. There were also gentle strolls on days of John Aubrey's "delicate freshness." Stone circles are one of the enticements of pre-history. And one of the frustrations.

It is the emptiness and the mystery that lures visitors, the weathered stones, the whimsicalities of pertified giants and dancing girls, druids, fairy gold, witches and sacrifice, the awareness that each ring is unique. Some have central pillars that are not central. Others have rings within rings, or a recumbent block, rubble banks, entrances, outliers, avenues and lines of standing stones that diminish across the moorland. Every region is different in its architecture, content and age.

The circles tempt even in poor weather. I have been lost in instant fog at Whiteholm Rigg, drenched at Temple Wood, struggled shin-deep in snow at Ninestones Close, shivered at Drumskinny Low, suffered everything — rain, frost, mist, snow and sleet at Arbor Low. But I have also had the delight of a sudden funnel of sunshine falling goldenly through black, swirling clouds onto the stones at Castlerigg, lighting them radiantly against a sky ominous enough for King Lear. I have also known the rarity of an un-Hebridean heat-wave at Callanish.

Not every ring survives in open countryside. Sandy Road, Scone, is in a housing estate. So is Aviemore's ring-cairn. In Perthshire Ardblair has a busy road racing through it. Grey Croft isoverlooked by the Sellafield nuclear power station. Moncreiffe was moved to make room for a motorway. Tossen-Keler in Côtes-du-Nord was shifted kilometres to the harbor of Tréguier and prettily planted with shrubs and bushes. Incongrous lawns and flowers surround Harestanes and Tigh-na-Ruaich in their private gardens.

The book is concerned with these oddities. It is not concerned with fakes and follies like Auldgirth in Dumfriesshire, and the nineteenth century "Druid's Temple" at Ilton in Yorkshire. It excludes Modern Welsh gorsedds, such as the one erected in 1908 outside the "small, gloomy mansion," as George Borrow described it, at Plas Newydd, home of two eccentric Irish ladies in Llangollen. Novelties like these are omitted whereas others, becuase of their uncertain age or unsure status as stone circles, are given entries: the reconstructed Blakeley Raise in Cumberland, and Ysbyty Cynfyn near Aberystwyth whose suspicious stones edge a circular churchyard.

All the expected warhorses are here: Stonehenge, Castlerigg, Callanish, Beaghmore, Newgrange, Carnac and Er-Lannic in Brittany, but there are also over five hundred more modest rings for the curious: White Moor Down's fine circle on Dartmoor; Glenquickan, Kirkcudbright, with its great central stone; the group of four dissimilar rings at Cong in Co. Mayo; the little circle with its entrance at Broughderg sw, Co. Tyrone; Brittany's greatest and most neglected megalithic horseshoe at Kergonan, Morbihan; the Four Stones, Powys, a "Scottish" Four-Poster in Wales; and Ville-ès-Nouaux, an "Irish" recumbent stone circle in Jersey. Little known they may be, but they are delights. Like so many others they intrigue.

Visitors should ask what use there was for an outlying stone less than 3ft (89cm) high and in line with no astronomical event at the Nine Ladies in the Peak District; should look at the ingenious choice of naturally but helpfully-shaped blocks to act as lunar foresights in the Scottish recumbent stone circles; puzzle over the medley of cupmarks on a slab at Beltany Tops and argue about patterns; remark upon taller stones, of pointed and flat-topped partners; question why over 4,000 years ago people cut a shelf into a hillside to create a level platform for the circle at Berrybrae.

It is not only the stones of a circle that should be looked at. Observe how they stand on a hill-shoulder or on a terrace with long views down a valley or glen, near water, by a cemetary of round cairns or against a chambered tomb. Even the name can be informative. Rollright, hrolla-landriht, "the land-holding of the Saxon Hrolla." Or Pobull Fhinn, "the holy people," or the contradictory Nine Stones at Ilderton where five stones remain of an original fifteen or sixteen.

It has been hard pleasure to see so many fine circles in western Europe. They are in one family, now dispersed, a megalithic confusion of parents, children, neices and nephews, in-laws, second cousins, even some dubious offspring at the farthest edge of acceptability such as the Carrowmore chambered tombs-cum-kerbed cairns-cum-boulder circles-cum-stone circles. They fascinate and perplex. Enjoy them.


Sample Entry

LUNDIN FARM SE, NW (1,4) [P1/7. Aberdeldy] Lat: 56°.6   NN 882 505
1¾ miles NE of Aberfeldy. Walk. ¼ mile SE along track from A827. Easy. Map B
A. This fine Four-Poster, on a gentle slope down to the south, commands a magnificent view towards Ben Lawers on the west. On its high mound it is reminiscent of Château-Bû (374) in Brittany. The tall, grey stones of local quartziferous schist form a rectangle 13ft E-W by 11ft(4 x 3.4m) and stand on the perimeter of a circle 19ft (5.8m) across. The highest, 7ft 3ins (2.2m) is at the north-east. The south-east is "playing-card" in shape and is whitened with quartz.
   The ring was erected on a natural mound of moraine gravel about 30ft across and 5ft high (9 x 1.5m). Excavation in 1962 showed that a V- shaped ditch had been dug around its base. Then the hummock had been deturfed and, alongside a burnt patch, organic material, cremated bone and sherds were placed in a hollow at its summit. After the pit was filled in the four stones were erected around the deposit. The ditch was back-filled.
   The sherds came from a collared urn with plaited-cord decoration around its rim; from coarse undecorated ware; and from an AOC beaker. The finds, of the Early Bronze Age, are now in the Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
   At the south-eastern base of the mound is a prostrate slab with forty-three cupmarks. With an azimuth of about 140°, had the stone been erect, it would have stood in line with the midwinter sunrise.
   PSAS 98, 1964-6, 126-49, Plan; Burl, 1988, 182-5
B. Eighty yards (73m) to the north is the ruin of Lundin Farm NW, NN 882 506. Two standing stones, 3ft 8ins high at the north-west, 2ft high at the south-east (1.1, 0.6m) are all that remain of a second Four-Poster. Between them is a prostrate cupmarked slab which is probably one of the two missing stones.
   Burl, 1988, 180-1, Plan

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Meet the Author


Aubrey Burl was until his retirement principal lecturer in archaeology at Hull College of Higher Education. He is the author of numerous publications, including The Stone Circles of the British Isles, Prehistoric Avebury, and From Carnac to Callanish, all published by Yale University Press.

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