The Thursday was the hottest day of the year so far, and we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and spent the day at the campsite, planning to set off and explore late afternoon when hopefully the worst of the heat would be over. Fortunately we were in shade for most of the day so we just flopped around until it was time to set off.
We headed over to Long Compton to visit the Rollright Stones, these are located right next to a road and there is quite a large lay-by, so we were spared another yomp like that along the Ridgeway. When we arrived there was only one other person around, happily sat drinking beer with his back to a stone. The first monument you come across is the stone circle, known as the King’s Men. The stones vary in height but most are about waist to shoulder high, they’re oolitic limestone, thought to have been surface boulders in origin. Over the years they have weathered into some fantastic shapes, with pitted surfaces, some even have complete holes worked through them. One thing that struck me was their fluid form, you could almost see them dancing around in a circle. They felt extremely ancient and organic.
You can just make out the group of stones known as The Whispering Knights in the background (on the hedge line)
The Whispering Knights are the remnants of a long barrow. These stones would have formed a dolmen at the entrance to the barrow. The large flat stone is the capstone which has fallen from the top. It’s now used as somewhere to place offerings.
Across the road from the field holding the Kingsmen and the Whispering Knights is the King Stone. The Knights and the King Stone are protected by modern iron railings, in the Edwardian era the circle also had railings round it. The legend goes that a conquering King and his men were met by a witch who said:-
‘Seven long strides thou shalt take, and
If Long Compton thou canst see
King of England shalt thou be’
Of course the King reckoned he was on to a winner, there are a couple of versions of what happened next… either he forgot about a small mound known as the Druid’s Altar which obscured his view, or else the earth rose up to form the mound!
‘As Long Compton thou canst not see
King of England thou shalt not be
Rise up, stick, and stand still, stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And I myself an eldern tree.’
Last year an artist put up a sculpture of the witch – constructed from redwood branches – and this is still standing.
The King Stone is quite contorted, we didn’t get a shot of the side view so I’ve borrowed this one from here.
The stones were erected thousand of years apart - the Knights are Early to Mid Neolithic, the circle Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age and the King Stone is thought to be a Bronze Age grave marker. As with Wayland’s, there is evidence of Iron age, Roman and Saxon settlements nearby, which means the landscape has been in use for many thousands of years.
The visit to the Rollrights was the highlight of the holiday for both of us. Despite the fact that the circle had had some Victorian ‘restoration’ it was beautiful, atmospheric and totally magical. Whilst Mr Stoatie was off taking photos the dogs and I sat in the shade by the larger upright stone. It was still very hot, although the higher land was catching a breeze. With the sun beating down on the circle you could almost feel in your bones the energetic hum as the stones absorbed the heat.