TAKE A LOOK AT... (in Derbyshire)

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 15th October 2001 (p.1 & p.7), reproduced by kind permission of its author, Julie Bunting.

TAKE A LOOK AT: STONE CIRCLES

Ironically, and in spite of recent reported damage to the Stone Circle on Stanton Moor, our prehistoric monuments are probably safer now than they have been since they fell into disuse.

Stone circles, erected over an estimated two thousand year period spanning the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Ages, approximately 3500BC - 1500BC, are once more a focal point for large numbers of visitors and are given protection as ancient monuments. It is a lamentable fact that most deliberate damage has been suffered in the last two centuries or so; in a more superstitious age they were left well alone. Since the eighteenth century at least six stone circles of the Peak have been destroyed, probably robbed for stone. Nevertheless, almost forty still survive, about half unlikely to be recognised without specialised knowledge but with several well preserved and accessible examples amongst the remainder.

Most impressive is Arbor Low henge monument near Monyash, on its exposed site at 1230' the highest in Britain. A henge describes a circular earthen bank with an internal ditch, typically enclosing a ring of stones. With a diameter of almost 300', Arbor Low is the largest circle in the Peak. The ditch provided material for the bank, resulting in an original vertical drop of about 18'. Two wide sections of this perimeter were left undisturbed to form entrances. The central area is scattered with almost 50 limestone slabs, originally forming a symmetrical oval ring. A further feature is a low bank and ditch running indirectly from the henge to Gib Hill, a tumulus sited 350 yards south-west. Close by are traces of a second henge, presumed earlier and abandoned before completion.

Two other henges, the Bull Ring at Doveholes, and the less visible Staden henge on the southern outskirts of Buxton, no longer contain any stones.

ON THE GRITSTONE MOOR

Far more numerous than henges are smaller circles of standing stones found in exposed sites on the eastern gritstone moors. Over thirty in number they vary from 15' to 120' in diameter, with few exceptions enclosed by a low rubble bank - ditches being difficult to dig on the gritstone. These circles are generally believed to be of Bronze Age construction, but modern scientific methods rely on the central burials for the only datable material, and these are thought to be later than the actual circle. This opens the possibility that the monuments are earlier than previously thought and could in fact be contemporary with the henges.

A particularly important prehistoric site is that of Stanton Moor, a Bronze Age cemetery containing five stone circles in various states of preservation. The best example is Nine Ladies, its 38' diameter bank somewhat shapeless now but the ring of nine stones complete. Its damaged outlying King Stone stands 130' to the south-west inside a modern plantation which obscures the site's once open aspect.

In comparison, sweeping views are still obtained from Stoke Flat circle, close to the public footpath along Froggatt Edge and easy to locate due to its one tall stone. Fifty feet in diameter with two clear entrances, the monument still has nine of a surmised total of fourteen stones set in a true circle, unusually erected on both the outer and inner edges of the bank.

The best preserved of five Barbrook circles is situated to the right of a footpath branching off the Sheffield road north of Baslow, Ordnance Survey reference 278756. Here a ring of twelve small upright stones stands inside a 60' diameter bank. Its closest neighbouring circle lies in a hollow less than 30 yards to the north-west, where its complete ring of nine stones lay hidden until an excavation of 1966.

Worth a visit too is Nine Stone Close on Harthill Moor near Birchover. Although only four standing stones remain, they are significantly taller and more imposing than those of other local circles, and present a quite different picture.

ASTRONOMICAL ALIGNMENTS

Much of the fascination with these enigmatic structures lies in the mystery of their purpose, but continuing study gives increasing credit to the intelligence of their builders. Not only do points on the circles form regular geometrical shapes, and appear to align with other distant circles and natural features, but, in common with other major prehistoric monuments around Britain, they also incorporate precise astronomical alignment.

It seems reasonable to suppose, therefore, that observations from stone circles were used to establish a calendar, enabling our early ancestors to live in harmony with the year's natural cycle and to celebrate festivals which, absorbed by Christianity, live on today.

© Julie Bunting
From "The Peak Advertiser", 15th October 2001.

Articles by Julie Bunting are reproduced with her kind permission.

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