Stonehenge is the famous circle, of course. Or Avebury. But north and to the east, along the border of Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, another late neolithic stone circle sits just a few feet from a winding B-road: the Rollright Stones.
These are the King’s Men. Legend has it that a king and his army were walking around (or marching, whatever) when they came upon a witchy woman with the power of prophesy. The king asked the witch if he would be king of England and she replied: “Seven long strides thou shalt take, and if Long Compton thou canst see, King of England thou shalt be!” As his faithful knights waited in a circle — and a small band of faithless traitorous knights whispered off to the side — the king strode boldly forward, declaring: “Stick, stock, stone As King of England I shall be known.” Seven strides later, a hill obscured his view, and the witch laughed: “As Long Comptom 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 elder tree!”
This is Harry Potter level of awesome. Tolkein style stupendous. I still haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie and I don’t even care, now that I’ve seen this. The sculpture is made from steel wire and local Wellingtonia limbs which were ‘dead’wooded’ and donated to the project. The artist is David Gosling, who is known for his environmental art. (Check out his page: he’s pretty cool.)
You can read a series of poems about the stones online, in the 1900 publication The Rollright Stone: history & legends in prose & poetry by F.C. Rickett.
Although this is an outdoor site with no guides or tour office, it is well marked and very well maintained. There is a limited amount of free parking in a lay-by to the road. Informative signs like this one greet visitors near each area of the site.
Here are more of the King’s Men. Legend says you won’t count the same number of stones in this circle twice — or legend says it is bad luck to touch them — or legend says if you do count the same number of stones twice your wish will be granted — or legend says you’ll be cursed. Legend is basically completely psycho.
These are still-living stones. Apparently this circle is now more known for healing and positive energies of some kind or another — here see one of the King’s Men crowned with a holly wreathe. I’d love to come back here on solstice and see what I could see.
The stones are smoother on the inside face of the circle than the outside, but all appear to be eaten by cosmic worms and covered in ancient lichen. (Actually, I’m not kidding about the lichen — it is speculated that not only are the stones over 2,000 years old, the very lichen on the stones may be up to 400 years old!) Many of the stones are hollowed with peep-holes.
A short (but today, chilly) walk down a well-kempt path takes you to the Whispering Knights — remember them? The disloyal knights who were plotting against their king. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, according the the witch — she turned them in to stone, too.
Another version of the legend suggests these gentlemen may have been off to the side praying. For what, who knows. The more scholarly information signs describe this as a portal dolmen. If you check out that link above to the book of legends and poems, you can see a photo of this grouping from over a hundred years ago — the stones were slightly more upright, then.
This would have been the lintel at the top of the dolmen (I think), since fallen. A hollow in the top face now collects offerings from visitors. (Reminding me of Odda’s Chapel and Trumpan church in Skye. Always have your pence handy if you’d like to honor the local gods in the UK.)
I could have easily spent more time here, but it was a bit chilly this early-January day. The kids had a great time running in circles around the King’s Men, trying to count the stones. For some reason I have a different version of the legend of the stones in my head, but I have no idea the source (I told it to my kids, anyway). In the version in my head, an arrogant king and his court refuse to give proper courtesy to a Fairy queen. When the king turns his back on the queen, she turns them all to stone. Whatever the legend, I remember the poem:
Go visit the Rollright on such a night
When the Stones are lit by the pale moonlight.
Softly tread so that none may hear,
Speak not a word there is naught to fear.
Thou shalt see
Elves that ride on the Bumble Bee.
Full of glee,
And a Witch that looks like an Alder Tree.
Now, what could be better, before or after a visit to the Rollright stones, than a visit at one of my all-time favorite English pubs? puddingface at the Crown & Tuns in Deddington is just 20 minues away from the stones by car, and serves the most amazing pies you will ever eat in your life, anywhere. Seriously.
This is a venison pie with a shortcrust crust.
Here a pork pie with sage stuffing and apple sauce and puff pastry. No, really, it’s all in there. Hook Norton is brewed just up the road a bit. Nom nom nom.
So what I’m saying is: it’s all in the circles. Circles of stones, circles of puff pastry, circles of pie, circles of ale. Here at the circling of the year, it all seems to make sense.