We were not far from the Oxfordshire village of Stanton Harcourt. They had stopped the car and we had set off walking through this huge landfill and waste site, with loads of good smells. Frankly, I’d have been happy with that for a day out! But they seemed to be going somewhere…
It had taken ages to get there too, and I may have had a few complaints about my ‘singing’ and asking ‘are we there yet?’ But, between questions, I had listened to what they were saying. We were going to a stone circle. It seemed they had their doubts about what we were going to find though.
It was the word ‘reconstructed’ that was causing them to worry. They explained that where ancient sites are concerned, that can mean anything from standing up a fallen stone to what they called ‘the complete ruination of the spirit of the place by overzealous and underinformed developers’. And anyway, they said, it probably wasn’t going to be much of a stone circle… it is not exactly well-known. They expected little… I was just happy to be on an adventure… and we could not have been more wrong if we’d tried.
Emerging from the tunnel of leafy shade, we were confronted by a huge open space, enclosed by the almost-circular banks and ditches, with entrances almost due east and west. They told me that the earth banks like that are called a henge… and sometimes they have stones inside. Within this henge, an almost-complete stone circle left their mouths dangling open. With the grasses and plants, it was as if, somehow, the tree-lined tunnel had been a wormhole that had led us back through time. Dogs have no problem with that, but two-legses seem to get a bit wobbly when that happens.
As usual, they hadn’t done much research beforehand. Just a bit of history and a few legends. The site, which they said was one of the seven largest circles in mainland Britain, seemed too big to see except in bits. She said it is about four hundred feet in diameter… I just thought it was a brilliant place for a proper adventure!
She told me that the site goes back five thousand years to the Neolithic period. There were originally thirty-six standing stones. Now there are only twenty-eight in the circle plus the other one that is set at an angle, like the gnomon on a sundial, just outside the southern quarter. Within the circle, she said there had once been wooden posts, like the ones at Woodhenge, and I found what looked like a burial cyst where I had a good sniff… until they broke out my drinking water.
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