Over the last few months I have developed an obsession with stone circles. I have visited fifteen, if you include Stonehenge, which I saw as a child. We’ve made several trips to remote moors, hills and fields across the north of England to visit these megalithic monuments.
Most of the circles we’ve visited have been in Cumbria. This is because there is a greater concentration of stone circles there than in Yorkshire, where we live, although we have seen a few closer to home. We’ve also visited henges and standing stones, which are from around the same period in history as the stone circles.
Stone circles were built by late neolithic and early bronze age people across the UK, Ireland and northern France. They seem to have been used as meeting places for trade, religious activity and possibly astronomical observance. There were possibly around a thousand circles built, and several are still standing today, although some are better preserved than others.
Stone circles vary in size from tiny four poster circles with just four stones, to vast rings tens of metres in diameter. The stones themselves can be several feet tall or barely visible in the grass until you stumble upon them. There are regional variations in the styles of the circles, indicating different local customs and beliefs.
These ancient monuments are associated with myths and legends of dancing witches turned to stone and stones coming to life at certain times of year, and many are thought to be linked with the devil, although it’s believed that these stories first appeared much later than the circles themselves.
We may never know exactly why they were built or what ritual practices were performed within them, but the mysteries are part of the attraction. The circles offer a tantalising glimpse into a long forgotten past, and the beliefs and traditions of our prehistoric ancestors. They are mysterious, mystical and fascinating.
You can see my photos of stones circles, henges and standing stones we’ve visited in my Flickr album.