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Visited 30th October 2013
Within five minutes of leaving Quiberon these fine stones put in an appearance on high ground looking out toward the start of the Cote Sauvage. A quick right turn off the main road brought us to a spot where we could park, but not without narrowly avoiding a gaggle of cyclists that suddenly sped out across the road in front of us where a cycle track cuts across the lane.
Pulling up on the verge I get to examine the stones more closely, a shapely pair which frame a coastal vista. This place should be twinned with Penrhos Feilw in Anglesey, it has much of the same vibe about it, albeit with a bit more room between the ‘goalposts’, but the commanding views are the same, as is the sense of the stones marking out some form of gateway, a symbolic entrance to the start of the Wild Coast perhaps?
If you carry on up the lane, as we had to in order to turn the car around, you soon come to the village of Le Manémuer, a little hamlet of whitewashed houses, all sporting pale blue shutters, which reminded me of the sort of village you’d see on a Greek island, but which sports another 6’ tall standing stone sat amongst a walled shrubbery like some gargantuan garden ornament, yet another of the many fine Quiberon menhirs.
Visited 30th October 2013
The Cote Sauvage or ‘Wild Coast’ is just that, a meandering jagged coastline of rocky coves and cliffs pounded by Atlantic breakers, which stretches down the west side of the Quiberon penisular, just to the south of Carnac. It is also dotted with more menhirs than you can shake a stick at.
Heading along the coast of the peninsular within two minutes of leaving the town of Quiberon we had already encountered a fine pair of megaliths, and every few minutes the breathtaking views were punctuated with shouts of ‘Oh look there’s a standing stone!’, but there are simply too many to stop at each one (or at the very least to give each visit the time it deserves), that is until you reach the Menhirs Beg-er-Goalennec.
Here two wonderful stones stand on either side of the D186A, one right next to the Les Mouttes restaurant, the other right on the shoreline. Plenty of space to be had for parking here next to the restaurant, so we just couldn’t pass them by. There’s no little ‘property of the state’ marker to give the name of the site, so I’ve no idea what the stones are called until later when I manage to look them up, but I do at least think to get the co-ordinates from the sat-nav!
The more northerly stone stands uncomfortably close to the restaurant, and is a slim rectangular block, somewhat sadly diminished by having had the top five feet or so break off the menhir at some time in the past. Standing behind it and focusing on its shorter companion across the road you get a lovely view along the aligned stones and out to sea. It is busy today though, unseasonably warm weather (well it would be unseasonable in England, maybe late October is always this warm in France?) has bought people out in droves to this popular coastline, and a steady procession of motor homes drives past to obscure the view.
It’s on the shore though that I really fall in love with the place, when I stand next to the heart shaped stone and stare out to sea. The placement of the stone is sublime, along with the great shaping along the top of the menhir (probably due more to the luck of the way the stone has weathered than the artifice of the stonecutter, although you never know?) this second menhir is a bit shorter (but still taller than me, although that counts as tiny in these parts!) and is now set in concrete to keep it stable.
With the sun still warm, and the stone at my back I look out along the coast, and for a minute all the tourists, cars and caravans enjoying their day out at the seaside seem far distant and I imagine the wild coast as it would have been to our ancestors, and it’s clear why they went to such efforts to raise these stones here, the beauty of the land calls out as much to us now as it did 5,000 years ago.
Visited 29th October 2013
Also known as Mane Groh, this is another well signposted dolmen just outside of Crucano, and right next to a lane just off the main road.
Although we are on our way back home after a hard day megalithing I just can’t pass up the little brown signs signifying an ancient monument without feeling an irresistible urge to stop. I still can’t get used to literally falling over megaliths that at home I’d be blown away by if I’d driven several hours to see a site half as impressive.
And impressive Mane Croch is. The name means ‘the sorceress’s hill’, and it consists of a T-shaped passage grave of satisfyingly chunky stones, which leads into a well preserved chamber. A couple of the capstones have been removed, almost as if someone's taken the lid off so you can look inside, where an axe head carving is visible on one of the orthostats, thanks to being handily outlined in chalk.
It’s yet another site surrounded by woodland, and a path leads off through the woods which takes in other megalithic sites, but sadly it is too late in the day to wander far this evening. We have a meander about nearby and find a jumble of stones that once may have been the remains of a now destroyed dolmen, as well as a small cist near the main site, and the path tantalisingly beckons on towards further unseen megalithic riches. Still it’s no hardship to just spend some time here instead.
Burl says it would have once been covered by a rectangular mound and is aligned toward the SSE. There are several of these types of passage dolmen in the vicinity, and they are certainly unlike any I’m used to from Britain, but having seen so many they all start to blur together and I struggle to remember which one is which but Mane Groh is memorable by virtue of a carved stone trough which sits beside the dolmen.
We have a wander in the woods nearby and come upon a lovely lake, dotted with reed beds and small islets, it sits amongst the trees, and I almost imagine a shimmering arm to emerge clutching a sword, such is the look of the place. Alas no Lady of the Lake today, but we do spot a pair of little egrets wading in the water.
What I forget until later is just how close several other monuments are through the woods nearby, particularly Caeser’s chair, which on my last visit I didn’t get any photographs of as my camera batteries had died, and I’m disappointed that I didn’t get chance to take some today. Still the dolmen is itself a worthy place to visit on its own, so I shouldn’t sound ungrateful. We have the place to ourselves and I happily poke about in the transepted chamber. The shadows lengthen as we sit at the dolmen, tired after the day’s exertions, and thoroughly old stoned out. What can you say, another superb Breton dolmen.
Visited 29th October 2013
Another site we just happened to drive by. This place is forever known to us as the ‘picnic dolmen’ as last time we were in Brittany we also stumbled on it, and stopped off here with our packed lunch. We didn’t even know the name of the site last time, so couldn’t find out much information about it. This time we again pull in on the grass by the stones, and have a snack in the beautiful sunshine, and I manage to just make out the name ‘Dolmen de Cohouer’ from the worn lettering on the little ‘Property of the State’ stone that marks most Brittany megaliths.
Placed on the edge of a small village next to quiet rural road, the surroundings are archetypally French, a shuttered farmhouse just visible behind the dolmen, and even the sound of crickets chirping, despite the lateness of the year. It’s a pleasant place for a stop off.
The tomb itself is of a type referred to as a ‘simple dolmen’, of that same classical ‘megalithic mushroom’ type design, but longer than most of the dolmens common across Briatain. Seven orthostats support two huge capstones and provide a large light and airy chamber, which I soon install myself in.
Inside it’s very comfortable, a nice grassy floor, and the chamber interior is warm, having caught the sun for most of the day, and I just relax and enjoy being here. I could stay in the chamber all day, it’s such a great place to be. Being so close to the village there are a couple of bits of rubbish around, mostly a few empty beer cans, so I take them over to the nearby recycling bin before we leave, and bid goodbye to a fine dolmen, vowing to return again sometime bearing more baguettes and cheese!
Visited 29th October 2013
Slap bang next to the giant is another of Brittany’s enigmatic stone settings, the Quadrilateral de Manio. Basically a large stone rectangle, with a porch type setting at one end, which would once have provided a forecourt facing to the south-east. It’s amazing to think that apparently this would have once been covered by a huge mound.
Trees surround the site preventing an observation of the wider area, and I wonder whether the menhir was erected first, or if it was intended as some sort of indicator stone for the Quadrilateral? Burl says the stones were set on a long low mound, but it’s difficult to make this out now.
It’s just about possible to get a photo of the whole of the site in shot , as long as you take your picture from the forecourted end, otherwise some manoeuvring about the trees is required if you want to take a photo from the west end.
I resort to clambering onto the low stone wall which surrounds the site in order to get a slightly elevated view, and manage to get a few photo’s between the regular procession of visitors.
The woodland setting with its dappled light, nearby onlooking menhir, and just proximity to the megalithic wonderland that is Carnac make it a special place, and although a popular site in its own right, it retains a peaceful air, somewhere to ponder on the amazing ancient remains surrounding you, away from the hustle and bustle of the tourists at the main visitors center.
Visited 29th October 2013
The Giant of Manio, seems a friendly fella, although somewhat taciturn as he sits in his wooded glade staring out at the trees, natural markings on the stone suggestive of eyes, nose and mouth, the face looking out in the opposite direction from the Manio rectangle).
The sun filters through the trees into this lovely wooded glade, and the menhir is warm to the touch as I give the huge stone a hug, although he seems much smaller than I remember, porbably as a result of seeing the Menhir du Champ Dolent the other day. The Geant though has a lot of character. Sadly the remains of some graffitti mark his face, but for the giant this is ‘pas de problème’, he has been here for millennia whilst the cretinous scrawlings are already quite faded and soon will be gone leaving the Geant blemish free once more.
A small pile of pebbles perplexingly rests high on top of the stone, leaving me to wonder how and why they got there, the puzzle solved a few minutes later when a visiting Frenchman started throwing pebbles at the top of the menhir, attempting to land a stone on top, which apparently brings good luck if you are able to do it.
It’s a fine spot here, a great menhir which probably gets overlooked amidst the profusion of the Carnac stones, but definitely worth a visit. It’s signposted from the D196, with parking next to the riding school and a short walk up the forested track, with both the menhir and stone setting right next to each other. So if you're ever in the vicinity of Carnac make sure you pop by the Geant and say hello, he’ll be pleased to see you, and you’ll be very glad you did.
Visited 28th October 2013
Another great find we weren’t even looking for. On our way back to the house after an afternoon at Lochmariquer we happened upon a sign to this dolmen off the C2 near La Chapelle Neuve. A woodland parking area (these places now all seeming very familiar) leads to a short walk through the trees, before another small sign guides us to the right, and into a clearing where stands one of the most perfect dolmens you could ever ask to see.
As we approach the dolmen the temperature drops markedly. Now although it is 5.30pm and evening is approaching it was noticeably warmer along the woodland path than it is in proximity to the dolmen. There is a real feeling of presence here, the atmosphere almost tangible, but not in any kind of sinister way. As I crouch in the chamber warmth returns, and it feels welcome, a thick carpet of leaves crunching beneath my feet, and the sheltering trees sighing in the insubstantial breeze.
Three orthostats support a large capstone, the chamber opening to the east and the rising sun. Much of the now denuded mound which once covered the dolmen remains and is still visible, the chamber hunkered within it, giving a good impression, almost like a cut away model, of how these places were constructed. The information board says that simple beaker like pottery was found within, and dated to between 2,400 – 2,200 BCE.
I’m in love with this place, it’s just such a perfect dolmen, like a text book representation of the form, and seemingly obscure, I couldn’t find any reference to it in the books I had with me. Dusk is starting to fall now or I would have stayed longer, but with the sat-nav co-ordinates for the site now locked in, and with the knowledge that it is a mere three miles from our cottage, I vow to return before we have to travel back to England.
Visited 28th October 2013
Engaging in the celebrated Breton sport of randomly driving around until you happen across a megalith (not that hard to do), eagle-eyed Ellen spotted a small brown sign with the legend ‘allee couvert’ at the side of the road as we shot past, “Isn’t that one of those passage tombs?” she said, cueing a quick application of brakes and a swift reverse to the small parking spot next to some well manicured grass and a rubbish bin.
Checking the map I found we were on the D168, just north of Malestroit, but I couldn’t find any reference to this site in any of the books I had with me, even the mighty Burl didn’t mention the place, so it was with mounting excitement at not knowing exactly what we’d find that we commenced a walk along the obvious track from the parking spot into the unknown.
The path is bordered on one side by woodland, and on the other by a field, and shortly a long jumble of stones is visible ahead, and we find something far beyond expectation. The allee couverte, although ruinous, is huge, at 25 meters in length, it is the longest in Morbihan. It is also rare in having, according to the information board, a side entrance in the middle of the south wall, rather than the passage being open from the end, but in its somewhat ruinous state, it’s difficult to make out exactly where the entryway would have been. The stones protrude like spiny vertebrae, a sleeping dragon beneath the earth, the echo of the grand burial mound that must once have sat here still visible.
Once again the site is enhanced by its woodland surroundings, it has a bit of a feel of Wayland’s Smithy to it, although being totally different in design to that place. The raw size of the site also impresses, and to find it just sitting here, with no fanfare, only serves to underline just how many megalithic remains are scattered across Brittany.
I spend some time pacing around trying to photograph the site from every conceivable angle, but its sheer size makes getting everything in shot very difficult. It’s peaceful here, and conducive to spending some time, but clouds on the horizon are blowing in, the winds still gusting strongly after last night’s storm, so we know soon it will be time to move on. A poke about further down the path shows a number of large rocks lying around prone, seemingly of the same type of stone as the orthostats of the allee couvert, whether they were once part of it, or more likely a source of stone for the building of the monument I’m not sure.
I’m pleased to have come across this place, an unexpected gem of a find, and one of the reasons I love Brittany, where else could you just stumble across such a megalith?
Visited 27th October 2013
With Merlin being a major draw around these parts, this place is signposted almost as soon as you leave Paimpont (Brittany’s version of Glastonbury) on the Rue de l’enchanter Merlin (also known as the D71). When you do reach the ample car parking though don’t set off straight into the forest, but rather cross back over the road and take the tarmac cycle path, you’ll be at the tomb within minutes.
As we park the car we again encounter a large group of foragers emerging from the forest with baskets full of fungi, who within seconds identify us as ‘Anglais’ and with a friendly ‘bonjour’ start to gesture us in the opposite direction, over the road towards the tomb. Perhaps it was the camera, notebook and copy of Aubrey Burl’s ‘Megalthic Brittany’ I was clutching that gave it away?
In a land abundant with a cornucopia of spectacular megalithic remains, Merlin’s Tomb is like one of those sad hangers on, riding on the coat-tails of a famous name, whilst lacking the ability to be impressive in their own right.
The site consists of the slight remains of a ruined dolmen, little more than two cracked stones, out from which sprouts a holly tree. A modern circular kerb of stones has been set around the dolmen, and a plethora of offerings are crammed into any available crack in the stones, or tied as clooties to the holly tree, along with written messages to Merlin which are placed around the site. Someone had also placed halved apples at each quarter point of the kerb, possibly as part of an early Samhain ritual.
Just up the path from the tomb is the Fountain of Youth, a sluggish pool, which looked as if eternal youth would arise from failing to get any older on account of having died due to contracting some virulent form of dysentery upon drinking the water.
Compared to even the lesser of Brittany’s megaliths this is somewhat uninspiring, but yet the place has a certain charisma. In a way the adoption of the site as a focal point for offerings gives the site a resonance it was probably previously lacking, and in the usual surroundings of lovely Breton woodland, with the clootie bedecked holly tree sprouting from the stones it has a certain charm.
Although I may sound disparaging this is a nice place, just diminished by the embarrassment of megalithic riches just a stone’s throw (if you’ll pardon the pun) away. Still if you’re in Brocéliande you can’t not visit Merlin can you? Just be prepared that like some other iconic tourist stops, the reality of the place might not be quite as impressive as you expect.
Visited 27th October 2013
This was a site we somehow missed on our last visit, probably as we were already overwhelmed by the plethora of megaliths in Brittany, but today we find it easily, signposted off the D141 just north of the village of Trehorenteuc.
A large sized, but somewhat potholed and muddy, car park gives access to the site. After parking up just make sure you take the path to the west, directly opposite where you park the car, and not the wider dirt track to the south, and a short walk will bring you to the rectangular stone setting of the Jardin Aux Moines, the ‘Monks Garden’. According to the information sign this would once have been a burial mound, it is 27m long and consists of 26 stones on the south side, and 27 on the north, with a separate compartment formed at the east end of the setting. Briard's excavations in the 1980's suggested the moument may have been a multi-stage one, the eastern compartment being the earliest, before the western rectangle was later added.
Interestingly the stones alternate between white quartz and red schist, the contrast really noticeable in the low morning sunlight. Burl also states that the1983 excavations uncovered a pile of red and white stones covering the remains of two late Neolithic pots, so the ancient builders obviously placed great significance in this variation of colours.
Like so many Breton sites it is surrounded by pleasant woodland, and we have the place to ourselves. It’s a nicely restored and cared for site, an enigmatic place, and among the myths and legends of ancient Broceliande well worth seeking out, after all it’s easier to find than the grail.
Visited 26th October 2013
Just before you reach the village of Tresse, this allee couverte is signposted from the road, leading you to a woodland parking spot.
The area is busy with people walking in the woods, most with baskets full of mushrooms foraged from the forest, and we follow the well-trodden path a short way through the lovely mature trees to the monument.
The Maison des Fees really is in an idyllic setting, the woods in full autumn splendour, and as leaves fall in a gentle cascade around us with each breath of wind, the sylvan quality of the setting really does make you think we could be in the presence of the fey. The monument itself as well isn’t half bad, a long passage grave, once covered by a mound, now left exposed like the petrified skeleton of some great beast. Sprouting near the entrance is a strange bolete, a miniature fairy toadstool, and the folklore of the place still seems redolent in the air.
At once I scamper down the passage, low enough that I have to hunch over, and inspect the interior for carvings, of which I’ve heard the site has some good examples. I draw a blank before Ellen calls me from the outside of the monument, where she has found the carvings on the slabs at the back of the monument. There we observe the famous ‘breast’ carvings (a very French interpretation I’m sure!) which are like cup marks in reverse, four stand out clearly, with the remains of a further four visible on a separate slab, though now slightly diminished, as apparently they were smashed off in 1961.
The site reminds me a Dutch hunebedd, looking similar in layout with somewhat rounded stones resting on low orthostats. Nearby a subtly positioned multi-lingual information board is attached to a rock, and another nearby rock sports a somewhat whimsical picture of a fairy, and is also the best place to get a photo of the whole length of the allee couverte.
The Maison des Fees is a beautiful and magical place to be, especially at this time of year, and we spend some time here as people come and go, and even take the example of the French by foraging some sweet chestnuts, dropped by one of the sheltering trees, to take home and roast in the log burning stove.
Visited 26th October 2013
We had a rough crossing on the overnight ferry to St. Malo, so landing in Brittany in a somewhat sleep deprived state, only the excitement of finally being back was keeping us going. So in need of a burst of energy we head off for the second tallest standing stone in Brittany, near the town of Dol de Bretagne, only about 15 miles away from the port.
Dol de Bretagne boasts an impressive cathedral and a maze like road system, so we headed south through the town and hoped for the best before fortunately finding a handy signpost. Soon our first Breton menhir of the trip hove into view, the top half of it standing proud above a field of yellowing corn, and for an anxious few seconds I feared the stone might be surrounded by crops. I needn’t have worried, a nicely manicured area, complete with picnic tables and parking spot gives easy access to the stone, and although surrounded on three sides by corn fields the crops were kept a respectful distance away from the stone, and what a stone it is! Standing a mind boggling 32’ tall, as you stand at the bottom of it and the stone towers above you it amazes how anyone could have erected this without the use of modern machines. Shaped and worked into a tapering top, as Postie says, it's like some megalithic rocket ship ready for take-off, this really is a superlative menhir.
The stone is smooth to the touch, I hug its huge girth, and I feel revitalised instantly. A nice smoothed boulder rests at the foot of the menhir, and provides a surprisingly comfortable spot to sit on to write some fieldnotes. A nearby information board relates the legends associated with the stone, and although only in French, is illustrated with cartoony pictures depicting the tales, so even with my shaky grasp of the language I’m able to catch the gist.
Probably the best standing stone I’ve ever seen, and an amazing way to start off the holiday in Brittany.
Visited 5th October 2013
There’s hardly a surfeit of sacred wells in Staffordshire, so any chance to visit one should be grabbed with both hands, something I had sadly neglected to do for some time, but today’s the day, so we strolled through the woods by Knypersley pool on the hunt for the well.
The dappled shade in the trees gave an otherworldly feel as we moved form the relative brightness of the day, passing the dark finger of the Warden’s Tower, poking through the trees on an outcrop to our left. As we moved further into the woods the occasional old moss covered dry stone wall was visible amongst the thickets, as though we were stumbling through a long abandoned hamlet now reclaimed by the forest.
Things started promisingly, with clearly marked paths through the woods, and even a sign pointing us the direction of Gawton’s Stone & Well, but although we came upon the imposing edifice of Gawton’s Stone, the well was proving more elusive. Several tracks branched off from the main path, and I try to remember the relative positioning of the sites from the brief glimpse I had of a map of the woodland back at the visitors centre at Greenway Bank. I rue the decision not to bring an O.S. map, and realise now that I should just have photographed the visitors centre map so I could view it again to refer to on the camera. Knowing the well must be close by we pick a path and strike out toward the distant sound of water. It’s not long before we reach a stream, and the source of the sound, a small waterfall over an old stone dyke, and as the path curves further around it becomes clear that it’s not the path to the well.
We soon find ourselves back on the main trail again, all sense of direction having been clouded amongst the trees. Walking through the woods makes me think of Robert Holdstock’s novels, this place could almost be Staffordshire’s own mini Mythago Wood, such is character of the place, with hidden landmarks and a sense of nature pervading and reclaiming the once landscaped old country estate.
Back at Gawton’s stone I review the brief notes I have about the place, which indicate the well is only about 100 meters to the north of the stone, so trying to gauge the direction by our brief glimpses of the sun through the trees, we spot a track off the main path we had previously passed, and head off again.
Only a short way ahead I can see another old lichen covered wall, and an entranceway into a copse of trees, and spotting clouties hanging from the boughs I know we must be in the right place. The well itself is on a gentle slope, surrounded by the protective embrace of a grove of yew trees. A small elliptical stone basin catches the bubbling water, which flows into a larger rectangular one before running off in a thin stream down the slope, before disappearing again into the earth again near the old wall. I’m instantly struck by the atmosphere of the place and can see at once why it is considered one of Staffordshire’s most spiritual sites. The oval stand of yews is reputed to be the remains of a druidic grove, and although these specimens must be considerably younger than that, perhaps they are the descendants of those long forgotten trees.
We spend some time here, and it’s nice to find a place that is well cared for, there is no sign of rubbish, the clouties are sympathetic to the site, and even the aborglyphs on the surrounding trees have a spiritual dimension, someone having gone to great effort to carve a fine yin-yang symbol near the base of a tree.
The waters of the well have supposed curative properties, being renowned as a ‘cure for the King’s evil’ fortunately I’m not afflicted with any skin complaints on which to try it out, but a splash of the cool water to my face is welcome after all our tramping through the woods.
This whole area of Knypersley wood exudes a magical ambiance, in some ways it reminds me a lot of Alderley Edge, having the same sort of feel to it. No matter how old the current well is, it has the same sublime atmosphere I’ve experienced at Cornish holy wells, and was evidently a sacred place to local people long ago, and well, it still is today.
Visited 5th October 2013
I’ve been told about this place before, but its disputed antiquity, and the ever lengthening list of my must see sites had firmly pushed it to the back of my mind. Now with autumn's grip starting to discourage ventures too far from home, pleasant weekend weather inspired us to seek out somewhere to visit, and being as Knypersley was less than 30 miles from us, today seemed an opportune time to finally visit.
Just south of Biddulph on the A527 we took the signposted right turn to the Greenway Bank Country Park. There are two car parks here, the first with a small visitors centre, toilets and coffee bar, but if you want a shorter walk just continue on down the lane to a further car park next to Knypersley reservoir itself. There are plenty of people out for walks today, and the reservoir is a tranquil site, surrounded as it is by a fringe of woodland. A group of twitchers with some serious photographic equipment, throng the dam wall, feverishly photographing a group of Great Crested Grebes out on the water as we walk by.
Soon we reach Poolside Cottage, and the spot where we take the footpath that flanks the reservoir. Heading into the woods we soon pass a verdurous pond to our right, vegetation thronging its still waters, and hinting of the atmosphere of the woods to come. It’s quieter here, most people having opted to walk around the lakeshore in the sunshine, the forest canopy still retaining enough leaves to darken the day. Just down the path a handy signpost indicates we are heading in the right direction for Gawton’s Stone and Well, and looming out of the trees on an outcrop to the left, is the romantic ruin of the Wardens Tower, a folly built in 1828 and lived in as recently as the 1950’s.
Continuing along the path we soon arrive at Gawton’s Stone, and it’s not something you can easily miss! Resembling a huge dolmen, like some cyclopean version of the Devil’s Den in Wiltshire, a giant boulder rests atop two smaller, but still pretty huge stones. Sadly it’s unlikely to be from the Neolithic, but that’s about as much as we do know. Various theories have been proposed as to how these stones got here. It doesn’t strike me as a folly, as firstly there are written references to it going back to the early 1600’s, (before the era when the building of follies became fashionable) and no records exist of a landowner having had it built. Intriguingly it also looks an unlikely natural arrangement of stones, particularly as the ‘capstone’ is of a different type of rock to the base stones. It is possible though that the largest stone had toppled from the nearby outcrop, which is the same type of rock, fortuitously ending up where it did, or indeed was pushed from the outcrop in antiquity.
It all adds to the sense of mystery, as does the ‘face’ simulacrum of the rock if viewed from one side, and the folktales of the place being redolent with strange magical powers, and mysterious magnetic fluctuations. Sadly I forgot the compass today, so I can’t check if any weird magnetic anomalies were going on, but I didn’t pick up any strange sensations on touching the stone.
The small chamber inside the stone doesn’t look like it would have provided much in the way of shelter for the eponymous hermit who was once supposed to have lived here, but it does appear some working has been made to the stone at the back of the chamber, and I imagine if you were hunkered down under the stone it would provide some solace from the elements (fortunately I don’t need to try it today!)
We spend a bit of time taking in the place, the only sound that of the birds and the wind in the leaves, punctuated by the occasional bark of an overexcited dog getting a walk nearby. J.D. Sainter in his 1878 book suggests a Germanic route for the name of the stone, even going so far as to suggest it resembles an early type of Scandinavian dolmen, and I’ve got to say it does remind me in a way of the Gladsax dolmen we visited in Skane, a site which utilised a natural boulder in its construction, and which was established to be the earliest carbon dated burial mound in Sweden, so perhaps he has a point?
There is also a reference on the Biddulph museum website to an excavation that took place in 1900 which indicated burials took place at the site, but I’ve not been able to uncover any more information about this yet. Stranger and stranger.
All in all an enigmatic site, and well worth a visit, I’ll definitely be back knowing now how close it is to home, and so we leave the mysterious stone for the time being and continue our search for the nearby well…
Visited 14th August 2013
On the way to the Wasdale crannog we spotted this mound from the path, which struck me as looking suspiciously like a barrow. A quick check of the O.S. map whilst relaxing on the crannog confirmed it was a 'cairn', and since we were passing it seemed rude to to visit.
As I've posted before I'm never really satisfied with viewing a site from afar, and feel a strange compulsion to connect to the place by actually physically being there or touching it. Maybe it's the same thing that drives me to 'bag' lonely mountain summits, but I'd be deeply unsatisfied by just taking a photo from the path, and not letting a little thing like a complete lack of any visible access to the site stopping me, I look for a way to reach the mound.
Finding a spot where the dry stone wall was a little lower I hop over into a field choked with gorse. The thick bushes are so dense I have to pick my way through veritable maze of spiny branches as I struggle uphill, before working my way around the barbed wire fence which partitions off the field containing the mound. Handily though a gate right by the mound allows access without having to circumvent the fence and then I'm there.
While I'm sure some people would be incredulous as to lengths I'd go through just to visit a small green mound, when I'm there I'm glad I did, as Howe Harper is actually rather good. Firstly the surrounding ditch is still clearly visible and well preserved, and secondly the views from atop the mound are fantastic. Each way you turn gives a new and fine aspect, to the north the loch of Wasdale twinkles below you, whilst west the hills of Hoy loom over the horizon, dominating the skyline as they do all across west Mainland. To the south the mound seems to mirror a small hill which sticks out atop a ridge of high ground.
The cairn itself is also still of a good size, with just a small chunk hacked from the mound, possibly by the world's most half-hearted treasure seekers who just couldn't be arsed, or else feared they may be in danger of disturbing the mound's resident draugr, or more likely through erosion by cattle grazing. Either way it gives a view of some of the underlying cairn structure.
Well as grassy mounds go this is definitely one of the good ones, and perfectly viewable from the path, but if you do want the full experience of the views from the cairn, then try Wideford's directions, I'm sure it would be easier!
Visited 14th August 2013
There are plenty of marked parking bays at the edge of Finstown, just before you leave the village on the way to Stromness, and we left the car here to walk on to Wasdale. A gate gives access into a field next to road, across which a short walk takes you into Binscarth Wood. It’s still lovely and sunny this afternoon, but soon we enter the wood and the warmth of the day is muted by the cool green shade of the verdant canopy above us. We stick to the old drover’s path, as the other tracks through the trees are still muddy, despite the small amount of rain recently. The excited voices of kids playing on the homemade rope swings over the burn provide an accompaniment, and the walk through mature woodland seems jarring after the paucity of trees on the rest of Mainland, but it’s good to be back amongst the thickets, arboreal withdrawal symptoms being one of the few downsides of spending some time on Orkney.
Despite being a veritable forest in Orcadian terms it only take a few minutes for us to be back in the sunlight as we leave the wood behind, and as the path forks a small signpost indicates we bear left to follow the footpath (the right fork will take you up towards Binscarth House). Soon the Wasdale lochan is visible, and in it the tantalising mound, its modern cairn a peedie tower surrounded by the remains of the much older lower courses of stonework.
The water levels in the loch are low, making crossing the stepping stones easy, and soon we are on the island. Although the undergrowth chokes some of the lower stones there is plenty to see. The curve of an exterior wall reminds me of the construction of the walls at the Borwick broch, other stonework looks altogether more jumbled as if built on later, along with some worked stones, and a jumble of rocks just above the level of the water on the north-western side of the islet, that looks like it might have once been a rough pier or landing stage. Canmore lists an intriguing record for this site, encompassing a chapel, enclosure, ancient mound and possible dun, and as you poke about the site you can almost feel the different layers of history, like the skin on an onion, which permeate this little islet.
I soon find an intriguing block of stone near to the island end of the causeway, it is pocked with four ‘cupmarks’ in a line. The depressions are too linear to be natural, but too crude to be modern workings, and I wonder just how old they really are, and whether the stone was scavenged from one of the nearby cairns on the hills overlooking the loch?
We spend some time here, Ellen sketching whilst I write my fieldnotes, just taking in the landscape and atmosphere. The sunny day brings out the best of the colours, the water a coruscating blue around us, reeds flanking the islet a viridian green, with the softer pastels of the surrounding moorland below the azure sky, a perfect place to sit and ponder, and another of Orkney’s ‘off the beaten track wonders’
Visited 14th August 2013
After a quick visit to the Fossil Heritage museum on Burray (nice café by the way), we carried on over the barriers onto South Ronaldsay.
Heading down the A961 the right hand turn to Sandwick is signposted, and as you head down the single track lane towards the sea the stone will soon become visible to your left. On such narrow roads parking can be a problem, we pulled in on the verge by the barn of Clouduhall farm (although beware of the concealed ditch if you do!), although if you carry on a little way down the road, and bear left at the first junction you come to, the road heads down toward Sandwick bay, and a small pull-in that can fit a couple of cars in at a squeeze.
The first time I visited this site I couldn’t see an obvious way into the field, and the maddening proximity of the stone impelled me to hop over the relatively low barbed wire fence (just about keeping all my relevant bits intact!), before discovering that the gate into the field is actually to the north-east of the stone, and concealed by the slope of the hill. This time we took the sensible approach and walked back up the road the way we had come, before taking the first lane on the right (just past a garage with blue doors) which leads down past a nearby abandoned house, right to the gate which gives access to the field.
The stone is a good hefty size, with the typical topping of sea moss so common in these parts. As I stand by the stone taking in the fantastic view, looking out down toward the island of Swona just out to sea, I think what a perfect place this is to site a stone.
Last night we attended a lecture by the Orkney Archeological society which talked about the Norse settlers attitude to the megalithic sites they encountered, and the folklore that arose around these places, and it mentioned that standing stones seemed the most enigmatic of the monuments in that whilst other megalithic sites tended to be associated with spirits or beings that may dwell there, standing stones seemed to be associated as entities in themselves (as evidenced by all the tales of them nipping down to local lochs for a drink!). Standing here I can see the truth in it, megaliths sited close to the coast, in that liminal place where the shore gives way to the sea, seem to be the most enigmatic of all, staring out over the millennia as the sea gradually re-shapes the land, perhaps like our own native Moai.
Perhaps though I’m romanticising too much, and with all my thoughts of the megalith as a petrified personification of Sandwick’s genius loci, I’m sure the prosaic answer behind it is far more mundane, but pondering on these things is what makes these visits so special, and the sublime loveliness of Orkney is ever a place to bring out my chimerical nature.
Finally we walk down to Sandwick bay itself, where delightfully we see a small seal pup, only a few days old by the look of him, sheltering near the rocks. We sit on the beautiful sands watching him, whilst he stares back curiously at us, the stone of Clouduhall watching over us both from its perch on the slope above us. A magical end to a lovely visit.
Visited 6th July 2013
Maen Crwn is unmissable, no quite literally. If you are walking up to the Druid’s Circle from the Two Pillars car park, the large boulder like stone, close to the only house seemingly for miles around, will give you a prominent landmark, and also point you toward the diminutive stones of the Red Farm circle.
It’s the first time I’ve ever come along this path, which provides a fantastic walk, from the first glimpses of the stones of Y Meini Hirion on the horizon when you leave the car, to these great bonus sites as you walk atop the high headland looking out over the sea, and the slumbering wyrm of the Great Orme. By the time Mean Crwn is reached you are about two thirds of the way there, and since you have to walk right past this fine megalith it would be rude, nay obligatory not to stop to say hello.
The stone is a satisfyingly chunky boulder-like affair. Burl describes it as ‘playing card’ shaped, in which case he must play with an odd deck as I think the Welsh name of Mean Crwn (meaning the round stone) is more descriptive. It reminds me greatly of Cae Coch, not far away from here along Tal-y-Fan.
Nicely screened by a line of trees allowing some separation from the nearby farmhouse, I’m free to give the stone a hug without embarrassment (not that I’ve been put off before!) and without the vague feeling of intrusion that can be felt when a monument is too close to someone’s house.
I ponder Cefn Maen Amor in the background, the stone seeming to nicely line up with the top of that hill, mirroring its shape in the landscape. I also try to look for alignments to the Red Farm circle in the next field, but sadly the annoying stone wall blocks my line of sight for a direct view. I later read that the wall contains a suspiciously standing stone like gatepost, but in the excitement of our pull toward the ‘main event’ of the Druid’s Circle I didn’t think to go and check out the fieldwall, a good excuse though to come back this way again, and where megalithic sites are concerned the more excuses to return the better!
Visited 1st June 2013
Having only ever seen these stones from the road, and at quite a distance, we took advantage of a lovely sunny day to get a bit closer and have a walk up to them. Parking up overlooking the sea near to the Earl’s Palace in Birsay, we walked back up the main road to Kirkwall as far as the small signpost to Vinbrake. Taking this lane to our right it’s not long before the stones are visible on the horizon, an open gate into their field inviting us in.
The two stones stand at either end of a low mound, a rough measurement taken by standing next to it, shows the taller of the pair must be around 6’ tall, its companion around half the height, due to having snapped in two, the broken half lying mournfully not far from the diminished stone.
Fantastic views are to be had from here, the two stones framing a range of amazing vistas out over the Brough of Birsay, and Boardhouse Loch, and again it strikes me just how well these sites were selected by the people who built them for their place in the landscape. As I ponder the views I notice a very prominent alignment with the Wheebin standing stone across the loch, which although only a tiny point in the distance, directly stands between the two Stanerandy orthostats.
We spend some time in the gorgeous sunshine just taking in the views and soaking up the atmosphere of another top quality Orcadian monument.
Visited 20th July 2013
Well, as I promised myself on the last visit, we wouldn’t be leaving it so long before coming back here again, and given the current run of good weather the plan of a picnic at the site seemed like a good one.
On arrival though we were a bit shocked to find the place almost totally overgrown. Ferns had completely shrouded the side stones, leaving only the tall front orthostats looming above the foliage, and the interior of the chamber was totally choked with vegetation to a height of about 4 feet high.
Not to be put off though I embarked on some emergency ‘gardening’, and after a good half hour of pulling up ferns and long grass by hand (had to leave the brambles though!) the place was looking a little more respectable, and the long awaited picnic was finally had.
It breaks my heart though to see such a fantastic place so uncared for, the rampant overgrowth not withstanding, I also removed various bits of rubbish from the chambers (it appears previous picnickers were not so conscientious about taking their rubbish away with them) and to top it all it seems to be somewhat of a popular spot for dog walkers to allow their pets to do their business.
Despite all of this the Bridestones remain undaunted, and a worthy place to visit, it just might be worth bringing some secateurs with you when you come!
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Megalithic wanderer and modern day pagan.
I've always loved anything historical, particularly megalithic sites (I've many a fond memory of visits to Stonehenge in the mid 1970's as we used to stop there every year on the way to the annual family holiday down in Bournemouth, which I think started it off), and the discovery of a certain book by Mr. Cope set off an obsession in the late 1990's to see as many of these wonderful places as I can.
Enjoys walking in the wildnerness and climbing mountains (currently on the worlds slowest round of Munroe bagging), travel, playing guitar, real ale and malt whisky, historical re-enactment, fencing and wargaming (although not all at the same time!) Also adores small furry critters (particularly cats)
Spends most of the year in the megalithic desert of the Midlands, although fortunate enough to live part of the time in Kirkwall in the megalithic oasis of Orkney, with my lovely (and very patient) wife Ellen.
Favourite sites would be Callanish and Ring of Brodgar (where I was handfasted) in Scotland, Les Pierres Platts in Brittany, Havangsdosen in Sweden, Glavendrup in Denmark, and Sunkenkirk in England.